Two weeks to go to #dadtime: Parental Leave take two, with Number 2!

It has been a while, and I will try to fill in some of the blanks when I can, but the biggest reason for the brief interlude is that No. 2 child, a beautiful, bonnie little girl, was born in May last year. Meet No.2!

Which as well as being a fantastic and joyous event means….I’m about to go back on parental leave! 

But boy, is it going to be different. Firstly to complete the lifestyle change we’ve moved houses, and in fact now live outside London and even the M25, in a leafy corner of Surrey. Served by Bloody Southern Trains, but there’s a rant for another day…

Also different (well, sort of) is the type of parental leave – I am now taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL), not the Additional Parental Leave of last time. Apart from making a mess of all my site names, what difference does this make, I hear you ask…? Err, basically none at all to us, but I will also spend some time talking about that, as one of my goals last time was to educate people on the difference. A task I largely failed in, so I will endeavour to make amends.

As I will also hopefully be able to show, children are very different, and I do hope that I will have more time to spend blogging, as No.2 appears (thus far) to be slightly less demanding than Junior. However this is balanced against the fact that for 2 days each week I will have both children at home. An experience it’s fair to say even Mum has found taxing at times.

We have planned our time better this time around, and Mum and I will be taking 5 1/2 weeks off together at the beginning of my SPL. I’m not quite sure how to cover that in my blogging, but I hope you’ll join me again over the next few weeks and months to find out. Bring on the Dad Time!!


The discrimination of mothers against men – @JivaHealth yoga is now the frontline of the gender debate

I’m still slightly, well, shocked by this, so this may be somewhat less measured than I’d like, but I think you’ll agree that I have some grounds on which to feel somewhat cross.

As previously mentioned I started going to a Mum and Baby yoga class at Jiva Health in Wimbledon. To recap why, a couple of years ago I developed really bad sciatica, that was stopping me do any exercise. Yoga was basically what got me last this. And I enjoy it! It is hard work but rewardingly different to the sports I play. And as parents will understand, fitting any evening class in around work and bath/bed time is hard. So the opportunity to start doing yoga once a week whilst on APL is really quite a luxury, and one that’s good for me to boot.

Although Mum didn’t understand why, before I just turned up at the class I called ahead to ask whether it would be OK for me as a Dad to come – after brief consultation with the teacher, they agreed. I did that precisely because I could see that they might object. All the staff I met in the 5 classes I attended were very supportive and welcoming of me, and another bloke even turned up at one point.

However I’ve had a (very polite) email from Jiva Health this week saying that after women had made a couple of enquiries relating to both Junior and I, they are going to enforce the “Mum and” bit of the class’ description. The complaints were two-fold:

  1. Junior now being a very capable crawler, he is apparently making a mother feel uncomfortable by encroaching on their mats. This is the one that particularly gets me. HE IS A BABY. JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER BABIES IN THE CLASS. The class is described as being for babies up to 18 months. Most babies will be walking by that point. So any mother who is uncomfortable with a crawling child is in for a real shock when her little darling – currently lying placidly wherever she is left – starts going, well, everywhere. Would this mother be as concerned if it was Junior’s Mum who was attending? I doubt it – so why not admit the issue is with a man attending, instead of blaming my completely innocent son? Especially given there are other equally mobile babies in the class.
  2. That as there are new mothers they are uncomfortable with a man being present when feeding, or presumably talking about women’s issues. I understand this, and that is why I asked if it was OK in the first place, and why I’m not going to push to keep going. However, I do have a few comments.

I am (quite clearly) a father as I am looking after my son, and hopefully a supportive one at that. My girlfriend gave birth to said son, I was present, and have seen and talked to her about any and all of the issues that are likely to come up in a public yoga class. She breastfeeds, as do a number of the other NCT girls. As a guy breastfeeding is slightly awkward when it’s not your partner, but I hope we are all grown up enough to realise that all women have breasts, and that I’m not using it as an excuse to take a sneaky-peek or anything. Obviously others’ feelings are difficult to anticipate and I can sympathise that a strange man could feel intrusive, especially in the early days when a mother is still trying to build confidence in breastfeeding – it took my girlfriend a couple of months to become fully comfortable with feeding in public (and now thinks nothing of sticking Junior on the booby with only the smallest concessions to “modesty” – which I utterly applaud and am very proud of). Hence why I’m not going to demand a place or do anything drastic.

