Amateur Dad

(09.01, morning nap)

My six month old has just gone for his first first nap of the day. It is the first morning of a four-month-long stretch of paternity leave.

That might make it sound like a prison sentence, so I should start out clear here — I’m excited! An opportunity to spend four months with my infant son, watch him grow up, to develop a close bond with him and to play an active and involved part in what is, by expert opinion, an absolutely critical period in a person’s development.

But behind that excitement roils a complex mix of thoughts and emotions. Fear that he won’t accept me and spend the days pining for his mum. Worry that I’m not up to it — that either through biology or personality, I’m unsuited to being a stay-at-home dad, especially with an infant. Concern over work and my athletic ambitions — will my team adapt to life without me and leave me without a real role when I return? Can I still have a social life and cling on to the ephemeral fitness I chase every time I go for a bike ride?

I know the answer to these questions, of course. He’ll love me like any child loves a father who makes an effort. I’ll be fine at home, and I never really bought much into biological determinism anyway. Seeing pals and riding my bike will be perfectly manageable, especially with my wife being so supportive. I’ll be fine. This is fine. Did I mention I’m a big fan of the fake it till you make it approach?

a real page turner.

Anyway, with the encouragement of my wife V, I decided to start writing this in an attempt to document my 4 months of Shared Parental Leave. You can click the link and see the full detail, but for us, this looks like

V took 6 months leave at full pay.

I take 3 months at statutory pay (approx £140 p/w)

I take 1 month at no pay.

Everyone will need to figure out what they can afford and what works best for for them — there isn’t a one size fits all approach. This takes us up to the 10 month mark, after which we’ll move to a mixture of compressed hours, granny-care from my mum, and a bit of nursery.

If you have/want kids, and favour a more egalitarian approach to parenting, I strongly recommend looking into it. A recent BBC report said that ‘shared parental leave take-up may be as low as 2%’ which is a real shame for men, women and especially kids. There are a variety of reasons for this low uptake. A workplace stigma prevents men from taking time off in case they are perceived as less committed to their job. The reduced pay available to people taking SPL can also create financial difficulties. Broader issues are at play here too, like our perception of masculinity and the gender paygap— oh, that’s him awake.

lunch.

(14.48, post lunchtime nap)

These big issues are being debated in wider society at the moment and fall mostly beyond the reach of this blog, but one particular problem I’d like to talk about is lack of visibility. V and I are lucky to work for people that allow us stigma-free parental leave and access to flexible working patterns, but not everyone has this, in spite of what the law says they are entitled to. That BBC report says that 50% of the UK public don’t even know that it’s an option. It is worse in the US, where 76% of men take less than a week off when their baby is born and 96% are back at work after two weeks or less. I firmly believe this is unfair for both mum and dad, and that impact this has on the child, on the parents, and on wider society isn’t great. The Atlantic reports:

Previous studies found that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely, a year or so down the road, to change diapers, bathe their children, read them bedtime stories, and get up at night to tend to them. Patnaik’s study confirmed this; looking at time-use diaries, she found that men who were eligible for the new leave — whether or not they took it — ended up spending more time later on routine chores like shopping and cooking. If these changes sound minor, they aren’t. As men have taken on more domestic work over the past 20 or so years, they have gravitated toward the fun stuff, like hanging out with the kids, rather than the boring but inescapable duties, like boiling the ravioli or vacuuming Cheerios out of the family-room carpet. The University of Oregon sociologist Scott Coltrane has noted that when men share “routine repetitive chores,” women feel they are being treated fairly and are less likely to become depressed.

In this light, taking time off work might not sound too appealing. Hoovering up cereal from the floor isn’t really my idea of fun — but that is parenting, and to leave it primarily up to one parent is grossly unfair. I’m asking myself what sort of partner and father I want to be. If the opportunity is there, don’t I owe it to V and the little one to be present at such a crucial time? Absent fathers suck, and the damage this can inflict on a family can sometimes be devastating. Some pop out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back. Some leave their head at the office even though their body has returned home, and some struggle to really emotionally connect with their family. The traditional family structures which divide men and women into seperate spheres often result in men who feel like a stranger in their own home, despite often working incredibly hard to provide. As with any deep relationship worth having, building close and intimate bonds with your family takes time and effort, and whilst hard, is incredible rewarding.

I am so grateful that I was raised in a close knit family, and I want very much to replicate this safe and loving space for my own fledgling family branch. So —I’ll boil the pasta and pick up the food from the carpet. It’ll be worth it.

pudgy fingers.

(17.31, late afternoon nap)

I’m about to enter what is essentially (for now) a woman’s world, full of ‘Mum and Baby Yoga’, ‘Mum and Baby singing’, ‘Mum and Baby swimming’. Men aren’t really visible in this sphere and I hope that by writing about my experiences, I can raise awareness of our rights as parents, and highlight some of the joys and help tackle some of the challenges from a guy’s perspective. With luck, expectant parents, especially dads-to-be, can follow my 4 month journey and find some use in my experiences, mistakes and successes alike. I say especially dads because most of what I write will probably be pretty familiar to mums, although hopefully not all.

(19.38 baby asleep, parents sampling tentative evening freedom)

This is the first time I’ve done something personal in this sort of format. I initially wasn’t sure that a) I could write this and that b) there would be any interest in it. So, if you’ve read it and liked it, have some experiences of your own you’d like share, or just want to say hello, please give a clap, leave a comment or get in touch. This will be much better if I feel like people are actually reading it!