Parental leave

When Hungry Boy was born, I was the main breadwinner of our family (as I still am). I got two months paid maternity leave, so took three months total maternity leave before going back to work. It was lovely to have two parents at home for what was a pretty intense period of childcare (there are twenty months between our two children). But, as I told people at the time, someone has to earn the money, so I went back to work after three months.

I was talking to a prospective new dad the other day, and I mentioned that I had gone back to work after three months, and he asked me (nicely, not in any aggressive way) whether I regretted having gone back after three months.

I answered honestly, that, even though I was the breadwinner, in retrospect, we could have afforded a couple more months, and for me, the second three months are a far more enjoyable and rewarding period than the first three, so it would have been nice to stay home a bit longer.

But inside, I was seething slightly. I wanted to ask him whether he was planning to stay home for more than two weeks with his new baby when he/she is born. I was sure the answer was no. I’ve never met any new father who would even consider a period of unpaid leave more than a week or so so that both parents could stay home with a new baby. And yet I’m conscious that people look at me askance for going back to work after (only) three months.

  13 comments for “Parental leave

  1. October 12, 2006 at 7:37 am

    That’s quite irritating. My dh did a month and a half of leave when our daughter was three months old (when I went back to work), and people (men) at his job definitely thought it was weird. I always counsel my male coworkers to take as much leave as they can, but I don’t find many of them taking my advice.

  2. October 12, 2006 at 10:40 am

    I’m sure the perception of gender roles is as skewy as ever on this one. But I do know a Dad here who’s probably been at home for two years now with his second child (and loving it). The plan was for him to be the stay-at-home with the second child and for his wife to go back to work after several months. Mind you, he created some elaborate fallback options for himself, employment-wise.

  3. October 12, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    I would find this incredibly irritating, too. Things are changing with dads having time off for parental leave, but sooo slowly! I think it’s time for guerilla action: ask every expecting father if and how he going to handle going back to work when his child is born and how much parental leave he is actually planning to use.

    We took the financially sensible route of sending the bigger earner back to work, which happened to be my husband. Our priority was that one of us was home with our kids. Now he jokes that he’ll stay at home and I should go out to work, and if I could earn as much as he does, I’d go! After seven years at home (freelancing too), I could do with a change of scenery.

  4. October 12, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    We took the financially unsound route of sending my husband back to work. I now work about 15 hours a week while he works full-time, so of course he makes more total, but my hourly rate is higher than his.

    But I was the one who couldn’t bear to go back. At the time. Now that my firstborn is nearly five & my daughter is 2 & we know we won’t have more, I’ve considered going back full-time. In fact there was an opening at my company this summer & I told my husband that if he wanted a turn at home, this was his chance. But he said no. I was so surprised. I mean, he said NO. He’s a great dad, often bemoans how little time he has with the kids, but he didn’t consider for more than 1 minute staying home with them…

    On the other hand my neighbor, who has 2 children under age 3, went back to work part-time and her husband shifted his work schedule so that the kids would be in daycare only two days — he stays home with them the third day.

    It’s true, though — the mom is expected to be agonized over leaving the babies while the husband flees to the safety of the office!

  5. October 12, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    Actually, rereading my post, I remembered that good friends of mine had both parents at home for the first four weeks – and now they both work part time with one day a week of childcare, which is my dream work pattern as a couple (not necessarily Mr Penguin’s!)

    I feel compelled to say (as Mr Penguin often reminds me) that like the other Jennifer, our route was financially unsound – he was earning more than me when he gave up work. But I think he has more patience than me for the groundhog day that is parenting a small child.

  6. October 13, 2006 at 2:49 am

    This kinds of assumptions irritate me enormously.

    I genuinely believe we should, in the nicest way possible, start querying every new father about his parental leave plans. Not to brow beat any individual, but to create a climate in which people at least stop to think about the unthinking “decision” to go back to work so quickly.

    I can’t think of a single way in which returning to work after three months makes you a bad mother.

