I recently discovered that I have been published in French, in the book ‘Mon p’tit drôle‘ by Alain Salvary. His book debates the issue of an at-home parent being a real profession, and the subjects of remuneration and recognition in regards to this job. I contributed the following ‘witness statement’ as an at-home Dad (which appears on pages 137-144, to be exact). Here is the English version. (clic ici pour la version française).
Some days are easy. The kids are happy, they wake up smiling and laughing. They eat a good breakfast and joke and play. They listen the first time when you ask them to do something. Getting ready for school is quick and without drama, or if it’s the weekend, or the holidays, they amuse themselves for hours on end, and we play, and pass really happy times together.
Other days are difficult. Maybe it’s a school morning and neither of them want to go. There are tears, contrariness. Arguments over t-shirts, debates over whether it’s a pants day or a skirt day. Maybe they’re bored and require attention non-stop the whole day, or they pester and dispute with each other and you have to keep playing referee, and you’re just hanging out for their bedtime and five minutes respite before you too, crawl exhausted, into bed.
I have two children. A cheeky monkey called Gustav, now 7 years old, and a little princess called Nina, 4 years old. My wife works. I am their stay at home parent. I get them ready in the mornings and take them to and from school. I cook for them. Shower them. Play with them. I take them to their activities and parties and friends places. I look after them when they are sick, and do whatever else is required in the their lives.
A New Beginning.
For me, becoming a pere au foyer was a choice. My wife had looked after our son, Gustav, for his first three years in Melbourne, Australia while I worked. I was working full time, 60 plus hours a week, as well as being on 24-hour call for accidents and problems for the taxi business I worked for – a family business. The time I spent with Gustav in this time was limited. We read stories at night. We jumped up and down to loud music. We played with cars in the dirt. I took him to crèche when I could. But my work was always a distraction.
With the arrival of our daughter, Nina, my wife and I began to re-assess our lives. I had long had an urge to write. My wife longed for France, her mother country. After much soul searching, we decided to leave Australia and relocate our little family to France, and start a new life. One of the conditions of this was that my wife would start up work again, and I would stay at home and look after our kids, and follow my ambition to write.
I looked forward to this move with relish. Looking after your children, watching them grow up on a day-to-day basis, without the distractions of an overwhelming, all time consuming job is a once in a lifetime opportunity – well, depending on how many children you have! For me it was something I wanted to experience. I wanted to have the opportunity to spend as much time with them as I could while they were young. After all, one day they would be – they will be – adolescents, then adults, and not need us like they did – and still do – as young children.
I relished the change of lifestyle. I expected it to be easier and more fun than my job in Australia! And, I would have time to write!
The First Day.
But that first day, as my wife left for work, I was suddenly filled with different feelings. I felt trepidation. Anxiety. A fear that I was not ready! The idea of staying at home to look after the kids had seemed perfect, but now as the door closed behind my wife, and the kids cried for her, I suddenly thought, “Am I made for this? What do I do if the kids cry? What do I do if they get sick? What do I do if they need something and I can’t give it to them or don’t know how?”
Nina was one year old. Gustav 4.
A little flustered, Nina and I got Gustav off to school. Then we made it back to our apartment. Things seemed clearer. My job was underway. And I thought, “Great! I can do this!” I was well into my first novel, and was eager to attack it. I pulled out my computer and sat down to write.
But Nina had other ideas. She wanted to eat. Then she didn’t. Then she did. Then she wanted a drink, then a doudou. “Ca! Ca! Ca!” she would say pointing at a glass a pen an umbrella and then finally a toy – something I could let her play with.
And I tried sitting down again. “OK!” I thought, “Now I can write!” But then Nina wanted to sit on my knee and tap at the keys of my computer. The problem was, we weren’t writing the same story….
So I gave up trying to write. I needed quiet. I needed to be alone. But Nina needed something else. My attention. All of it.
One of the first things I learnt as a father when Gustav was very young was to get down to his level. That meant being on the floor, lying down and letting him climb on me. Seeing the world from his view. Seeing him not just as a child, but as an equal, as a person, a young person needing my guidance and help. With Gustav I got down to his level often, but only at night time after work, and on the weekends, when work didn’t leave me too tired or drained.
With Nina I realised that it was going to be different. I wasn’t only with her at night time or weekends. I was her at home parent! I was with her all the time! She needed me to be like I was with Gustav, but on a full time basis. Where my wife had been like this for Gustav, now I needed to be like this for Nina. My writing would have to wait.
