What 10 weeks of parental leave taught me about work and life
August 29, 2019
Having only been able to take two weeks of parental leave after his first daughter was born, Brad was determined to spend more time at home when his second baby came along. He strengthened his relationship with his daughters, gained even more respect for his wife – and came back to work with a new perspective.
The best thing about having kids is that you get to meet and nurture little human beings. I’m not wishing away the baby years, but it’s exciting to gradually discover who your children are as people.
Mine are currently 4 (Essie) and 1 (Olive). Essie is a caring, cheeky, funny little girl. She’s just started doing things off her own bat. She’ll disappear into her bedroom and emerge with a drawing – or wearing a new outfit. Olive is cheeky too. She’ll get your attention and then run away, hoping to be chased.
I was working at an advertising agency when we had Essie, and I could only take two weeks off when she was born. Even though I’d only been with Accenture a short time, when we had Olive, I was offered up to 18 weeks of parental leave.
I decided to take 10 weeks off when Olive was eight months old, so I’d be there to cover the transition when my wife, Michelle, went back to work. Part of this was a three-week family holiday. Then two weeks with both of us at home and, finally, five weeks with just me and the girls. In my final week, we started Olive at day care so, if anything needed to be ironed out, I’d be right there.
It was a great decision. At eight months, Olive was out of the newborn stage and I had more opportunity to take the girls out and about and plan fun trips. And it reduced Michelle’s stress when she went back to work. We were able to avoid a big ‘thud’ by being able to phase it in.
The primary carer carries a huge load!
When Michelle went back, I knew that’s when I’d get first-hand experience of caring for the girls and managing the household. But I hadn’t quite bargained on the amount of work or the pressure bearing down on me.
You get up and there’s the whole day to entertain two little humans who don’t like to sit still. And you have to cook dinner, do the washing, do the shopping and take the dog for a walk. It gave me a much better understanding of and respect for what Michelle had gone through the first time when she was at home alone with Essie.
It also put us on a level playing field. Olive became more comfortable with me than Essie was at that age. Spending the time with both girls has really strengthened our relationship.
Now I’m back at the office, my ability to work flexibly means I can do the childcare runs and continue to be there for my family. I’m mostly home in time to cook dinner, bath the girls, get them to bed and then read for 20 minutes before I fall asleep on the lounge…
I also discovered that my 10 weeks of leave served as a bit of a check-in. Work has always been an important part of my life. It was refreshing to come back with more perspective. Yes, work stuff is important. But it’s not the only thing in the world. When you have other human beings to look after and a full-on family household to run, you’re continually reminded there’s more out there. Rather than getting lost in the detail of work, I can stay grounded and see the bigger picture. It’s a great thing.
I encourage all dads to take parental leave if they can
I know of many dads who have access to parental leave and, for a variety of reasons, choose not to take it.
We can never fully understand other people’s situations, but thinking about the wonderful weeks I spent getting to know my daughters better, I think it’s sad people miss out on that experience. It’s time you’re never going to get back.
So, if you’re offered it – go and spend time with your kids. It’s something you can’t put a value on.