There’s a lot of guilt that comes with parenting. I think it’s worse when you’re new to it though. We’re often flooded with all the things we’re meant to do and the ways we’re meant to feel, from friends and family all the way to strangers on social media - there’s always an example of the best way to parent.
And as useful and as inspiring as that may be at times, it’s also a real kicker when you find yourself unable to meet these standards you didn’t ask to be set.
I remember one of the more conflicting times for me was when I decided to put my son into day care. I know what you’re thinking; it’s unavoidable for most people. You have to work, you can’t take your kid with you, and day care is the only real option. And thank you, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not here to sell you on the concept of day care, I’m here to tell you to give yourself a break. In the most literal sense.
Working from home
As a writer, a lot of my work is remote. It’s actually very rare I need to be in a studio or on the set for something, or even in an office as part of a writer's room. There’s this idea that a lot of people have where writers on tv shows are all in the same room, bouncing ideas off each other and throwing balls of paper over their shoulders into waste paper baskets.
And that may well be in the case of The Simpsons, I wouldn’t know. For the shows I’ve been part of, we mostly do it from the comfort of our homes, only donning attire worthy of being seen in for the dreaded, but at least scheduled, Zoom call.
So, if I can do all my work from home, why send my son to day care? Good question. I probably could get my work done while juggling parenting duties and keeping my son amused and entertained while I think about the next part of the project in the background.
I’ll tell you why I didn’t keep him home with me: I didn’t want to.
Establishing boundaries is tough!
It’s hard enough working from home and finding a space within your home to have as a designated workspace, away from all the distractions and temptations, a place I can settle into and say, “ok, this is work, we’re at work now.”
Being home all the time, it’s easy to forget that you’re still working. Or at least for me, it was. And my wife would occasionally pop her head into my office and see if I wanted to go grab lunch or if I was free to help with something.
This took a while for me to establish boundaries with too.
Saying, “not now, maybe a little later?” to my wife is one thing. Saying it to my toddler was another. It just didn’t work, he didn’t understand that my being in the house during the day didn’t mean he didn’t have access to me anytime he wanted.
So day care seemed to be the obvious solution.
Oh, the guilt!
Dropping him off on that first day was so difficult. I was an emotional mess. I may have worked from home that day but I spent most of it riddled with guilt, crying, and calling the day care office every 20 minutes to check on him. I’d sit at home at my desk, staring at my computer and thinking what a dropkick dad I must be that I can’t write some jokes while wrestling on the floor with my son or walking him around the block in the stroller.
It took me a while but I came to terms with a couple of truths.
The first one was the most important one I think. I’m not all dads. I’m just not. Some could probably do my job while looking after six kids of different ages and outperform me in every aspect. That’s fine. But I can’t. And I need to be good at my job and, more importantly, I need to be a good and present father. And I can’t do that if I’m always juggling and stressing.
The other truth that I learned very quickly, thank goodness, is that day care is an incredible place for a growing child. The lessons my son learned were invaluable and the social skills children develop at this stage are something I don’t think they can get from being at home in their comfort zone.
And I’m going to be really honest now and admit one last thing. Some days I had nothing on. No work to do. And I took him to day care anyway so my wife and I could enjoy a date day or we could clean the house and catch up on chores, or just do nothing.
If you’ve not done that in a while, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just do nothing, you’ve earned it.