I couldn’t afford to take my full paternity leave. My daughter Lily was born on a Friday in June and I was back to work on the Tuesday. The summer holidays were just around the corner and we needed all the money I could get.
My partner never made me feel as though I was letting her down in going back to work; in fact, it was she who urged me to do so. Her mother lived just two streets away, which was a huge help.
Yet, in spite of all that, writing these words evokes an uncomfortable feeling in me. I think it might be shame.
The difficult early days
It being the final few weeks of the summer term, I could leave on the bell and be home before 4pm. I didn’t shirk from my duties. Lily was rugby-balled to me as I walked through the door and the evening routine of feeding, wiping and supporting one another began.
We ran a rota system of staying awake with Lily on alternate nights. We tried splitting responsibilities in single nights, but it didn’t work for us. Far more pleasing was the thought of a whole night of undisturbed sleep, even if it did mean we paid for it with a night of undisturbed hushing and rocking and crying.
Because we did cry a lot in those early days. In fact, the first few months of fatherhood were the first time I ever sought professional help for my state of mind. I didn’t cope well at all.
The saintliness expected of – and perpetuated by – teachers never sat well with me. Sometimes, kids annoy me. Sometimes, I can’t think of anything worse than marking books. I certainly don’t want to spend my weekends in total abstinence, lovingly creating presentation after presentation after presentation in PowerPoint.
Going to work was a break
But being a parent was worse. While other parents always seemed to be cooing and smiling, bombarding the world with images of rose-tinted smiles beaming over cots, for us, in those early days, parenthood was just a little bit shit, and I felt ashamed for feeling so.
All I needed was someone to say “You know what? It is a bit crap sometimes, ain’t it?” That would have helped.
Teaching in the day was, if I’m honest, a welcome break from the chaos a new-born baby brings to your world. But of course it was difficult, too. In a profession that puts so much value in children, I felt like an outsider, with my thoughts about babies being a bit…er…crap.
It gets easier
I have come out the other side. Before Lily was born, I remember driving to work and singing along to my favourite song. All of a sudden I had this thought: “One day, it’ll be just me and my daughter in here singing along to this together.”
I had to pull the car over because I started crying uncontrollably. They were tears of a joy and love I could not possibly attempt to measure now, or ever.
A year-and-a-half on, as I was driving Lily to nursery last week, my favourite song came on the radio and I started singing. Unusually, Lily went quiet.
As I turned my head to check that she was OK, I saw her staring at me, transfixed. And then, I swear it, she started to sing along with me.
That was the most life-affirmingly beautiful moment of my life.
To anybody who is becoming a parent for the first time, recognise, accept and be honest about the fact that it is shit sometimes. It really is.
But they ain’t wrong when they tell you it’s worth it. It really is all worth it.
Matt Pinkett is an English teacher. He tweets @positivteacha