We had to make unexpected changes, but our family is stronger for it.
When the pandemic first hit the U.K., I panicked. I was 2 months away from giving birth to my first child, and I knew I was vulnerable due to having a chronic autoimmune disease.
I had a feeling that life would never be the same.
I’d imagined a relaxed maternity leave bonding with my baby, with visits from family members keen to help out so that I could have some rest.
Instead, within weeks of having the baby, my partner and I made the difficult decision that he would have to leave his job for our safety. He worked in a busy supermarket, putting us at risk. He chose to put my and the baby’s health first, even if that meant a drop in income.
We didn’t have the luxury to take the hit in income, but we didn’t have a choice. And we couldn’t survive on my maternity pay. Instead, 6 weeks after a traumatic C-section, I sat down at my desk and got back to work.
Having a new baby and being a working mom has been hard, especially at the beginning.
I know that a lot of people have had it worse. Many have lost loved ones or had babies with no maternity pay. I’m in no way ignoring that, and in retrospect, I see how lucky we’ve been. But my challenges have been real, just the same.
Being a working mom, at first, filled me with guilt. I had friends who had given birth around the same time as I had, and they were all taking months off from work.
I looked at their Instagram stories in envy as I knew my nights, when my son was asleep, were going to be filled with deadlines. I was desperately looking for work in hopes of being able to support the household, on top of being a new mom trying to do normal “mom” stuff.
It was stressful, and every single day I felt like I was failing.
I worried that I wasn’t doing the right thing. I constantly worried about finances (and still do) and was filled with mom guilt.
This was only reinforced when I received backhanded comments from family members and friends about the fact my partner and I weren’t sticking to traditional parenting norms, where the dad works and the mom stays at home.
But in a global pandemic, we aren’t sticking to any norms. Life just isn’t normal.
We’re both at home and both trying our best to raise our son the best way we know how.
We share childcare. We take things in turns. It’s important to me that we both have amazing relationships with our child and that’s what we have.
We both take turns with feedings and diapers and playtime. In the evening after my son’s bath, we all spend family time together.
But my partner being home and me getting to watch him be a dad has made me fall in love with him all over again.
It’s shown me that it is possible to be a team and that we don’t need to stick to traditional gender norms to be a happy family. It’s taught me that a child needs a good relationship with their parents, whatever their gender, and being at home means we’ve had the luxury of being able to do that.
At first, life was very full-on. Over time, we’ve come into our own routine where I can work around being a mom. And I’ve realized that I’m a good one: for providing for my son and also for dedicating to him the time and care he needs.
My partner doesn’t “help out” with childcare, as it’s commonly phrased by relatives. He’s not a babysitter.
When dads do their share of the childcare, it’s important to recognize it. Still, what he’s doing is not anything spectacular — he’s just being a parent.
The world still has a long way to go in realizing this.
Still, I’m grateful for the relationship he has with my son, and his commitment to “just being a parent” has made our relationship stronger. We have our own family dynamic that works for us.
We feel what every family deserves to feel. We’re happy and safe and loved because the two of us have worked together to make that happen.
We’re more intimate with each other because we’re more respectful of each other. This has led to an improvement in our sex life.
Becoming parents has given us an even stronger connection, and working as a team has made our physical relationship more exciting. It’s increased our sense of love, passion, and appreciation for each other.
Our family dynamic has made us better friends. It’s fun to laugh together as my son makes funny noises and giggles at his children’s shows. It’s amazing to watch together as he continues to grow, knowing that he’s ours.
Though everyone can see how happy and secure our son is, we still face judgmental comments and shocked faces when people ask about our work arrangement.
I tell them that I’m the one trying to meet deadlines, and their jaws drop. Some people seem incapable of believing that not all families function the same way.
I’m tired of feeling uncomfortable when having these conversations, and instead I look at my family and smile. If it’s working for us, that’s all that matters.
On top of that, it’s benefiting our relationship and our relationship with our child.
At the start, I had my own doubts about our unusual dynamic because of traditional beliefs, but I’ve learned that it’s OK to do things differently. I’ve learned that the most important thing is a child’s happiness, and the beaming smiles we see every day from our son prove that we’re doing a good job.
I’ve also learned that the best parents are the ones who work together to make their children feel safe, loved, and secure. And isn’t that what matters most?
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and encouraging others to speak out.