Sorry for the gap since my last blog, it’s been a busy couple of months. I’ve been looking forward to and putting off writing this blog in equal measure. It was conceptually the first idea I wrote down, but you don’t really want to report the weather when you are inside a hurricane do you? I wanted a rounded perspective, which only comes with time and experience, (otherwise this would’ve read like a cry for help)…and so here we are 16 months on from Ella’s birth. I am only addressing the challenges here, but safe to say that the good outweighs the bad 10-fold and I wouldn’t swap what I have now for the world.
The first issue I grappled with was that work/life balance, in a couple of ways. Firstly in being limited in the actual number of hours I could now work and secondly in having the right energy and focus to do my job properly and have something left for outside of work.
I’ve never been someone that would work crazy hours 24/7, but pre-Ella if I needed to work early or late for a particular reason then I could and would. I also used to frequently get into the office ultra early to go to the gym near by. I can no longer do that as I do the morning drop off, which for me means no gym in the morning and no early starts. This was and still is tough for me to deal with as the knock on effect is if I need to work extra hours or exercise it has to be after work, and this eats into my family time. Currently I get home around 6.30pm get to play with Ella for a bit and maybe put her to bed…it’s quality time that I do not like to sacrifice.
The other battle I faced initially, but am ok with now was energy levels. When I first went back to work I struggled tremendously with energy levels both at home and in the office. I didn’t feel completely depleted, but just constantly at 80% battery life…it wasn’t a great feeling at all. I still have days now like it, but have found that my body adjusted to the change over time and I deal with it better, and interestingly whereas I used to be a light sleeper or struggle getting to sleep, now when my head hits the pillow I sleep like I’ll never sleep again! The problem was certainly made worse when both Michelle and I were back to work, as neither of us had much energy of an evening.
I still need to figure out how to add some exercise into the mix as though I am not a big fan of evening exercise, it’s the only time available so it has become one of my dreaded new year resolutions.
What I realised over time is that I needed to change my mindset, accept that I can only do so much and that I’d need to work smarter, be better organised and accept that sometimes I will work late and sometimes work can wait until tomorrow as I want to see my family. I’ve stopped letting myself be pulled in different directions, feeling like I was letting work or my family down. Once I accepted that I can only do so much I actually stopped trying to achieve the unachievable – it’s just about being realistic right?! I also know as a manager that if people are happy at home they bring that positivity and energy into the workplace, especially if work is helping to accommodate that balance.
It certainly does become more testing when Ella is unwell and someone needs to be at home, but I will cover that off on another blog.
Sleep….when I first went back to work we tried rotating the night feeds, but in the end I was not getting enough sleep in for work so after a while we agreed that I’d do the Friday and Saturday night feeds, and the bedtime/morning feeds, but Chelle would do the night…I even remember sleeping in the spare bed for a period when Ella kept waking up…I just couldn’t sleep properly with Ella waking up and it was really impacting my focus at work. I remember once going to Bluewater the morning after a terrible night, no sleep and I thought there must be fresher faces at the morgue.
Another adjustment to make was the relationship with my wife. Certainly as new parents you will have a few rows, which is completely normal, but I think what is important is making that conscious effort to see each other as husband and wife, not Mum and Dad. It’s easy to fall into the trap and you hear many a story of parents who after their kids have grown up and moved out feel like they have to get to know their significant other all over again. We’ve certainly had lots of family days out, but we have said we need a few more date nights, and have kicked off 2019 well in that regard. It’s so incredibly important to work at your relationship, this is the person after all who you chose to have a baby with in the first place Admittedly we are lucky enough to have both sets of parent that live close by and so we have taken advantage of that when need be, and besides Ella loves spending time with her Grandparents and they love spending time with her…it’s a win/win situation!
As important as work/life balance and your relationship with your wife is, it’s also incredibly important to have what I call your third space. Somewhere just for you. For some that may be exercise, it may be reading a book, playing a computer game….or even writing a blog! Never lose this. It’s important as a couple and as a family that you protect this space in your life. Mine’s watching or playing football or listening to podcasts…and lately even fishing. I can switch off everything going on in my life and just relax (yes, swearing at the TV can be relaxing!) and reset. When we first had Ella this 3rd space was limited to the train journey to and from work, but both Chelle and I have made sure we give each other time away from being a partner and parent and just to be ourselves. It’s not being selfish, it’s bringing the best ‘you’ to the family and relationship.
You need people to talk to. I’m lucky enough to be able to share anything with my mates if I need advice or just to get something off my chest. We’ve normally had about 5 pints at this point so I can never remember what their response is, but I am almost sure it is supportive. 10yrs ago I couldn’t have imagined having these types of discussions with my mates without getting funny looks, but we are all grown up now….mostly.
Chelle also some amazing friends she can tell anything to, as well as a great group of friends she met when she had Ella. They all have children the same age as Ella and they have been her support mechanism throughout, giving each other advice on what’s normal and what’s not, hosting play dates and spending adult time together to share the ups and downs of motherhood. They definitely need a shout out. whenever her WhatsApp pings I know it’s them!
To summarise then, what have I learnt about myself?
Be patient, be realistic and be honest with yourself and your family about where you are out of balance and embrace the journey or rediscovering that balance.
This is an adjustment period. Like with any major change, I went through a well established cycle. It’s not just about accepting the change, but accepting the emotion that comes with it. It’s completely normal to feel sad, overwhelmed or down at points through this period; stay the course. Know what you can control and accept what you can’t. Finally, take stock of how far you’ve come. It’s something I’ve always advocated at work, but rarely applied it at home. Remembering back to before Ella was born and even the day of her birth…I had no idea what I was doing. Reflecting back on me then and me now is a moment to be proud of.
Just to close, and a very, very loose link to change and also relevant in terms of the World Ella will grow up in…I cannot recommend enough listening to this truly inspirational Ted Talk from 16yr old Greta Thunberg on climate change and what she is doing to change humanity’s view of it. 10 minutes well spent and having a little girl myself, I found it quite moving.