Friday 9 January 2015

The academic parent #1 - guilt and multiple personalities


I plan to blog occasionally about being an academic and a parent. I’m not entirely sure what form this is going to take. I’ll try to keep each blog short. Most blogs are unlikely to have a moral or a valuable lesson to be learned. They are more likely to be a reflection on something that has happened to me recently that I feel others might be interested in. I believe this first post fits this description.

Note – I have been a parent for a few months. This is a ridiculously short period of time. All opinions are likely to change on a daily basis dependent on how much sleep I get the previous night and whether my daughter is teething. This should therefore very much be viewed as a snapshot.

Guilt and multiple personalities

My daughter was born seven months ago. She’s now crawling around, making strange loud noises from her mouth (and other body parts), and smiling copiously. It’s a genuine joy spending time with her on a regular basis, and a genuine pain having to get up early every morning. It’s the best thing I've done in my life.

I've been meaning to blog about parenthood in some form for a while now (seven months in fact!), but strangely enough have had very little time to do it. The first few weeks were a complete blur. I took two weeks off, and then went back part time for a further 4 weeks. Altogether this added up to about a month of paternity leave. Luckily I work for an organisation that provides up to a month paternity leave at full pay. I count my blessings (I don't know how people cope with two weeks - I would have taken more if I could).

Returning to work was a strange sensation, and this is the topic of this first blog. When I returned to work it seemed like I had been away for a long time, but of course nothing had changed. Slotting back in to the regular daily routine was surprisingly easy – like sitting down in a comfortable arm chair. The thing I found most difficult to deal with, mostly due to how unexpectedly it appeared, was guilt. When at work, I was thinking about being at home and felt guilty about leaving my wife alone with the baby. When I was at home, I was thinking about being at work and felt guilty about not getting enough work done. I then started to feel guilty about thinking about work at home and thinking about home at work. It all got very confusing and meant I wasn't working very hard nor being that great a parent.

I’ll return to guilt shortly. First, I want to take a small detour to discuss multiple personalities. I've always been a bit suspicious of people who act completely differently dependent on context. Of course we all moderate our behaviour based on where we are and who we are talking to, but I've always found it jarring when someone I know well in a work situation acts like a different individual in a social context. Having a baby has changed this. I now do whatever it is I have to do to make my daughter smile. Baby smiles are like crack – highly addictive. If I have to sing a stupid song, pull a stupid face, blow raspberries, so be it. I will sacrifice my dignity at the altar of my child's happiness. I have never been a particularly frivolous silly individual, so I have had to learn how to behave in this way. I've essentially developed a new personality that would be wholly inappropriate in a work setting. I now find it surprisingly easy to switch between these modes of thought (if you can describe a set of behaviours that mostly consist of doing stupid things as a mode of thought).

How does this relate to the guilt I mentioned earlier? Put simply, having multiple personalities has cured my guilt. My work persona now doesn't think too much about home. Equally, my home persona cares not for the seriousness of work. The compartmentalisation has made me more efficient at work and a better parent at home.