On this Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about the time I spend with my kids and how different their childhoods have been for me as a result of taking or not taking parental leave.
When my son was born, I was unemployed. In theory, I had all the time in the world with him. In practice, I was also job-hunting and wanted to be employed again as soon as possible. I started a great new job when he was seven weeks old. By the time I went back to work, I knew how to support my wife with meals (for her), diaper changes (for him), errands, and house-cleaning. Over the following year I took parental leave a week or two at a time and began to learn his rhythm of feeding and sleeping, but I had a lot of questions.
“How much do I feed him?”
“When should I feed him?”
“How long does he sleep?”
“How do you get him to sleep?”
I was a first-time parent, and although every parent has those questions, I was asking my wife because she had put in the time with him to know the answers. She was the most-of-the-time primary parent and I was the very-occasionally primary parent.
It took a longer time for the two of us to bond, and when the three of us were together, my son always preferred his mother. It is possible that this was just his personality, but I like to think that the amount and quality of the time we spent together was an important factor.
When my daughter was born, I was prepared to spend more time with her. I started with the premise of three months, anticipating sprinkling another three months over the next year and a half. After a few weeks, I realized that I’d missed spending so much quality time with my wife and decided to take the full six months all at once. I had alone time with my son every day with daycare drop-off and pick-up, and at bedtime. I fell back into the routine of meals, diapers, errands, and house-cleaning.
This time around, I had more one-on-one time with my daughter. I was home longer which let my wife resume parts of her life: important regular meetings that furthered her career, spending time with her friends as an individual and not just as a mother. My daughter and I bonded in a way that she’ll happily let me put her to bed or spend the day with her.
If I could go back in time to when my son was born, I would have used my parental leave all at once, and all near the beginning of my son’s life. I was worried that I wouldn’t have a strong enough bond with people at work: my new boss, the people reporting to me. My boss, to his credit, continually pushed me to take the time. “You have the time. Go be with your kid.”
In the time since my son was born, I’ve worked through the parental leave of two immediate bosses, a boss’s boss, and two people who reported to me (an engineer and a manager). With enough succession planning, we’ve made our way through, each time unscathed.
I highly encourage you to take whatever parental leave is available to you, and if you don’t have any available, ask for it.
If you are starting a new job with a baby on the way, find out what your company’s policies are. You might have more leave available if you start the job sooner, and it’s absolutely worth finding that out. When I was going through the job hunt, I feared discrimination because of my impending parental leave. Any company that would discriminate against you isn’t worth working for, and is definitely worth calling out (and if you are not comfortable doing this, send me a message – I will help if possible).
I don’t ask those questions any more about when or what to feed a baby, and I fully credit the six months I spent with my daughter beyond the presumed regular mornings, nights, and weekends. Parental leave made it easier for me to be a parent. I hope this is an option available to you, too.
Happy Father’s Day.