Maybe it was a symbolic milestone but when I was nearing 40, with two children ages 2 and 5 years old, I felt the need to start prioritizing my life.
We often live somewhat detached from life, lacking real self-awareness. Having spent more than a decade in a marketing office, often working more than 10 hours a day, my routine involved coming home in the evening too tired to play with my children. I felt the sense of time passing too quickly and that I was missing a lot. My wife has always been dedicated to the family, sacrificing her professional life. In our case both maternal and paternal grandparents were too far and child care cost too much, leading me to the simple conclusion that I needed to work even more if it meant further sacrificing time with my children. I needed to get off the proverbial hamster wheel.
I started thinking about a transitional solution and started by taking parental leave, six months off for each child while being paid only 30 percent of my salary.
In Italy, very few fathers opt for this choice. It was certainly unheard of at my employer, but I decided to try. Surely it was necessary, a sort of downshifting, giving priority to what I viewed as more important things.
As a family we do not have a car, a decision we arrived at because quite simply we do not need it. We’re walkers and bike riders, which allows us to spend more time perusing stores, comparing discounts and best prices. We are fortunate to be surrounded by friends who have older kids than ours and many single child households so they are always passing, slightly used and much loved good quality children’s clothes and toys, on to our boys. These privileges have allowed us to simplify our lifestyle and control spending, living within our means. All that really matters to our family is spending time together traveling as much and as often as we can.
In this transitional year, however, my wife started looking for a job and I thought about how to reinvent myself in the world of communication as a freelancer. At the end of the leave year, the choice was not an easy one. Deciding between leaving a permanent job and diving head first into uncertainty, but also remembering that I was not satisfied with my previous life and I knew I needed to act. Something had to change.
My wife eventually found a job she loves and which suits her perfectly. I found my initial clients by word of mouth and, in the end, we managed to embrace a style for our lives. Of course, as a man I must say that the inversion of the paradigm “woman equals home equals family, man equals work,” has been hard.
Working from home and simultaneously caring for two children is not easy, but I always remember an anecdote. I had an important Skype call with two people, one in the United States and one in Japan so the timing was beyond my control. The call was arranged during my youngest child’s nap time but that day something went wrong. The baby woke up earlier and I had my call waiting for me in five minutes. I decided to put both kids in the bath with very little water while I was calling. Everything was going fine, then mid-call I hear my oldest son screaming from the bathroom. I was using my mobile phone, luckily, so while I was talking, I headed for the bathroom to see what was happening and I found my youngest son had relieved himself in the tub and he was at this point spreading his creation all over the bathroom, much to the disgust and horror of my older son, who at this point was hysterical. The call had to be cut short as you can imagine. This is just one of the many stories of a freelancer worker/full-time parent.
I often find myself at work on Sundays or late into the evenings because during the day when I feel more like a butler than a dad. My wife and I often organize schedules like a relay race. All the while I also get to witness my wife flourish and finally resume her position back in society and the working world, an opportunity unfortunately still denied to many mothers. It is undoubtedly tiring, sometimes it seems to be in a continuous loop without respite and nerves, patience and temperaments are put to the test, it can not be denied, but in these two years I took back on my life and can testify that to see one’s children growing day by day is a luxury and I feel blessed.
As the proverb says, “Chasing happiness, we lose satisfaction”