  7. October 14, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    My company gives parental leave of six weeks and quite a few men have taken all of that, but some men higher up the ladder only take a week or two.
    A dad friend of ours took four months leave when his wife went back to work when their 2nd and 3rd kids were six months old – and he loved it. We know another man who is essentially a sahf because the mother earns a lot more in a high powered job. So it is happening, on a small scale.
    The move to casualisation of the workforce of course works against this – fewer and fewer people, contractors and freelancers, are eligible for any paid leave. My partner happened (totally randomly) to have three weeks (unpaid) off when our son was born because her employer (a restaurant) was renovating. The baby spent his first month in hospital – so when he came home, she’d gone back to work and couldn’t take more leave. So I was on my own from the ‘start’ and that was really hard – I always feel jealous of people who’ve had someone – a partner or mother – to stay with them for those first few weeks. (I toook a year off, then she left her job and spent 18mths at home with him, so we did eventually share the early years very well.)

  8. October 16, 2006 at 12:14 pm

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  9. October 17, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    I took the best part of a month off when the baby was born. I broke it with a week of work because he was prem and spent a couple of weeks in hospital, and wanted to spend some time there when he got home. This was mostly annual leave but part of it unpaid, and I would love to have taken more but as the primary breadwinner someone has got to work and 3 weeks is all they have to give you if you are not primary carer.

    Since I earn somethingly like twice what my wife does, the choice of who had to stay home was pretty obvious.

  10. October 17, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    My husband and I were laughing when our baby was born because while I got 0 days parental leave (I got the sack) he got 3 whole days! How is that for equal opportunities?! But as others have mentioned, our baby was in hospital for longer than expected (and out, and in, and out) so those days counted for nothing. Then, our son was having fits and I was terrified of staying at home alone with him but my husband couldn’t take the time off. His employers were as compassionate as they could be (they offered counselling) but it would have been unthinkable for him to take off more than half a day. My son had up to 3 doctor/hospital appointments a week for almost 9 months and my husband was only able to make it to one – the MRI, which I point-blank said I could not go to alone. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like if I’d gone back to work. Which one of us would have taken the time off to take our son to his appointments? I’m certain it still would have been me. The culture where my husband works would have automatically dictated: “Shouldn’t your wife be the one who’s responsible for that?” (and let’s not care about her career). Not that my husband is any less concerned about our baby’s health than me. It’s as if society has moulded our lives into these rather worrying patterns.

  11. October 17, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Steve, you’ve taken more time than at least 90% of men I know, but you’ve illustrated my point. It still annoys me that you would be thought (by most) a wonderfully caring father (for taking a month off, one week unpaid) while I’m looked at (by some) as an uncaring mother for taking three months off, one month unpaid. In both cases, we were the breadwinners, and there was another parent at home looking after the child(ren).

    I should add, though, that I don’t know whether the legalities support my view of the situation. Nobody asked me to prove my entitlement to maternity leave (which legally I was entitled to, unpaid, for the full 12 months, I believe). But I think paternity leave is only legally available if the mother is not simultaneously on maternity leave, although some employers would provide it anyway. Not sure how it would work if the mother was not actually employed.

  12. October 18, 2006 at 10:01 am

    PU,

    I agree that it was an unfair comment, and I wasn’t trying to imply otherwise. There is a low bar for the expectations on a man’s involvement in child rearing. I merely have to push a pram up the street and get I get old ladies telling me how wonderful it is to see a dad helping out and that their husband would never have been seen pushing a pram.

    I believe the situation is that you can take a full year if you are the “primary carer” so if the other partner is unemployed I think they wouldn’t give it to you, although I’m not sure. A breastfeeding mother would have a pretty strong case for being a primary carer I would think regardless whether their partner was also at home.

  13. October 18, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Sorry to jump in again, but that is so true, Steve! I am the chief nappy-changer around here but once, when we were out, I had to go to the toilet when my son needed a nappy change. So my husband took him to the baby-change room and was accosted by a woman lauding him to high heaven: “It’s so great to see a dad changing a nappy! Aren’t you wonderful!” I was a bit put out when he told me what had happened. Why does nobody give me praise for the 5+ times per day I change a nappy?! But then I realised I would find it patronising and annoying if anyone did that. Men probably feel the same.

    In fact, despite the fact I lost my job when my baby was born, I was told that legally I could make them give me my hours back if I went back within 12 months of the birth. My situation was a bit complicated because I was part-time casual and when my baby was born, my hours were immediately given to another casual, so I lost my “place” on the timetable and was, effectively, out of a job. My employer actively encouraged me to go back but I wasn’t on any kind of maternity leave so I felt quite resentful. It is interesting to think my husband might have been entitled to paternity leave, but yes, I am the primary carer so I’m quite sure it wouldn’t have been given. His employer would have spontaneously combusted at the very thought, anyway…

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