In my last post, I had my say on paternity leave entitlements. This time I’m taking a more personal look at the topic based on my own experiences. It seems that reflecting on paternity leave is a bit of an in thing at the moment. Facebook employee Tom Stocky recently posted about what he’d learnt during the four months of paternity leave that he was able to take and his initial post has gone viral. In addition, Scott Behson has just posted a story about Major League Baseball players who have recently taken paternity leave on his blog Fathers, Work and Family.
Here are three thoughts based on my own experiences of paternity leave:
1. It’d be a real shame not to take paternity leave. On some levels, the idea of taking two weeks off during a time of year when I wouldn’t normally take a fortnight’s holiday seemed odd. There were also practical questions. What would I do about the work that I would normally be expected to do during the time that I was going to be off on paternity leave? When was the paternity leave going to actually fall and how would the timing affect my work?
However, the most important things were that I wanted to be able to take paternity leave in order to be able to support my wife and soon-to-arrive son / daughter. With living in the UK, this was thankfully a legal entitlement so not something to feel remotely guilty about. Indeed, I recently read that 90% of fathers in the UK opt to take the two weeks of paternity leave to which they are entitled. What was foremost in my mind was that we were preparing for a major life event and I wanted to be as much a part of it as I could.
I did take some practical steps to manage the work situation so as I wouldn’t be too swamped on my return from paternity leave. I worked extra hard during the last few months leading up to the birth of our son, mainly during times when my wife was going to aqua-natal classes, mindfulness classes or the local community choir. I also brought forward a few engagements that were likely to fall during the time when I was going to be on paternity leave. People were very understanding about this, which was a real help.
2. Paternity leave certainly isn’t a holiday. I had perhaps somewhat naively thought that I might have a moment or two to read through some things for work during my two weeks on paternity leave, but it didn’t happen (…which I reckon was a good thing in lots of ways!). Our son’s preferred napping position during the day was curled up on someone who was sitting on the sofa. This meant that either myself or my wife could be pinned down for two hours or more at a time. Moving without waking him felt a bit like playing Jenga or Buckaroo, except with greater pressure.
One thing that I found satisfying on a personal level during paternity leave was being able to go out and do simple practical things such as going to the supermarket or stocking up on baby supplies (…and not just because I managed to build up enough loyalty card points for several free slices of cake and a free lunch or two!). I had tried to be as supportive as possible during pregnancy and labour, but at times felt that there was only so much I could do as it was my wife who was experiencing the pains, tiredness and other effects that come with carrying and giving birth to a baby.
However, the most important thing for me was simply spending the quality time with my wife and son as we got used to life as a family. Seeing our son do all sorts of little things for the first time felt amazing. Helping to give him his first bath and going on our first family outing together to a little cafe by the sea just fifteen minutes away were particular highlights. As he hadn’t yet started smiling, I for some reason took great pleasure from taking pictures of him doing big yawns. I am also very proud of one picture where he appears to be imitating the pose that sprinter Usain Bolt did after winning the men’s 100m at last year’s Olympics. It was also great to have so many people both nearby and far away who were happy for us and shared our sense of excitement about his arrival and who communicated this to us during this period via cards, presents and e-mails.
3. Returning to work can be challenging. I normally come in to work feeling fresh in the morning, especially at the start of the week. However, things were a bit different when I came back from paternity leave. I had got used to having reduced and broken sleep during paternity leave but not the combination of these sleep patterns and putting in a normal day of work. I certainly felt a lot more tired when I got home after work.
In some ways, the hardest part was going from spending more or less all of every day with my wife and son to leaving while they were still asleep and not seeing them again until 6pm. That said, being a dad has given me an extra incentive to be productive, make sure I get what I need to done and have as little work as possible to take home at evenings and weekends.
My experience of returning to work has lead me to question the stereotypical notion that men on paternity leave often see heading back to work as a welcome return to normality or sanity. I was glad to hear this notion challenged by Dean Beaumont of DaddyNatal during an appearance on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ back in January. ‘Normality’ is now being a father and trying to do my best in this role as well as in my job. Fatherhood has certainly brought plenty of new experiences and I would not have been able to experience these anywhere near as fully had I not taken paternity leave.
I’d love to know your views on paternity leave, so please feel free to use the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ page on Facebook and the new ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ page on Google+. You can also subscribed to this blog via e-mail using the link on the right hand side of this page.