Julian Wilson works part-time as a psychotherapist, and the rest of the time he’s at home looking after preschoolers Gareth, Walter and Stanley.
You probably remember trying to solve this riddle at school. A man has to get a fox, a chicken, and a sack of corn across a river. He has a rowboat, and it can only carry him and one other thing. If the fox and the chicken are left together, the fox will eat the chicken. If the chicken and the corn are left together, the chicken will eat the corn. What does the man do?
Julian Wilson reckons the skills required to solve a problem like this are excellent preparation for being a parent. The main characters are a little different, but the logistics are just as challenging.
A man has to get groceries, a baby, a toddler and a tired four year old out of the car and up the stairs into the house. There is only so much he can carry at once. If the toddler and four year old are left alone in the car while the baby is carried in, they will probably start to argue – or even help themselves to the best of the groceries. If the toddler is taken up, he may fall back down the stairs as soon as his dad turns away, or simply follow him back down the stairs, meaning the process needs to start all over again. What does the man do?
Julian says there’s no one answer. The best way to get everyone inside changes each time, depending on the mood of the day. And things will change yet again when the little one is on the move. But the fact that no two days are the same is something he loves about spending half his week at home looking after Gareth, 4, Walter, 2, and nine-month-old Stanley.
Julian is a psychotherapist who shares the childcare with his wife, Jody Kilpatrick, a church minister. They also have the help of grandparents when needed. The decision that Julian would spend some time at home with the children was a relatively simple one. The nature of his job as a psychotherapist meant it was easy to transition to part-time, and as a minister, Jody is able to have a day off during the week so she gets to spend a day at home as well.
“I love the balance, and I love that I get to spend so much time hanging out with these muppets,” says Julian. His three boys are a close-knit team. Gareth’s the chatterbox, whose favourite way to play is to talk non-stop with his playmates. Julian describes Walter as “very empathetic”. “He knows exactly what you don’t want him to get in to – and goes ahead and gets straight into it!” For the most part, baby Stanley is “buoyantly happy”, with two big brothers constantly keeping him entertained. So is it different for a father being at home with the kids than it is for a mother?
“There might be more wrestling involved,” says Julian, who is philosophical about the fact that he’s an object of interest for combining part-time work and staying at home with the kids, while it’s a very common state of affairs for women. He’s just as philosophical about the fact it’s mainly mothers at playgrounds and kindy drop-off during his day, and that the job is not as social as it can be for women. “I probably do get a bit excluded,” he says. “But people’s lives are quite full, and it makes sense that they do what’s easiest in terms of making new friends.”
As with any parent, nearly five years at home has been a significant learning curve for Julian. He now knows the washing basket will never be empty, it’s best not to schedule more than one thing into a day, and self-preservation requires making an intentional effort to carve out a bit of ‘head space’ and alone time. The learning never stops. He and Jody have recently started learning sign language so they can help Walter.
Slower muscle development can lead to speech delays for children with Down’s syndrome, meaning their expressive language can develop more slowly than the language they understand. Learning to sign helps close the gap. “It’s been really encouraging to see how much he’s been understanding,” says Julian, who says each day is peppered with a healthy combination of near chaos and heart-warming moments. “I heard a great quote the other day that sums it all up,” says Julian. “They say parenting is like wetting your pants – everyone else can see the mess but only you get the warm feeling.”