At the end of my paternity leave, I look at my work emails. It’s overwhelming. I bottle this up for a few hours and later realise what's going on: this is all that is being demanded of me, all people want me to be, all I need to be. I sigh.
Baby has started to scream more, there’s a bit of wrenching and writhing. It could be just a first stage, but I feel my stress levels rising: our first child had reflux, we know what it’s like, we spent almost six months holding him, sleepless, going mad. Am I able to do that again? Am I able to be there for my partner again through it all? Can I do all that and my job?
My partner is likewise coming to the end of herself. With me returning to work, she’s taken on the nights and, perhaps too ambitiously, responsibility for me being ok enough to work. I know she needs rest. I feel she needs emotional support from me, but I am emotionally exhausted and I feel the pressure of work. I sense that she’s losing herself in sleep deprivation yet I feel powerless to stop it. I feel she needs me to take a lead with home, with the toddler.
The toddler. How can I help him get through this and not feel disregarded and unimportant any more? Not allow the common stories of sibling jealousy and the youngest getting all the attention start to be written. When I trained as a therapist, my older colleagues bemoaned not learning all this before they were parents, feeling regret about how they were with their kids. I suspect that having the training before is also a curse: it's much worse being aware of all that could happen, see it play out before you, and there be so little you can do about it.
And the baby keeps squirming seemingly in pain. I don't know what to do to help. Surely you should be able to do something. But you can’t. You have to just hold, listen to the cries, do your best. Not being able to fix it is one of the most arduous trials of parenthood.
And then at night the pressure and demands of work arise again. All those feelings of needing to prove myself. I need to be alert. I need to give it time. But I can’t do it all.
Yes, part of me quietly says, what about you? I know from experience that work and life seems to make much more sense and feel much more manageable when I can have an hour by myself to pray or journal or read something interesting. To say yes to this, though, must mean saying no to something else. But what do I say no to when the basics fill it all up?
This too will end.
Say no to everything non-essential. Choose self over job. If I really need to prove myself, I can do it when life is settled. And if anyone is judging me my performance now, they need a reality check.
Try to still notice the moments of joy.