However, I’m still left feeling disappointed that although equality is still talked about, it isn’t accepted by everyone, on both sides of the gender divide. How can men be expected to consider themselves equals in childcare while there is still the veil of “women’s issues” to hide behind? While I’m not for mandating discussion of gynaecological complaints in public, as for any other medical issue – but is it so hard to believe that men can at least listen and empathise, if not truly understand? How many women see a male doctor at some point in their pregnancy? Won’t men’s understanding only increase when they’re part of the conversation?

I’m also disappointed with Jiva Health. I understand their reason that it is described as a “Mum and Baby” class, and they want to keep it that way, not least as the custom of 2 young mothers is likely to continue long after my 3 months is up.

A Solution?

However, Jiva Health have just started another “Mum and Baby” class every week. My solution would be to call that “Parent and Baby”? This would make clear that men might attend, leaving a women-only class for those that are really uncomfortable with men’s presence, whilst allowing those small number of yoga-practicing, full-time Dads the chance to continue their practice? But that isn’t what’s happened. Sure, there may be many months when there are no men in the class – but at least give us a chance?

While I’m disheartened, this is but one unanticipated stop on the ride that is looking after Junior – hopefully we can find another yoga place, and we’ll try again!


#uncletime with the walrus and llamas @HornimanMuseum and Gardens

We also had a visit (the first in a line of my relatives, they clearly know me well enough to know I’m likely to need encouragement/support by now…) from my brother, which coincided with some of the nicer weather. Apart from getting some quality playtime in, we also went to the Horniman Museum and Gardens in East Dulwich. Passing through SE London a fair amount, I’ve seen it advertised quite a lot. The setup is reasonably familiar – a Victorian gentleman collector, who was interested in other cultures (in the “how many beads do you want for that priceless treasure” way), who philanthropically opened his collection up for the edification of the masses. It then became too big and having knocked his house down to replace it with a purpose-built home then graciously donated it to the London County Council in 1901.

I think it’s safe to say that the collection then entered a slightly awkward phase, that is still having an impact on it today. It was organised by the prevailing ethnographic theory, which was, and it is incredible now to write this, that all non-Western cultures were human but simply not as evolved as us, and so you could map the stage of their evolution based on their technological and social advancement. It’s safe to say that Africa didn’t do well, although it wasn’t clear where this would leave the Welsh. Obviously, and as was pointed out on every information notice that mentioned this theory, we now know that this is wrong!

There were a lot of stuffed animals including the infamous walrus (@HornimanWalrus if you’re interested) demonstrating more conventional evolutionary theory, some real odds and ends such as a torture chair (probably mostly fake apart from the head screws – nice), and an entire gallery devoted to showing off the African artifacts the museum still holds, but in a much more culturally sensitive way. Clear existential guilt, although it was very interesting how masks play such a crucial cultural role in so many African societies, in the same way clothes and adornment do in the West.

The gardens were also nice – with a surprise city zoo – quite small but with 2 llamas, unlike Deen City farm which although much bigger overall has only 1. Perhaps this is how they measure themselves.

Time to myself – the other type of #Dadtime

My (very) good lady gave me the time last night to go meet up with my friends in Clapham – something that obviously doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but I’m lucky enjoy that she wants to make sure I don’t cut ties with people who are important to me, and perform an incredibly useful grounding function. For anyone who is going to become a parent (because this applies to Mum and Dad), I think it is vital to maintain some sense of connection to who you previously were. As at least part of this will feed into who your baby becomes.

As I was sat there, having arrived slightly early, I was reflecting on a couple of things. Mundanely, that I hadn’t blogged yet this week – mostly because so far this has been a “standard” week of Dads Club, Gymboree and yoga so far, so nothing interesting to report.

And more meaningfully actually how nice it is to just sit somewhere quietly on my own. It was only the train journey and about 5 minutes in the pub before my mates started arriving (The Merchant on Battersea Rise, ok recent refurbishment, giant yet relatively discreet TV screen, good if limited ale selection), but actually something that it is very hard to get when on APL. Because you’re either spending time with Junior, or in the short period when he’s asleep we’re trying to spend time together as a couple.

