Take Time Off To Be With Your New Baby
If you are a new dad, or are about to be a new dad, even if it is your fifth kid, plan to take time off work if you aren’t a stay-at-home-dad. Having a kid, even if you already have one, is a big adjustment. It will change your life in ways you can only imagine. You and your family need time to adjust.
If you are becoming a dad through your partner helpfully giving birth, you will both be wiped out. Of course she is going to need more recovery time than you. While we all hope that labour and birth will go well and everyone will be healthy and safe after your child is born, there is a chance that things won’t go as planned. Planning time off following the birth gives you space to deal with any complications. If everything goes well, that time off will give you time to figure out which way to put the diaper on and have some space to deal with sleep deprivation.
If you are adopting a child, there will be a variety of adjustments to make depending on the age of the child and their circumstances. If it is a newborn, you will be just as exhausted and shell-shocked as if your partner had given birth.
In either case – assuming the kid(s) and your partner, if you aren’t jumping into this game as a solo parent, are all healthy – taking time gives you time to get to know your child. Time to change diapers, go for walks, sleep on the baby’s schedule and bond with your child.
Importance of Parental Leave
Contrary to media reports, social norms, women’s magazines, governments and the patriarchy, women are not better parents than men. We all have the same potential to be good parents. We all come from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, cultural norms and life experiences and those will all impact our starting point as parents. Some men and some women have previous experience with child-rearing as a result of being the oldest sibling, babysitting, etc. Those of us in this situation have a head start on those of us without this experience.
We all have the potential to be great parents, if given the space and time. When my first daughter was born I don’t think I had ever changed a diaper before. I certainly had never changed a girl’s diaper before. it turns out that 12-14 diaper changes a day with a newborn provides a solid amount of opportunity to learn, correct mistakes and become an expert at diaper changing in the space of a day or two. I’m now on my third daughter and I’m not even sure I can do the math on how many diapers I have changed in the last decade. I could pretty comfortably give a master class on this topic now – only for girls though. I don’t know the best strategies to avoid getting peed on by a baby boy, although give me a day or two and I am pretty sure I’d have that sorted out too.
When you take parental leave you will not only master diaper changing, you will also set the pattern for your parenting career. Studies have shown that “fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended.” Taking the time to get in there and get your hands dirty (literally) as a dad in the first year of your kid’s life is going to build your confidence and comfort with your child as they grow and develop. Sleeping with your kid sleeping on your chest on a daily basis is going to help to build your bond.
If you partner gave birth, helping her with breastfeeding if that is what she chooses to do, will help your relationship and help ensure that your child gets fed. If bottle-feeding (formula or breastmilk), get in there and take your turn. It takes virtually no time at all to get the angles and holds right to be able to feed your baby and none of that time matters when you watch them watching you while they drink. Your partner is going to need physical support for the first days and weeks while they recover from the impact of birthing and pregnancy. Her organs have been all shoved around and mushed up during pregnancy and then she either pushed a bowling ball out through her vagina or was cut open to have the baby removed. It is great to be able to be home and do all the lifting and cleaning and whatever else needs doing while her body heals and sorts itself out. Did I mention there may also be some hormones that are still floating around in her body? Two words: Emotional Support.
By taking time to build your confidence as a parent, support your partner and get to know your new child, you are setting yourself up for a life as an involved, engaged dad. You are setting up a pattern of parenting instead of babysitting. This is your child and being a dad means changing diapers, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, teaching and lots and lots of learning. Being an engaged, confident dad means your partner can leave the house without any kids and you can manage just as well as if there were two adults in the house. It means being there for your kids when they need you and it means being confident that you can handle trial and error parenting.