So I climbed down to Nina’s level on a daily basis, and Nina climbed all over me. We passed time playing. Maybe doing something as simple as passing a piece of large duplo back and forth between each other. Then we would give each other hugs. We would eat lunch. Do the laundry – I would be loading the dirty washing in the machine and she would be pulling it out. Sometimes things were slow going for me. Things took longer than expected, longer than I thought they should. But Nina was happy. And when Gustav wasn’t at school, he joined us rolling around the floor, or playing, or going to the park. And he was happy too.
Time runs at a different pace, a different rhythm when you look after kids, especially young ones. Getting bread from just down the road took me a maximum of five minutes when I went by myself. But with Nina at such a young age, each trip outside was a discovery tour. She insisted on walking when it would have been quicker to push her in the pram. She insisted on stopping and examining each leaf, each flower, each rock and each insect. Everything was a new experience that we just had to stop and examine.
At the same time, Gustav too was becoming more curious, and a trip to the park meant loading up on footballs, tennis balls, bikes and skateboards. It meant stopping to look at goldfish and frogs, a funny man, a cool looking car.
For someone who had spent years trying to get everything done as quickly as possible in the workplace, it was a tough adjustment! Work was always about getting tasks done efficiently and effectively. Being with the kids was more about the quality of time spent, than how long anything took.
Being a stay at home dad has taught me many new skills. I know how to bandage skinned knees. Changing nappies and toilet training no longer frighten the hell out of me. I can pack shopping bags quickly and efficiently. I can negotiate with the most ardent adversary – a daughter insistent on wearing pink when the color clothes are in the wash – and often win. And, I can cook!!
Food! How important is food! Food provides comfort! Food can give pleasure! And being around Nina so young I quickly learnt that food is also like fuel! A tired and cranky Nina was soon fixed by giving her something to snack on! Or making lunch! Nina would eat something and bounce straight back up refreshed! Energised! It was like putting petrol into a car with an empty petrol tank. Give her some fuel and she will go go go!
I soon made it a habit to have some biscuits or bread with us at all times – at the park, walking through town. When we went shopping at the supermarket the first stop was for bread! That way I could keep her happy while I did the shopping without her trying to impulse buy, pointing to anything colored pink, or purple and saying, “Ca! Ca! Ca!”
But just having food available wasn’t enough! My wife and I take pleasure in eating good food. In Australia, I was blessed! When I worked, I was lucky to come home and have a home cooked meal ready for me. And my wife was a good cook! Becoming the stay at home parent, the cooking duties duly fell to me! And I had big shoes to fill!
Cooking in general, had an anything but auspicious start for me. When I met my wife many years ago, the first meal I ‘cooked’ for her consisted of overcooked pasta and a can of chopped tomatoes and onion, heated, and tipped over the pasta…..my future wife was not overly impressed, and in retrospect, maybe I’m lucky she hung around! I knew as the main ‘chef’ of the family, I would have to do better than that. I wanted to do better than that!
It’s more than three years now since I took up cooking duties and I feel I’ve progressed a long way from that ordinary first pasta meal. It isn’t always easy to please everyone’s tastes but I do my best! In the process I like to think I’ve introduced our kids to a variety of culinary experiences. My wife and I love all types of food, from French cuisine to Asian (especially Thai!) and I take pride that our kids have ‘open tastes’ at such a young age. Hey, they don’t always like what I cook, but they always try it!
A real job.
With Gustav and Nina now 7 and 4, I’ve been around for most of their important moments. I saw Nina’s first steps. I was there when Gustav learnt to ice-skate and when his first tooth fell out. I try to keep them open-minded, introduce them to new experiences and thoughts. I do my best to answer their curious questions. At home, I’m their first stop for information. I’m teaching them, but they’re also teaching me. I find I’m learning a lot about myself. A lot about patience.
As for my writing, well, when we made our life change, my wife made it clear to me that she thought my first job was looking after the kids, and that writing came second. Honestly, I didn’t see it that way. I saw looking after the kids as my first responsibility, but writing as my first job. After three years as our children’s stay at home parent, I find myself realising she is right. Being a stay at home parent is a full time job, to which my writing must come second.
Some days are hard. Others are perfect. But no matter what type of day it is, I can honestly say that being a pere au foyer is the most rewarding, and satisfying job I’ve ever had.
I consider myself a lucky man.