It’s been a little over two months since I became the primary carer for my baby girl, Mia, who is currently eleven months old.
I’m taking three months off from my job as a lawyer while Mia’s mum returns to work. I was initially hesitant to write about this time as I was unsure of the value of documenting my experience. However, I have been prompted into action as a keyboard warrior as inevitably, I think the more voices there are about any parenting experience, the better.
Particularly those that fall outside the 1950s social norms which are still prevalent today. If you disagree, try telling colleagues and clients that you, a male, intend to take time off to look after your little girl! Who doesn’t love an instant judgment?
The intention of this article is not a “how to” or “what to” because seriously everyday presents some new challenge that I have no fucking idea what to do with (whether it’s the logistical nightmare of attending swimming lessons or working out how to best deal with the attention you receive when walking down the street with a little one). What I hope comes across is that you do end up figuring it all out, whatever “it” is… even if (mock shock horror) you are the dad.
“I’ve seen her first crawl, her first hopeless emu-like steps. She now looks to me as well as her mum when she wants approval, or just on random occasions, as though we have our own private joke.”
I wholeheartedly recommend to any dads or partners who are not the initial main carer, who have the opportunity to take time to look after your baby, take the leap!
I appreciate this in itself can be a tough battle. Most companies do not encourage shared parenting or splitting primary care. Further, most Human Resources, or whatever cool corporate name the company has given that department, have not evolved to advocate a position that affords men the opportunity for extended primary carer’s leave. Especially if the mother has already taken leave, which in most cases is going to happen- at least for a few months after birth. I appreciate the odds are against most when it comes to securing leave, but if it’s a battle you think you can win, it will be well worth the fight.
I could beat my chest until it hurts (admittedly that wouldn’t take long because, who does that?) ranting about companies throwing around words like “progressive culture” and “flexibility” but refraining from actually enacting policies that promote those ideals (and my firm gave me the leave).
The time looking after the bubba of troubles (bubba trubs for short) has been the most rewarding experience. It really is an awesome time, certainly not without mammoth challenges, but overall seriously awesome sauce.
“Believe in your men. We can learn how to organise excursions, pack for multiple meals and memorise routines when left to our own devices.”
I’ve seen Trubs’ first crawl, her first hopeless emu-like steps. She now looks to me as well as her mum when she wants approval, or just on random occasions, as though we have our own private joke.
It has been the best thing for my relationship with Mia’s mum, the experience of captaining the ship of all things little one has made me a better person (probably not hard considering I’m a litigation lawyer), a better partner and hopefully, a better dad.
I’m also hopeful my encounters will encourage others to view this leave differently, to take the plunge and support a dad taking time out to care for their next gen and to assist those with what they have signed up for when the front door closes on mum, blissfully skipping off to work!
As a dad taking primary parental leave, you are most likely going to feel out of place, awkward and anxious at times. However, I think most of those feelings just come along with the parenting gig no matter whether you are the first port of call or phoning it in from work. My advice is to keep your eye on the prize.
There is nothing more human than looking after those you love, those who need it most. I lost count of how many times I was asked “what I was going to do” while I was on leave. I ended up not seeing this as a criticism, it’s just that sadly our society on the whole, still sees kids as women’s work.
The concept of men choosing to take an active role in caring for little ones is still pretty novel. Don’t let other people’s insecurities weigh you down. You will be able to handle all the stress balls that get thrown at you. And partners, believe in your men! We can learn how to organise excursions, pack for multiple meals and memorise routines when left to our own devices. You have had a baby with your man, trust and encourage him around your kids. It can only be beneficial when both parents are sharing the load. Everyone is going to make mistakes along the way. However, I bet any parent will only forget to pack extra nappies once!
Follow more of Ryan’s stay at home dad journey via his personal blog, First Time Dad, First Time Blog.