When someone finds out you are expecting a child, there's a list of questions you can expect: When is your wife due? What's the gender? Are you excited? And my personal (not) favorite, What's the name of the child? A new question that I don't remember anyone asking: What's your plan after the baby is born? This question came up quite often leading up to the birth of my second child, but one instance sticks out more than the rest.
When we were expecting our first child six years ago, my only option was to take one week of paternity leave. Yes, just one week to bond with my expanding family. Just one week to settle into our new norm of a three-person family home. I was horrified by the thought, so my wife and I came up with a plan. After the week of paternity leave was over, I would alternate between taking paid time off and working from home for the next three weeks, and then return to work full time. My boss approved of it.
Fantastic plan, right? Not so much. Looking back on those first four weeks home, I eventually realized I never really allowed myself to fully be home or at work. Maybe I'm being harsh on myself, but “ineffective” is the word that comes to mind. Six years brings change and opportunity, and I would not make the same mistake again.
A few months ago, a colleague of mine asked about our back-to-work plan following the birth of our second child. My response was, “I've applied for primary parental leave. I plan to exercise my company’s full paid eight weeks of leave as soon as my son arrives." Man, that response is so comforting, uplifting and direct every time I deliver it to someone that asks that question, but this time was different.
My colleague responded with a smirk and said, “Eight weeks at home with your wife—all the time?" My face went from proud to straight confused in less than a second. The vibe shifted drastically. I simply replied, “Yes,” and then continued with my day.
Stumped. Confused. Befuddled. I felt all of it. How could that be someone's response? How could someone turn that positive option into such a negative thing? Eight weeks at home with my wife, my family? That is not a burden nor something I cringe at the thought of. It is a gift! Eight weeks at home with my best friend? Yes, please. Eight weeks of being a part of my firstborn son and wife's morning routine. Eight weeks of being able to drop off my son at school and pick him up after school so he can ride home on his scooter. Eight weeks of creating the new norm for my family of four! Eight weeks of binge watching “Rick and Morty,” “Ozark,” Marvel's “The Defenders,” and “Fear the Walking Dead.” Eight weeks of getting to know my second-born child firsthand and not through my wife's text updates.
This is a gift that my family can all benefit from. It’s the gift of time. It’s the gift of presence. It’s the most relevant decision I’ve ever made.
Accenture’s latest research shows that instituting family-friendly practices that support both genders, such as extended parental leave, is one key way to close the gender gap in career advancement and pay. When She Rises, We All Rise, our latest Getting to Equal report launched for International Women’s Day 2018, uncovers the drivers of creating a workplace culture in which everyone—women and men alike—can advance and thrive.
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