How to Take Parental Leave
The first thing you are likely going to have to prepare for is the fact that not all dads take leave. Your taking leave may present challenges to the social norms that suggest only mothers take leave. In some work environments you will be looked down on, mocked or possibly find your career impacted in terms of promotion opportunities if you take parental leave. When one of your male colleagues asks why you would want to do such a thing – it isn’t hard to tell them you are going to be/are a dad and you are going to be a good one, starting with taking leave. Often the push back from other men comes from a place of jealousy that they didn’t do the same, or a perception that you are no longer as invested in the success of your organization – the same challenges mothers have faced for years. Some of the feedback you receive will come from a declining number of people who believe that child-rearing is women’s work and that you should leave it to them. You can tell them where they can stuff their antiquated opinions.
I was fortunate when I took my first leave, my manager was a dad and there were three men in my office who all became dads within three months of each other, and we all took leave. Our manager told us becoming a dad was the best thing he ever did and he was supportive of us taking leave. Plus I was working for the government at the time and it was generally a supportive environment for people taking leaves.
Government Parental Leave Benefits
In some jurisdictions paternity leave is a designated amount of time for dads (defined in law) to take parental leave. During this time their jobs are protected and there may be some defined financial support provided during this time by the government. In other cases – as in most of Canada – your job is protected and financial supports are provided, but leave is shared with your partner. This means you and your partner, regardless of whether you adopted or your partner gave birth, have 35 weeks of parental leave to share. This is a total amount meaning if you take 10 weeks of leave, your partner has 25 weeks available. If you partner gave birth she also has an additional 17 weeks of maternity leave that is only available to women who give birth.
We have a pretty good system in Canada, especially compared to many other countries. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved. The Canadian Government is currently looking at the parental leave benefits and evaluating how to improve the system. Media reports indicate that they are considering reserving specific time for dads. A study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argued the benefits of fathers being able to take leave and having protected paternity leave instead of sharing the parental leave with the mother.
Along with this protected parental leave in Canada we also receive benefits from the Employment Insurance system that provide parents on leave with 55% of our income, up to a maximum of $537/week. In order to access these benefits, you have to apply for leave and the financial benefits. Not everyone is eligible so make sure you understand the eligibility requirements beforehand so that you can plan accordingly.
Employer Parental Leave Benefits
In Canada and in other jurisdictions employers also have parental leave policies. Some employers provide top-ups to government benefits, others provide benefits in lieu of government benefits. If there aren’t legal protections for your job, your employer may have policies outlining how much leave you can take as a new parent. Make sure you read and understand these policies and benefits before you take leave. Talk to your HR person and manager about your plans and make sure those plans fall within company policy and that you are eligible for the leave protections and financial benefits.
Using Vacation as Parental Leave
You may also be working somewhere that either does not provide for parental leave or find that taking parental leave, even with financial benefits, is still not financially feasible. You might in those circumstances be able to make use of your vacation time as a leave. Assuming of course that you work somewhere where you get paid vacation.
This was my situation when my third was born. With my first two kids I worked for the government and took leave, and the benefits paid through our government Employment Insurance program covered above were then topped up by my employer to bring my income to 93% of my regular income while I was on leave. That made it financially possible for us. When my third daughter was born there was no employer top-up and with my partner working part-time in addition to being a stay-at-home parent we couldn’t afford for me to take parental leave. I do have the benefit of a flexible job and being a remote worker so I stretched out my three weeks of vacation as a full week off immediately after she was born and then the other two weeks stretched over almost two months as part-time work. There were days when I had to work full days and days when I worked more than half-time, but less than full-time. It involved tracking all of my hours per week to make sure everything balanced out, but it was better than just taking three weeks straight. It meant that most days I took our older two kids to school, came home and worked or went to the office and worked and then was home in time to pick them up from school. It meant that if we had a particularly rough night I could go back to bed after getting the other two to school and shift my work hours to later in the day. While I’d rather have been off full-time on leave, working a part-time flexible schedule was a reasonably good way to adapt, be a supportive partner and an involved dad. It might be an option that works for you too.
