Like everyone on the planet COVID-19 affected our family. Not all the change however, was bad news. Yes I had to stop all in person physiotherapy (I moved some of my work virtually) but thankfully my wife could return to work and I could turn my energy to caring for our kids. I know many families were forced to juggle work and kids from home, in some ways the forced simplicity of stopping work was a blessing. It meant I actually got to appreciate and enjoy the forced time off. I felt there were some learnings along the way that might be useful for other dads – current, or soon to be.
I think the over overarching lesson for me was that more men should take or be forced to take paternity leave. Not everyone, male or female, would jump at the opportunity but the experience of becoming the primary care giver is transformational. As a sole proprietor I would have said paternity leave couldn’t be done because of the financial burden – but as I just learnt with enough belt tightening and planning most of us can afford a couple months away from work. We fear what we don’t know, I didn’t know anyone other than men in government jobs with very supportive paternity leaves to have done it. But now this experience has been lumped upon millions of men I hope in the future the discussion doesn’t seem too far fetched. As the primary care give, you not only deepen the bonds with your children you build a shared experience with your wife.
I like to think of myself as a patient person but it was tested during this time. I think as parents we hope positive impact we are having on our children’s development but it can be difficult to see. All too often it is easier to see the behaviours or traits we disapprove of. Toddlers are built to test our boundaries and as they become more comfortable their behaviour and dependence on you can all to often turn negative. It was sometimes tempting to throw in the towel and lose my patience (it of course happened) but as much as I could I tried to see things from their perspective, took a breath, and got down to their level. Often nothing could be remedied and the tantrum had to run its course. I had to sit with them through what ever it was they were going through.
Put your phone away
I’ve never been a heavy phone user but when most of your days are at home and a good portion of that time is spent with kids the pull of the phone is pretty strong. But the 10 minutes here and the 2 minutes there were never worth it. Sure it was important to plan things with others once we could but most of the time it distracted me from engaging with the kids and meant I didn’t stay on task when I brake in the day. My son turned 4 in June and right at about the start of the pandemic in march his desire to play with toy figurines (cars, animals, action heroes) was building. His favourite activity during our time at home was setting up “battles.” It just meant taking toys out of boxes and lining them up on two opposing teams in differing groups. As much as I wish I loved these games as much as he did, I just don’t…hence why we slowly lose interest in our toys. So the pull to the phone was often strong but when I remembered to put it out of arms reach everyone won. My son felt more engaged with me and after 10-15 minutes was satisfied so that I could go and prepare dinner or clean up from the mornings activity.
Planning and flexibility
Schools and daycares run well because they have a planned and structured day. For myself with two children of differing ages and different needs I found I needed a plan as well as flexibility. In other words, I had to be ok if the plan wasn’t working and I needed to abort mission.
My wife was always good at connecting with other moms during her paternity leave and now I understand why. Even during the early months when we could only see people from their stairs I felt incredibly lucky to be able to connect with other adults on a daily basis. As things opened up in June and we were able to bubble with my brother and his kids as well spend more time at the park the shared time together was enriching for everyone. Even if its just one other dad or mom the ability to hang with another adult and discuss matters big and small was so helpful.
I have written about this before but I can’t understate how important the ritual of eating together is. Sometimes my daughter’s nap didn’t line up with our lunch time meal but I think my son and I probably ate upwards of 400 consecutive meals together. I made eating home made meals (or picnics) a priority and we didn’t miss it – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The ritual is fun, is offers stability to the day, and although it can be tough for my wife and I to get a proper conversation going during dinner it is a time for “shared” conversation.
For Vancouverites this shouldn’t come as a surprise but everyone is definitely happiest with a little fresh air. Rain or shine we got outside for walks, scoots, or bike rides. It can take effort to get a couple kids into their gear and out the door but the effort is always worth it.
Its funny but for so long we yearned for things to go back to normal but now that the time has arrived I am sad for the change. The change into COVID life was a challenge, but we had adapted and I appreciated our simple little life. Now the change back to our 90% normal life will be a challenge too. I’m sad that my time with these two little kids is coming to an end. It wasn’t always roses and it was hard to stay in the moment but I know that on most days I took in a deep breath and inhaled every little piece of those kids. I am so grateful to have had this time with them and it has cemented the idea of taking another chunk of time off when they are a little older. I suppose it is a luxury to be able to do these things but with the right attitude and planning many more of us could do it.
I hope as our family transitions out of this stage and the kids go back to childcare and myself to work that we are all better off from having gone through this experience (lets hope it isn’t COVID that forces us to do it again). I know my love for them has grown, I know I am