Every time I leave the baby is a small separation, ranging from midly upsetting to full-on heartbreaking. The most difficult of separations was during my return to work following the lapse of my job’s (rather generous) paternity leave. It was hard leaving him and his mum alone, knowing full well that she was not confident enough to become his sole caregiver during the ten or so hours that I would be away from home.
I am one of those few lucky people who like their job and who get fulfillment out of it. But the first couple of days back in the office felt like an assault; as if someone was forcing me to be away from where my heart and instincs were urging me to be, like a forced separation. I have since then realised that my instincts and my feelings are not objective determinants of the severity of each separation.
My reintegration back to the office was easy as I arrived in the middle of a looming deadline, which required my undivided attention and energy. I therefore worked through my separation anxiety and only took breaks to stare at pictures of the baby, whose mother was kind enough to supply at a continuous stream. As with most things, it gets better with time. Every time I leave home since then is mildly, and thankfully diminishingly, upsetting.
The days he is awake during the time of my departure are more manageable than the rest as I play with him and make him laugh — his smile stays with me for hours. The most upsetting of days are those that I have to be away from home until after 7:30pm, his bed time. Not making it home earlier means that I will not likely see him in an alert state for almost two full days. Believe it or not, he visibly grows during those two days, which is awesome but also makes me feel like I’m missing out.
Feeling left-out is an inevitable side effect of the mini-separations. But in order to cope with daily life this feeling needs to be aggressively managed. Otherwise, illogical fears cloud our judgement, which cannot be allowed to, especially at a time when we need to be making emotionally-detached decisions about childcare arrangements in preparation of his mum’s return to work.
We haven’t experienced that separation as of yet. The very idea that the care of our son will be delegated to people unknown to us is, at the very least, unsettling. Childcare has been an ongoing concern since the moment we found out about the pregnancy. Should we hire someone to be exclusively with the baby? Should we alternatively take him to one of those ladies who look after 1-2 babies at a time in their homes? Should we instead take him to a nursery? Is it OK for the nursery to be hosted in the same premises as a kindergarten?
We’ve been weighting the different options. It is developmentally better for the baby to be with other babies, so the idea of a full-time nanny was rejected. But I would rather not take him to a stranger’s home even if he would be able to socialize with other babies. Such places are not regulated by the Social Welfare Services and his safety cannot be reasonably guaranteed. This arrangement would be attractive only if we knew and trusted the caregiver, which is not the case. Nursery it is, then. But what sort of nursery? We visited loads. Most of them worked at the very limit of the law, which stipulates that each caregiver can have a maximum of six babies under her watch. Most nurseries were also located in the same premises as kindergartens, which hosted tens of toddlers in (shockingly) confined spaces. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to take him to a standalone nursery with only a handful of babies, located next to our home. This would suffice for a few months, up until he reaches an age of enrollment to one of the capital’s kindergartens.
The idea of the baby, who up until now lived a sheltered life attached to his mum, myself, his grandparents and our friends, going to a new place surrounded by strangers, still makes me cringe, not least because of the inevitable effect that the nursery will have upon him, namely him getting sick until his immune system generates anti-bodies for common viruses.
I understand that the process of him growing-up will involve numerous mini and full-blown separations, which I welcome and look forward to. For the moment, we are both trying to enjoy the moment until the next one.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.