“John, you’re the main carer for your kids. How do you balance work and family life?” I’ve paraphrased, but this was the suggestion put to me for my final article as guest editor of Dads at Work. Well buckle-up people, because here’s my story.
It’s very difficult for me to tell this tale without giving you my background. I have the one wife, Mrs Adams and two daughters, Helen aged eleven and Izzy aged seven. Back in 2011, Helen was attending nursery five days a week as my wife and I both worked full-time.
Although I had informal agreements to work flexibly so I could do the nursery run, it wasn’t quite working out. Meetings were being put in my diary either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon and it was “noted” that I wasn’t always attending them.
I also noticed that in my department of 80 people, I could count on the fingers of both hands the number of people who were married. The number of those with children could be counted on one hand. If you were over 30, married and had kids, well, you were only slightly more prolific than unicorn excrement. In short, I was not happy at work and my face didn’t seem to fit.
I was also beginning to feel increasingly unhappy at Helen spending so much time at nursery. I put it to my wife that I should leave my job, become Helen’s main carer, concentrate on the domestic stuff and cut back Helen’s nursery hours.
We had a massive argument about it, but Mrs Adams quickly came around to the idea. At first, I got a part-time job working elsewhere a few steps down the career ladder. For a while it worked well.
We subsequently had Izzy, our second daughter and soon after that Helen started in reception class at school. I was spinning too many plates. I left the workforce altogether and became a Stay at Home Dad (SAHD).
Interestingly, people had started calling me a SAHD as soon as I gave up full time work. I never referred to myself in that way because I worked part-time for the first couple of years. Even though I was working part time, I was called a SAHD so often by other people that the label stuck!
Back in 2012, a year into my journey as Helen’s main carer, I started writing my blog, Dadbloguk.com. It highlighted my life as a man who ‘holds the babies.’ In fact, in an example of shocking timing, I launched the blog a week before Izzy was born.
At that stage Dadbloguk took up a lot of my time. It was time-consuming hobby but it wasn’t a significant part of my life. In time, however, it would become my key to working flexibly.
The blog grows
As readership of Dadbloguk grew, I found I was being offered various commercial opportunities. Although this wasn’t really my intention when I started blogging, I realised this could be a way to make money (A word of caution to anyone thinking of doing the same. These were the days before Instagram and YouTube and there were very few dads producing content in the online world. I got in early. It would be much more difficult these days).
For two years it was essentially a side-hustle. I was earning small amounts of money, but I wanted to grow it and make a greater financial contribution to the family. There was only one way I could make this work. For those two years I got up at 5am, seven days a week and worked on the blog until I had to get the kids up.
Flexible working: Not an easy option
I still do 5am starts to this day. Sometimes I go for a fortnight where I don’t have an early start, other times I’ll be out of bed at 5am every day for a month. It all depends on the workload. If, as I am, you’re working for your own company, these are the levels of dedication you need to have.
There is an important point to be made here. Flexible working is not an easy option. It usually requires effort.
What does a typical working day look like?
I get up at any time between 5am and 7am. If I have got up early, it’ll be to work on the blog for an hour or two. Otherwise it’s all about getting the kids ready for school.
Between 7am and 9am I am focused on the kids and the school run. It’s usually then back home to try and squeeze in two or three hours of housework into 45 minutes!
Some years ago, Jo Middleton who writes the Slummy Single Mummy blog said the key to writing a successful blog was to “avoid all housework.” I’ve come to appreciate how accurate that statement was!
I will then work on through until around 2pm when I’ll quickly do some further housework before getting the kids from school. The next few hours are insanely busy as I ensure homework is done, after school clubs are attended, the entire family including Mrs Adams and I eat dinner and the children are put to bed.
By around 8pm or 8.30pm I may do some further work. Although I do occasionally work into the night, I hate doing it and I generally avoid late night working. I prefer to spend my evenings with Mrs Adams.
Do I use any special tools to make sure my day and work runs smoothly? I once gave a presentation at a conference about balancing blog life and real life and pulled a calender out of my bag to show the audience how I organise my time. It’s maybe not the answer people expect from me, but without a calender I’d be lost!
Otherwise it’s a mobile phone and tablet computer wire wireless computer. Both enable me to work on the go when travelling.
In case you are wondering, yes, we do have a cleaner. Not that I’ve forked out on this for ages, but on occasion I have also paid out for a gardener or for other domestic support. It’s not ideal, but it strikes me this is becoming the norm in many households as most are dual income.
Does it work?
Yes, this approach works for our family. I am not going to tell you it’s perfect, because I am always behind on the housework. There are always little jobs that need doing.
As my wife says, however, she is happy to be at work and know that I am at home and able to take care of the kids. She is free to work full time and dedicate herself to a career she loves. Excellent mother that she is, Mrs Adams was never going to bake cakes for the Parent Teacher Association or host coffee mornings for her mum friends. That simply isn’t her style.
Also, as I work for my own company, I am free to drop everything and collect a child from school if they are ill or can stay at home if snow closes school or some other unexpected event happens. This does happen from time to time and these are the occasions when I end up getting up at 5am and going to bed at midnight. Again, it may not be easy, but working this way as a freelancer and blogger gives me the flexibility I need to work for myself and dedicate time to my family.