SPL not relevant to us
What did you think being a father would be like before the arrival of your first child?
We had to think a lot about what it would be like before we acquired our first child. Most children who are up for adoption in Britain are there because they were taken out of abusive or neglectful backgrounds that a judge ruled they couldn’t stay in, and that means they often arrive with a lot of problems and uncertainties. You usually can’t know if the mother was drinking throughout her pregnancy, or was on other drugs, and you often can’t know how their early experiences fully affected them, or how well they will bounce back. You get a lot of kids with attachment problems, with food issues, with developmental delays, physical problems, anger issues, you name it. So they give you a bunch of preparatory training that has you reflecting on parenthood, and your own childhood and similar. So I guess I thought it was a big responsibility, with possibly some big heavy stuff to deal with, but also I generally like kids, so I thought it would be fun too.
Have your expectations of fatherhood matched with the realities of being a dad?
Oh it’s been way better. We were really lucky and got a kid who is just delightful. I think the general fun kid interactions are pretty much what I thought they would be, and I wasn’t sure what I’d think of changing nappies and feeding them, etc, but that is really just fine. The things that have been most surprising have been: The reactions you get from other people. We always joked that to meet people in a new country (especially one as reserved as the UK) we needed a dog or a kid. The reality is that having a kid puts you into the parent club, in which large numbers of people suddenly react positively to you, and will spontaneously engage with you, and treat you as a much better person. You go from being a quasi-invisible stranger, to be politely ignored, to being part of the big trustworthy club. It’s a totally unearned but enjoyable privilege. I understand that with women other parents are often a lot more catty and competitive and judgemental, but in my experience that doesn’t carry over to dads. The worst you can get is ignored in the cliquier play groups.
It’s surprising how much she can wind me up. You always hear the stories about how kids can drive you crazy, but it’s kind of cute until it happens to you. When she throws her food on the floor, and you tell her ‘no’, and then she keeps doing it with a grin, knowing that she doesn’t have to scrape it off on her hands and knees… yeah, I’ve had to walk away a handful of times.
The degree of grind. As one of our friends who adopted before us said: You can think you are as prepared as you like, but then you get run over anyway. So far it’s not that looking after a kid is particularly difficult, moment to moment (well ours, so far, touch wood), but it just goes on and on all day. Completely exhausting, even when you haven’t done anything remotely unusual.
What were your experiences of the support that you (and your partner) received before, and after, the arrival of your child(ren)?
Well we had lots of training with social workers, but one of the issues for us, as immigrants, was how much social support we would have – our family is mostly on other continents, so we can’t drop the kids at grandma’s at a moment’s notice if needed. But once you have kids, you start meeting people, and connections get deeper. We are forming a small line of local teenagers at our door, wanting to babysit.
How are parenting responsibilities divided up within your family? (For example, what things do you do as a dad to help care for your child? Did you take any time off work to look after your child(ren)?)
Well I got a pretty good leave, and my spouse is trying to do bits and pieces of work, so it’s more even than it otherwise would be. Lately I’ve probably even done more than her.
When we first got her, she attached immediately to my wife, and was less sure about me. Apparently babies often have that gendered pattern, and her previous primary caregiver was a woman. One of the social workers suggested that I had to either get her up or put her to bed, and feed her at least one meal a day. So I started getting her up and feeding her breakfast, and that worked perfectly. Within a few days she was as comfortable with either of us.
The joke at home now is that I’m the janitor (when I’m working anyway). I get her up, play with her in the morning, then hand her off, then come home in the evening and clean the kitchen.
What do you know about the shared parental leave policy; and is this something that you would have liked to have taken advantage of, if you were able to?
Not really relevant to us. I am on adoption leave. If we had adopted her a few months later there would have been a more flexible plan in place that would let us switch off time between us, but it’s a moot point, as my partner is at home in the day anyway.