Twisting the knife
Whenever I’m in the mood for self-torture I remind myself of a passing comment made to me about nine years ago that felt like a punch in the stomach.
I’d gone to pick up my daughter Minka, about 15 months old then, from her daycare and a woman who worked there rushed over to tell me how well Minka was doing, how she no longer burst into tears whenever an unfamiliar adult walked into the room.
She no longer... what? At that stage my daughter had been there for months and this was the first I’d heard of this disturbing behaviour. So while I’d been at work, doodling on notepads in meetings, going out for coffees, Googling myself, whatever... she’d been trawling through endless days, terrorised each time another tall stranger strode into her world. Another person that wasn’t me or her dad or anyone she’d learned to trust.
Don’t worry, she’s fine now. But I can still twist that guilty knife any time I want. It never fails to hurt.
And I was lucky. I had a full year at home with my baby. I used to prop her up in her push-chair and wheel it into the kitchen and, while I whipped up strange concoctions (blended liver and apple, anyone?), I would chat to her like a kid pretending to be on a cooking show. And she would chat back – just not in English. Did I feel like a loser occasionally? Yes. Because that’s the thing – you can’t win. You feel cast out from the grown-up world at home. Guilty as hell at work.
This isn’t just a female issue. Most fathers want to spend time with their babies too – they don’t want to be those estranged dads of last century. But a friend who works as an industrial relations research consultant told me that men, like women, find that working part-time or flexi-hours holds them back in the corporate environment. They get side-lined for promotions, not taken as seriously as their full-time colleagues. Seems like they can’t “have it all” either.
I don’t want to lay these problems at the feet of the second-wave feminists, the ones who fought for women to be allowed careers. They made a huge leap for evolution, but if combining parenthood and work without losing your mind was the goal, we’re not quite there yet.
The problem is, we underestimated the babies. They are complex little humans that cannot be folded up and packed off to fit conveniently around our schedules. And their tolerance for Parliament? Zero. Just ask ex MP Holly Walker. She’s on page 10.