By Christopher Macke
Stop me if you've heard this one: 'A dad is out with his children when somebody approaches him and asks "Babysitting to give mummy a break?' to which the man replies 'Something like that, I call it parenting.'"
It can be incredibly difficult being a man in what is essentially a women's world, and the measly two weeks of paternity leave does very little to change that. That's why I was so excited to take shared parental leave.
For the first few months of our babies' lives we'd be tackling it all together. No one person doing every late night feed, no one person becoming isolated from adult company. Then my wife would go back to work and I'd stay off a little longer.
Sounds great, right? So how come we always ended up getting interesting questions like "won't you miss your baby?" Or "how could you leave your babies with their dad?" so it's hardly surprising when news articles like this pop up "Shared parental leave take-up may be as low as 2% (BBC)". https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43026312
So despite all the questions and negativity that surround Shared Parental Leave, I have loved every second of it. From the moment we brought our girls home I've been able to bond with them, every late night feed, and every early morning has wake-up has allowed me to spend time with my daughters. If I'd had work in the morning there was no way that I could have devoted this time for them.
It also meant that I got to spend time with my wife. Its easy to let a baby consume your life completely, however with us both off we could spend time together without sacrificing time with our girls. We're very lucky that have a strong support network here, so whenever we need a chance to reconnect and focus on each other we could rely on others to help. It completely removed the need to choose between my wife and my children.
Shared Parental Leave also let me see what was important in my life. I wasn't an exhausted dad only catching glimpses of my child's development between work, sleep, and late night feeds. I was actively involved in raising my daughters, I could see them grow, and learn, and progress. It put things in perspective for me, it is easy to be consumed by the idea that providing for your family ends at financial responsibility. Providing for my daughters meant being there for them.
That is not to say that Shared Parental Leave is without its drawbacks. My wife had to sacrifice her own maternity leave for me. Likewise it can be a very lonely experience, as a man I felt like I was invading "mummy" space. You could count on one hand the number of men in the room at any given baby group, and honestly it barely ever went above two. Being the "stay-at-home-dad" is certainly a lonely experience at times.
Ultimately I know that taking on the lion's share of responsibility is not for dad, but I have loved every moment, every high and every low. I wholeheartedly encourage every family to look into Shared Parental Leave.