The way we parent is changing too. Nowadays, it’s more common for both parents to return to work, meaning childcare duties are shared more equally. Not to mention that – as much as we love our babies – lots of us still cherish having a little child-free time, whether that’s to catch up with friends, engage in a hobby or simply get a haircut!
This progression means that there are a lot more ‘types’ of parents who find themselves looking after their baby single-handedly, whether that’s dad sharing parental leave or mum who’s been doing it since day one.
Shared parental leave was still difficult at times, and it was disappointing to feel I was struggling, but I just had to remind myself all parents have times like that. It doesn’t all ‘come naturally’, even to birth mothers, and asking for support is always the best route.
But while this may be the reality, the portrayal of families around us – from adverts to films and TV – has been a little slow to catch up, making those of us doing things a little differently feel like the odd one out. Sometimes, breaking the mould is empowering, yet at other times, it can feel a little isolating.
A parent who wants the best for their child is always going to be everything they need and more, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be plain-sailing. We asked parents in the same position what they did to help them through the tough times.
how to deal with shared parenting
“I always wanted to be a hands-on dad and had arranged to take shared [parental leave] when our son was between six and nine months old,” says Andy, father to 11-month-old Teddy. “But when he was about five months old, my wife went out one evening and when I tried to get him to sleep, he wouldn’t stop screaming. I felt terrible, like I didn’t know what I was doing and no way could I do this by myself for three months. I also really didn’t want to ask my wife to come home on her first night out, but she called me, heard him screaming in the background, and came home anyway.”
“It was a real low point for me,” he continues, “but my wife pointed out that we’d got into the habit of her putting Teddy to bed, so he was just confused about the change - it was no reflection on me and I wasn’t ‘giving in’ to ask her for help. Shared parental leave was still difficult at times, and it was disappointing to feel I was struggling, but I just had to remind myself all parents have times like that. It doesn’t all ‘come naturally’, even to birth mothers, and asking for support is always the best route.”
Knowing there were others I could talk to who totally got where I was coming from was so helpful.
parenting support groups
Speaking to others who are in the same situation and have the same struggles as you is invaluable, so try to see if there are any local or online communities that you can join, such as same-sex parenting groups or blogs from stay-at-home dads. “Once I read articles and met a few other same-sex parents I felt a weight had been lifted,” says Luciana, mother to two-year-old Noah. “My wife carried and gave birth to our son, and I started to feel a few insecurities about not being biologically related to him, which both surprised and worried me. Knowing there were others I could talk to who totally got where I was coming from was so helpful.”
find what baby/parent activities work for you
“There are so many baby groups out there, but I did feel a little awkward being the only man at some of them,” says Pasco, father to three-year-old Anna. “And when you’re shattered, it can be hard to find the motivation to go to them – even more so if you don’t enjoy it! But I just did a little trial and error and found a few things that worked for us, like a really relaxed playgroup where you just let your baby loose with toys (which was also run by a man), and swimming lessons were fun, too.”
open up about loneliness
I felt so tired and lonely
“I couldn’t believe how hard it was transitioning from one to two children,” says Jana, mum to two-year-old Samko and six-month-old Natalia. “Every second of the day my attention was being demanded by one of them, and I felt so tired and lonely. You don’t make a whole new set of mum friends with your second child like you do with your first, and my husband’s job became really demanding so he was around less. It was the toughest time of my life and I began wishing we’d waited a bit before having Natalia, but I after I started being honest every time someone asked how I was doing, it was amazing how many people rallied round, visiting, sending care packages, taking my oldest out for the day. It’s still tough obviously, but already my two have started playing together a bit more and it is such a joy to see them bonding.”
All in all, time alone with your baby can be a shock to the system, particularly at the start. But being together is crucial for bonding and over time, tends to get easier. So, know that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling, trust your instincts and try to enjoy these special moments.