Tom & Maarten

DARON: Tom, 32 years old, radio and television maker

DARON: Maarten, 32 years old, television network manager

FAMILY SITUATION: Married, dads of Jasmijn (1 year old)

 

Maarten and Tom met at work. They have since been together for ten years, half of these as a married couple. They both had a clear desire for children from the start; more of a desire to bring up a child than an urge to reproduce. Just before getting married, they started a domestic adoption procedure. Six years later they became the proud dads of Jasmijn. ‘Until we had a daughter, we were the textbook example of typical yuppies,’ says Tom. ‘Working fourteen hours a day, eating at a restaurant in the evening, a cleaning lady for the housekeeping and washing, from one party to the next in the weekend and regular flights away somewhere for relaxation or inspiration. And with the full knowledge that it would all be over when we became fathers.’

Such an adoption procedure really forces you to think seriously about bringing up a child, about the child’s place in your life and your relationship etc. You hear things about your partner you don’t always want to hear, but I would still recommend those sessions to anyone wanting a child.

‘Such an adoption procedure really forces you to think seriously about bringing up a child, about the child’s place in your life and your relationship etc. You hear things about your partner you don’t always want to hear, but I would still recommend those sessions to anyone wanting a child,’ admits Tom. ‘We followed thirty hours of compulsory preparation/formation sessions at Kind en Gezin – an agency that works actively in ‘Public Health, Welfare and Family’ policy area in Belgium – and then another fifteen at the adoption service we selected. I know couples that have split up because they have different opinions about having and raising a child. But I think that after those 45 hours, it lessens the chance of that happening to us,’ adds Maarten. Did they feel taken to task by the compulsory preparations? ‘No,’ says Tom. ‘We always felt lucky that we could go through the procedure at all and that we don’t live in a country where gay and lesbian couples are not acknowledged. We have always been thankful and never assumed we “had a right” to a child. The child is the one with rights and that is often not given enough consideration.’

We always felt lucky that we could go through the procedure at all and that we don’t live in a country where gay and lesbian couples are not acknowledged. We have always been thankful and never assumed we “had a right” to a child. The child is the one with rights and that is often not given enough consideration.

Friendship or blood ties, they both hold equal weight for Tom and Maarten. Friends, family, colleagues, they all get together at birthday parties and chat away happily with each other. Their network makes their life easier. Tom’s parents have a business around the corner and Tom and Maarten can turn to them 24 hours a day so to speak. Maarten’s father is retired and his mother works as a nurse and can shift around her hours somewhat if needed. They are also surrounded by caring people at work and are given lots of freedom within their jobs. ‘In theory anyway, because in reality our diaries are jam-packed and there is often little flexibility in choosing the hours we work. But our work-life balance is good at the moment. Should that come unstuck, I would certainly be prepared to make changes in my career,’ explains Tom.

The fact their mutual employer has its own nursery is an exceptional advantage. ‘Jasmijn comes to work with us three days a week. We work different hours, so Maarten leaves first and I arrive later with Jasmijn and drop her off at the nursery. Maarten finishes work earlier so he picks up our daughter with my car as it has all the baby stuff in it. I come home later with Maarten’s car. It means our cars are in the garage in the right order for the following day.’ It is a life hack that gives them the most quality time with their daughter. They also have a shared calendar at work so they can see in real-time where the other one is and it makes planning the family schedule easier. And if something comes up, it is not a problem for either of them to take Jasmijn along to a meeting.

We don’t feel the need to cancel things just because we have a child. And I hope we don’t start any time soon.

Meanwhile, the couple has learned to make things easier for themselves since becoming parents. Their diaries are no longer bursting with appointments. The bar is lower than it used to be, without them having given up things or interests. They no longer try to do everything themselves. Since Jasmijn was four months old, she has stayed at her grandparents’ house one night every week, which means the fathers have an evening to themselves or together so they can work a bit later, catch up on the housework, go out or simply do nothing and go to bed early. ‘I am happy we were both thirty when we became parents,’ states Maarten. ‘We took full advantage of the care-free life we used to live. And we still plan things. Before, we used to be able to decide on Monday to catch a plane on Friday. We can still do that, we just have to plan a bit better. We are going away for a few days with just the two of us soon, later in the year we will be going to Argentina for a few weeks with Jasmijn. Older traditions, such as going away for a weekend with friends, are still honoured too. ‘That’s right,’ says Tom. ‘We don’t feel the need to cancel things just because we have a child. And I hope we don’t start any time soon. Our solution is to take Jasmijn with us or, if we have to, we arrange childcare. Life goes on, even if we are parents.’

Picture by Zaza Bertrand

This portrait is part of the book ‘Framily. How Millennials redesign family.’ (Rombauts & Lemaitre / Trendwolves) A nuanced portrait of a generation of young parents who are looking for distinctive and positive solutions for a better work-life balance.

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