I took Shared Parental Leave to look after our daughter for the last three months of her first year. Colleagues, friends, and family have all asked me how it has all gone – what is it like being a dad on leave looking after a baby? Well, here’s the inside scoop….
It’s great fun
Playing with our daughter, seeing her learn new things, recognise family and friends, hearing her laugh every time she goes on the swings, seeing her face light up whenever we go into her room in the morning – I will never get bored of these things.
But I will get bored of singing The Wheels On The Bus (etc.) several times a week. And once you’ve read one “That’s Not My ____” book, you’ve read them all.
And now she’s getting bored of toys quicker than we do, which would be fine if she was comfortable with settling for something familiar if slightly tedious, like Friends on Netflix. But noooo, the baby demands constant novel entertainment – hence the toys and books are on constant rotation.
But mainly I missed having conversations with people that wasn’t about kids. I won’t be the first to say that talking about babies can be boring as hell. And yet I still write a baby blog. Hmm 🤔
It’s a privilege
The fact that anything like Shared Parental Leave even exists is great, and my wife and I were determined to make it work. But we can’t deny that our circumstances have enabled this opportunity. Having two sets of managers and two HR departments that were willing to step into the unknown and make it all happen; family, friends and colleagues that were universally supportive of our decision; and that, because my wife and I earn roughly the same amount, it wouldn’t matter financially which one of us was at work and which one was at home – these are some of the many stars that have aligned. I know that there’s probably plenty of families who want to do SPL but may not be in a position to make it feasible. We’re lucky.
It’s hard work
Our daughter is now crawling, and is similar in weight, size, and agility to a chubby sausage dog. It’s physically draining chasing after her and scooping her off dangerous pieces of furniture she pulls herself up on. And there’s rarely time to chill during the day – there’s always laundry to sort, washing-up to do, meals to plan. But looking after a baby is also mentally and emotionally draining too, in a way that is hard to explain. You see it in the eyes of any parent, wandering around with something like shellshock and a sleep debt that will never be paid back – they look like they have survived something unspeakable.
It’s easy for the small inconveniences that you encounter every day to build up. How she liked this food yesterday but won’t touch it today. How she doesn’t understand what ‘NO’ means yet (or that she’s learnt to ignore it). How she won’t sleep when you need her to, or only just gets to sleep when you need her to be awake.
Or how cafés put tables in front of the door when you’d like to get a buggy through. How grim many baby changing facilities are in public toilets. Random strangers throwing you some scorn dressed up as polite advice, without you asking for it. A huffy prick in a shiny suit on the bus, making a big deal about having to sit on a empty seat instead of standing in the only place a buggy can fit. The price of emergency Ella’s Kitchen pouches. It all builds up.
It’s really not emasculating
Yes, at any given gathering of babies and their primary carers, 9 times out of 10 I am the only man in the room. But I don’t get weird suspicious looks, nor do I get mums cooing and inspecting me like a new car. I never wanted to be treated differently because I’m temporarily a stay-at-home-dad, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve mostly got what I wanted. Only once have I felt I was not taken seriously as a parent…
I’m grateful that that kind of experience has been rare for me, as I know that other dad bloggers have had it much worse.
So you’ve essentially abandoned your old life with colleagues you see most days and friends you can see whenever and wherever you choose. But I hear shared interests are a good starting point for friendships – and so I go to playgroup with parents who have kids of a similar age, so it should be super easy to make pals for life, right? Except it isn’t. I found conversations hardly ever go beyond the small talk stage. I’ve never been particularly great at speaking to people I don’t know, or forming new friendships, and having a baby certainly hasn’t magically changed that.
It’s quite a lot like….
I’ll let you into a huge secret: you want to know what it’s like being a dad on shared parental leave? Ask a mum on maternity leave. My experience is in no way unique, and I have not done anything that hasn’t been done by millions of mothers many times before.
Would I recommend Shared Parental Leave? Absolutely – I would do it all again in a heartbeat.