We were lucky enough that the company that N works for gave him 8 weeks of paid paternity leave. For my fellow Americans, I know. We are so freaking lucky. While there absolutely needs to be a conversation about maternity leave in this country, today I want to talk about paternity leave and how it benefited our family.
The 8 weeks came as a bit of a surprise to us. Thanks to an HR webpage that hadn’t been updated, N believed he was going to get 2 weeks of paid paternity leave. This still would have been a fantastic benefit compared to most Dads in this country. He called HR a few weeks before Ben was born and they informed him that in 2017 it became 8 weeks instead of 2 weeks. The HR site was out of date. We were surprised and thrilled.
N works in a predominantly male office in a field that is significantly more male than female. He was the first man in his office to have a baby since the change in policy. We talked (and worried) about how taking the full 8 weeks might look to his coworkers and manager. We wondered if it would affect his career in some way. Sad as it is, it was something we had to consider. We hoped that his coworkers would be understanding and (as many of them are parents themselves) would appreciate the time he was taking to adjust to our new family dynamic and life with our little guy.
When Ben arrived early, N was very abruptly on paternity leave. We then had 8 weeks together and I can’t tell you how incredibly grateful I am for them. He’s now been back to work for about a month and I’ve been able to reflect on the importance of those weeks and come to a few realizations about what paternity leave allowed us to do.
It ensured I was not the primary parent.
One thing that N and I discussed before Ben was born was the fact that I had a lot more experience with babies than he did. We both worried that as a result, I’d be a little more hands-on and would maybe not allow him the room to learn and make mistakes.
To even the playing field a bit, we took an infant care class to learn some of the basics together. Once we got home from the NICU, N was there to parent with me. This really kept me from being the primary parent or being in charge. Since he was a preemie, it was new territory for me too and having both of us home all the time allowed us to learn together.
It kept our duties even.
Once we were home we talked through what part of baby care each of us would be responsible for. I had always done the laundry and N had always done the dishes (proof – here’s a post from 2013 where I talk about living together). We kept those chores mostly as is except we have about three times as much of each.
Since I was breastfeeding, N changed all the diapers. By the time he went back to work I could probably count on my hands how many diapers I’d changed. All baths were a team effort. I’m better at buckling Ben into the car seat and N is better at swaddling. Since we give Ben a bottle of pumped milk before bed, N gives him that bottle and is in charge of bedtime.
The time we had at home together allowed us to define these responsibilites and to shape our new normal. As a result, I can confidently say that I feel N does as close to 50% of the child care as he can (without actually being about to breast feed). It’s wonderful for me and I know it’s great for Ben.
It helped develop his confidence as a Dad.
N being home initially meant that he could be a full-time parent. Besides breastfeeding (obviously) there is no parent actvitity or responsibilty that he hasn’t done. I think it’s resulted in him being more confident as a Dad. If you watched him with Ben now, you’d have no idea that four months ago he had zero experience with babies.
It made us a solid team.
One of the best parts of N being home was always having someone right there to bounce things off of. Once we’d done the standard “he’s not hungry, has a clean diaper, temp is fine, etc.” we’d try to figure out together what Ben might be upset about. Mentally, this was a huge help. When your baby is crying and you don’t know why, it can make you feel crazy or critical of yourself as a parent. Having N there to remind me that we were doing our best and we’d tried all the usual things kept me from feeling overwhelmed.
It allowed us to give each other breaks.
N being home meant that when I needed to, I could have a little “me” time (and vice versa). Sometimes I went for a brief walk between feedings. As a breastfeeding Mom, I’m more physically tied to our child since he’s actually dependent on me. Sometimes I just needed a little fresh air and to remember what me and my body felt like in the world, independently. It was nice that whenever I hit the point that I needed that, I could go.
It eased our transition into parenthood.
Overall, having two people constantly available for Ben made everything easier. As a result of the above, I feel like we made our transition to parenthood as a solid team. I trust N completely with Ben and he trusts me.
I realize that not every family is afforded the wonderful opportunity of having Dad at home for 8 weeks. Ironically, my leave and recovery was unpaid so even though I’m the one who brought Ben into the world, N actually had far better leave benefits than I did. And I was the one who got cut half open!
The best part about paternity leave though, is this – it’s companies realizing and putting in to policy the fact that fathers are just as responsible for their children as mothers are. So while it was good for our family on a personal level, paternity leave is truly good for women and helps us move toward equality.
We are eternally grateful that N’s company offers this incredible benefit. It undoubtably has helped us start off parenthood on the right foot and I hope more companies in the US decide to offer this benefit to families.