And both those things are really important, and you never get enough of the latter – but sometimes so is a bit of down time from it all. Recently I’ve been really enjoying train journeys to rugby matches on a Saturday, because it is exactly that, enforced down time when you can’t do very much. (Although I live in Wimbledon I play rugby in SE London/Kent, so some of the train journeys are quite long…)

Added to this is the fact Junior fits into the characterisation by “What to Expect” of an Active Baby, something we identified at about 2 weeks and is still revealing its full meaning. Unusually Junior is very tired and is right now completely sparked out on the bed beside me – allowing me free hands to write this – more usually he is almost constantly in motion when awake, and prefers sleeping on or next to us. Which is cute and lovely and completely understandable (who wouldn’t prefer to spend as much time as possible cuddled up to mum and dad?) but means managing yourself can be quite challenging…this being what I’m learning from my time at home – Mum did much better at getting other stuff than childcare done!

In summary then, my tip of the day – and as the best bit of advice I received before Junior was “don’t listen to any of the advice” a bit of a hypocritical one – is remember to factor some “Just Dad Time” into life. You don’t need as much as you used to have, as cuddles frankly are better, but a small amount just occasionally is important.

Quiet pint and reflections on 2 weeks of Dad Time #dadtime

Sat in the Boathouse pub in Putney (good for a glass and gleaming steel structure, best river view not in Wetherspoons) watching the crews practising for the Head of the River races this weekend. This being about as close to actually sitting by the Thames it is possible to get anymore, something to thank modern embankment builders for, this seems like a fitting moment to reflect on the last 2 weeks. Two weeks which will stick in my memory forever, for all the best reasons, and the odd slightly less positive!

I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, and definitely not a holiday. What I hadn't fully thought through was how having to use a completely new feeding method was going to add difficulty. We're still nowhere near figured out how to get enough food into him, and this is having impacts on all of us (including Mum). I reckon it's added about 15% (time, complexity and effort) to doing things over Mum. Before I started I thought I could imagine what it was like to be at home with him full time when he was younger. But I'm dealing with Junior at a stage where he is able to amuse himself for at least some of the time. As a result my respect for the job done by Mum has gone up even higher. Amuse himself like now, where we're playing a game of fetch – he crawls off and I go fetch him when he goes too far…

So what are the big things I've learnt? Here they are:

Lesson the First – Sleep is your Friend. Junior is the non-sleeping type of baby (there appear to be the 2 sub-types. For reference, Junior typically naps for 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day). I knew this before I took over. But until this week I didn't fully understand why it was so important to get him his naps. On Tuesday Junior had only had about 45 minutes nap, in the morning. When Mum returned I'm not sure she could tell which one of us was more tired and distraught. I think it was me, because I can't just sit their and cry. Or at least not if Junior's got there first. Lesson learned the hard way.

Lesson the Second – Play is really fun! We've done a few things in the past fortnight that he hasn't done before – art (finger painting), mountaineering (climbing on cushions) and experienced different viewpoints and gravity (backpack carrier and stuck things to the floor and got him to pick them up). All ideas off the internet, obviously. He might not always be smiling, but the pleasure he has in trying new things is evident from the serious look of concentration on his face. We even had a hello wave going for a few hours!

Lesson the Third – Little boys really do miss their mummy. While he is more than happy with me, and doesn't mind when Mum heads out the door (except for a couple of days where he'd hold her leg for the preceding 5 minutes then be right as rain once she'd actually left) the smile on his face when Mum comes throught the door is defintely wider than the one I used to get….

Lesson the Fourth – Dads do stand out. It is definitely still unusual to be a dad at home and I don't think this stereotype will go away quickly. “Mother and baby” is used to describe everything. You get some friendly and….lets go with sympathetic looks mostly from older women.

Lesson the Fifth – Other dads aren't like Morris Minor drivers. I used to drive a Minor, and you would always wave at any other Minor you saw on the road because (a) it's always good to see another one and (b) you both understand it might all go wrong at any moment and need help. Barring the guys at Dads and Littluns, when walking past other a Dads, even if they're not full-time, I expected a bit more engagement. Rarely even a smile.

Lesson the Sixth – You really can't do things you want when you want. For instance I'm now trying to finish this post at home, before Mum gets home, as we didn't last long enough in the pub.

Here endeth the lessons. But not the fun – in summary its been amazing. In 2 weeks I feel like I've got to know Junior better than ever before – I better understand his moods, even if I'm still not sure what to do about them. I think I've seen him develop based on things I've taught or encouraged him to do. We've been lots of places and done stuff that some/many/most dads don't get to share with their kids.

Let's see what happens in the next 2 1/2 months!