Consider Becoming a Stay at Home Parent
Often with the addition of a new human into the family, one parent will decide to become a stay-at-home parent for the short or longer term. Stereotypically this has often been the mother. That doesn’t mean it can’t be you. Increasing numbers of dads are choosing to become stay-at-home parents. You might make this decision because your partner has a job that provides a larger income. You might have a strong desire to be a stay-at-home parent. You might have plans to start a business or maybe you already do freelance / consulting work and have the flexibility to do work from home and work around kid schedules. Whatever your reasons, it is an option worth considering. If you are considering or decide on this option, there is a US-based association for at-home dads that can provide you with information, resources and support.
These parental leave tips will help you support your partner, bond with your child & learn to be an involved dad. Click To Tweet
What To Do When You Take Parental Leave
Generally speaking – you parent.
What you specifically do is going to depend on the length of time you take leave, how many kids you have, their ages, what your partner needs, what your kids need, etc
Feeding the baby
If your partner has given birth your time will initially all be spent supporting her and your new child(ren). If she chooses to breastfeed it can be hard, painful, draining work. For some women, breastfeeding is easy and comes naturally. For others (like my partner with our first child) it is not. In spite of what all the literature says, your partner may experience toe-curling pain. Your child may struggle to get enough to eat. You might seek assistance with breastfeeding and that might not work. Your partner may experience postpartum anxiety or depression. It is different for every woman and every child. In our case breastfeeding was a negative experience for our family with our first child, and different with each subsequent child. If your partner struggles with breastfeeding, this might be emotionally draining and devastating. Be there for her. Give her water, lots and lots of water.
If you adopt, opt not to do breastfeeding or it doesn’t work for your family, you are now the chief bottle washer. Your partner may choose to pump breastmilk so that you can bottle feed with breastmilk. The great thing about bottle feeding is that you can get in on the feeding action. You can take turns doing the feedings, especially at night.
Change the diapers
There will be lots of diapers to change – and wash if you use cloth diapers. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it before, you will soon be an expert. A good rule of thumb is – if you aren’t the one doing the feeding, you are the one doing the diaper changing. You will learn all kinds of things about baby poop. I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own…
Do all of the stuff
Adding a baby to your family upends your life. It takes time to adjust and adapt. In the meantime all of the stuff of life still needs to get done – or at least a bunch of it. If your partner has given birth, she gets to lie around and sleep whenever needed, especially if she is breastfeeding. In the meantime, whenever the kid is sleeping or feeding, you can do groceries, cook food, wash bottles, clean bathrooms, do laundry – if your kid spits up regularly, you will be doing lots and lots of laundry. Do whatever your partner asks you to do. It doesn’t matter what it is, just get it done. Parenting is a team effort and everyone needs to do their part.
If you adopted, it is easier to split up the workload so that you and your partner (unless you are solo parenting) each get a chance to do feedings and the regular household work.
Find support from other dads
If you have friends or co-workers who are dads, talk to them, go out for coffee – you’ll need lots of that in the early days – and start building your dad network. If you don’t know any real-life dads that you can hang out with in person, find support online. There are all kinds of dads out there talking about parenting online. Find one you like and reach out. Feel free to drop me a line. I’m always happy to chat about parenting and the dad-life.
Look after you
You need to be functional to be a parent. Make sure that in addition to finding support from other dads, you are making time for sleep, you are communicating with your partner when you are feeling drained and that you are finding ways to recharge. That might mean going for a walk, to the gym or to a movie by yourself. It is hard to support your partner and kid if you have no energy yourself
Sleep with your baby on your chest
Do this every day. It is the best feeling in the world. You have a limited about of time to have a baby snuggled up on your chest. They get bigger fast. This is a fantastic way to recharge and just soak in being a dad.
Learn to be a Dad
Taking parental leave, whether it is official parental leave or some combination of vacation and other leaves, is worth it. It gives you an opportunity to learn how to be a dad, how to care for your child, and time to support your partner. Taking leave will help you to bond with your child and lay down a pattern of being an involved and engaged dad.
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