Monday 18 May 2015

The academic parent #5 – the aftermath

It has now been about five weeks since I finished full time paternity leave, looking after my daughter when my wife went back to work after nine months. We are now both back at work, and my daughter is going to nursery three days a week. I’m off today to look after her, and she is currently blissfully asleep.

Looking back on my paternity leave, it seems ridiculous that I ever considered not doing it. I took a month of holiday, so it wasn't a long period of time in the grand scheme of things. When I returned to work nothing seemed to have changed. Other people’s projects had moved on slightly, but not to the extent that I now feel I'm underperforming in any significant way. It is clear I won’t be as productive this academic year as I might ordinarily have been, but I just had a child – so yeah.

Apart from actually looking after your baby and spending time with them, the best thing about taking leave is the shared experience. Suddenly all those joys, annoyances, trials and tribulations that my wife would tell me about became real. She would get home from work and we would have the same conversation as we always had, just in reverse. I can’t express how good this is for a relationship rapidly adjusting to a new way of living.

Despite this, the experience isn't the same. My daughter now sleeps through the night, naps regularly during the day, and is predominantly a smiling happy child. Looking after her was hard, but I didn't experience the sheer fear of looking after a helpless newborn alone, whilst suffering chronic sleep deprivation. Equally, although my wife has now shared in the adjustments required when going back to work (see: the academic parent #1), she hasn't experienced dealing with work when chronically sleep deprived. I remember having scientific conversations whilst getting coffee where I had to accept that I just couldn't contribute. My mind wasn't working well enough to have any meaningful discussion. Equally, the guilt of leaving for work knowing full well how bloody hard it's going to be for my wife was hard. I think when my wife went back to work it was more bemusement than anything else. She knew I'd be fine, but wanted to see how I'd initially get basic stuff wrong (I did).

The last day of paternity leave was a mix of emotions. My daughter decided to have one of her rare stroppy days. She was crying and whining for most of the day. That meant I spent much of the day counting down the hours until her bedtime. When it finally arrived I put her in her cot and closed her bedroom door. I sighed with relief, and then wished I could have spent a bit more time with her.