Great Playtime for Dads – at Wimbledon Dads and Littluns

Week 2 of APL started today and as Junior hasn’t left home in protest yet, we went along to the local Dads playgroup – the brilliant Dads and Littluns which has a group in Wimbledon Park.

I guess I was a little unsure what to expect – my fears were either that this would be some seriously Organised Fun, or it would just be me and the priest of the church in whose hall the meeting was held. Fortunately it was exactly what I hoped a Dads playgroup would be – a room full of toys, and some welcoming fellow full-time Dads. Josh and Andrew seem to be the leaders of the group, and were very pleased to see Junior and I – both either had a child there, or had before they went to school, and quickly made us feel at home.

For Junior there were a lot (I mean a lot) of toys, of all shapes and sizes, which kept him amused until he got “New Toy Overload Syndrome”, a self-explanatory condition that last affected him on Xmas Day… For me there was the chance to meet some guys in the same situation as me (as well as one lady who is obviously a regular) with no-one thinking it’s in any way an unusual situation. As I said in my reasons for taking Additinonal Parental Leave, society as a whole hasn’t quite got its head round stay-at-home Dads yet, but it should.

The group meets twice a week, 10-12 Monday and Friday – Josh said they keep going through the holidays as well, which is good, and also means they often see their alumni. Those attending were drawn quite widely across SW London, indicating how rare this type of group is if nothing else. There were other dads in exactly the same boat as me, being a week further in to APL than me. I will definitely be going back next week, as it was just, well, nice!

Special shout must go out to the little lad who is expecting a little sibling to arrive later in the year, who took a real shine to Junior, and gave him some very sweet hugs and kisses, as he wants to practice playing nicely with little babies. Awwww!

To balance out this rather blokey beginning to the week, I’m going to try some Mother and Baby Yoga tomorrow. Assuming Junior/they’ll let me!

Additional Parental Leave: What, How and Why on Earth am I doing it?!

The only material point I'm aiming to make through keeping this blog (apart from proving to Mum that I haven't been dragging Junior round golf courses the whole time) is that spending time as a Dad on Paternity Leave is a good idea, fun and rewarding. The latter point will take some time, as the proof may only emerge when Junior is grown up as a normal and fully contributing member of society!

So leaving side any comments on the outcomes (i.e. my fun and his well-being), what is additional parental leave, how does it work, and why is it a good idea?

Additional Parental Leave (APL) was introduced in 2011 by the Coalition Government in the UK. The basic idea is to increase the flexibility of maternity leave to allow parents to collectively agree the best way to take care of their child, and give fathers more of an opportunity to be more involved in the early stages of their child's development. I believe it came from the Lib-Dem side if you care about the politics.

APL works quite simply. In the normal way the mother informs her employer when she wants to go back to work (must be at least 20 weeks after birth), and the father informs his employer that he wishes to take APL starting from the date the mother goes back to work. The father can take up to 26 weeks APL I think. I'm only taking 12. HMRC kindly provide a very simple form that allows you to tell your employer this. It doesn't, however, change the financial position – one of us is unpaid for three months. As financially it actually makes little difference which one of us is unpaid we are very lucky.

Why is a much harder question. To me there are three levels on which it is a good idea.

At a really macro-societal level, it could start to readdres the imbalance between men and women in the workplace – while it isn't the only factor, that a majority of women of women take a “career break” to have children is part of the reason why they get paid less and don't rise as high as men.

On top of this the evidence for improved child development when the father takes an active role is also pretty overwhelming, so this should lead to Junior being a much more inquisitive, confident and socially engaged child and adult. Being my offspring means he frankly needs all the help he can get. Don't believe me? Check out all the evidence quoted in this article summarising literally dozens of studies that set out the benefits to a child's development, from social to emotional to cognitive (it also has a lot of studies about absence, which I'm not so much a fan of and can be considered a bit judgemental – I'm just lucky that I get to do more), and read this more journalistic description of the benefits.

I'd reflect already that it is clear that Mum and I have slightly (not very though) different styles when it comes to how we spend our time with Junior – mine appears to involve slightly more risk (a la the Bin Incident) – but this isn't a bad thing. Assuming he survives… This means he is getting to see choice and different approaches already.

And really that's the third, best and most important reason. He's my son. I want to get to know him, and share in his upbringing as much as I can – and am being supported by an amazing woman to do more than most Dad's get the opportunity to – even if they want to. I can't really think of a good reason not to – and there were times in the run up I wondered if it was a good idea.

But a week in, and I'm so glad I've got this opportunity. It's amazing!!