I like my job and I enjoy working at the company I do, but I love being a parent. It’s not even close. If it was financially viable, I’d trade in my career in a heartbeat to be a stay-at-home dad. I would probably have to do battle against my wife, Gladiator style, with the
spoils right to becomes the stay-at-home parent going to the victor.
My wife and I recently secured a nursery place for Afia. We’ve been dithering on a decision for a little while, mainly because we both travel long distances to work and hadn’t yet come to a conclusion on whether to select a nursery closer to my office or closer to my hers. As luck would have it, she recently secured a conditional offer for a new job much closer to home and has an interview lined up for another – both only a 12-minute journey door to door. This meant we were able to select a nursery close to where we live.
Most parenting articles about milestones focus on baby’s first ‘this’, or baby’s first ‘that’, but I’ve begun to realise over the last 7 months that parents have to navigate milestones of their own too and this one, sending my baby off to nursery, just got very real for me very suddenly. Afia has never been anywhere with anyone without either my wife or I or both of us being present. Will she be okay without us? How am I supposed to just ship my child off into the care of strangers from 8am to 5pm, three days per week and not feel anxious about it?
I never thought I’d be that parent. You know, the one who lingers at the classroom door afraid to leave after having already dropped their child off on the first day of school or nursery, but now I think I might be. It seems like such a big step for her so soon, and I don’t know how she’ll cope with the separation. My wife thinks I’m being the baby and that Afia will be fine – she’s probably right.
I guess what I am really afraid of isn’t whether Afia will cope with being at nursery, but that when my wife finishes her maternity leave and goes back to work, how precious little time we’ll have with our child. The relationships she forms with the adults responsible for her care will influence and shape her developing mind and sense of the world around her. I call it outsourced parenting, though it feels more like parenthood supplanted. I know there is no danger of her becoming confused about who her parents are, but I do find the paradox of childcare disconcerting. The need for us to both work full-time jobs because raising a family on a single wage is unsustainable, but ending up financially less able anyway because the nursery fees will likely exceed our monthly mortgage repayments by more than 30%.
One of my earliest memories as a 4-year-old, is of the sense that my parents had been absent for what felt like weeks. I remember the jubilation I felt at their arrival home from work one day, and immediately telling them about how the babysitter had spilled some talcum powder on the floor, carefully selecting the phrase, “throw away” to describe what was clearly an accident. I won’t try to psychoanalyse whether my four-year-old self was subconsciously communicating feelings of abandonment in the words I used that day, because I only remember how much I missed them. The reality is that my parents had only left for work earlier that same day, but our morning and evening interactions were so fleeting they faded into obscurity. Or, at least, they felt so far away in the mind of young child.
We still have at least a couple months yet before Afia is scheduled to start nursery, and we’ll spend that time introducing the concept of separation to her infant mind by letting her stay with Nana for an hour or two every now and then. I’m sure she’ll be fine when she does eventually go to nursery, but I can’t promise my teary face won’t be pressed close against the crack of the door for a last glimpse after dropping her off on that first day.