It was a few months into my wife’s maternity leave before she looked at me and asked: – “Do you want to share the leave?”.
It wasn’t something I’d really considered. The blur of two weeks paternity leave post-birth aside, I was of the opinion the extended leave rightfully belonged to her.
An opportunity for wounds – physical and emotional – to heal and feeding to be established. The books I’d read pre-birth stressed the emotional connection between baby and mother as most important in the first year too.
Don’t get jealous, Dads. Your time comes, was basically the message.
I settled into a pattern of effectively being a weekend parent, with a few stolen moments with my daughter in the mornings and evenings if she was awake.
Confronted with the question from my wife a few months down the line, I no longer had many of these excuses to hide behind. Mother and baby were not only healthy but thriving. Feeding could be managed without my wife – I’d proven so on a few weekends where my wife had gone away.
The truth was that I didn’t want to be the primary carer for my child. Not yet anyway. The reasons why weren’t simple.
There was some consideration to finances. As the main breadwinner our household income would have taken a hit, but we could have got by.
There was probably a bit of fear for the damage I might do my career too, with a few months away from the coalface. That said, to their credit, I have a very supportive employer and work in a relatively progressive industry.
If I’m being honest with myself, there was also some evolutionary or societal muscle-memory, a masculine need to meet the expectations of a father as a provider for my newly expanded family.
Caring for a baby can also be hard. Like, really hard. Not the sort of intellectually stimulating hard that’s good for you. But a slog of changed nappies, cradling a crying baby to sleep and trying to get the clip on the pram to snap close as little hips thrust forward defiantly.
In contrast, work became an oasis of stimulating adult conversation.
I don’t think my wife’s offer was 100% genuine. A rhetorical question perfectly timed to highlight how difficult the long midweek days can be alone. A point well made.
I’ve freely admitted on my own blog, that mothers have it much harder than fathers in the early years. Balancing the needs of a child with those of a career, and sense of identify away from being a mother, is an impossible juggling act.
That’s before you get to many of the stigmas associated with ‘working Mums’.
Can shared parental leave address some of these issues? Alone, I’m sceptical as these are very complicated issues, and so are the solutions.
I do, however, recognise shared parental leave has a place, and there are some families for whom the policy works well. Just not my own.
Bio:Paul Sweeney works in technology marketing in Oxford, and is a fatherhood blogger at www.blearyeyeddad.co.uk
Follow him here: @LAN3Paul