20th March 2014
Today is a pretty strange day for me.
Later this afternoon I will walk out of my office and know that I won’t be returning for three months. I am not resigning, taking a long holiday or going on sabbatical. Instead I am taking three months of paternity leave as my wife goes back to work.
When my wife was pregnant and we were discussing our childcare options for the first six to nine months or so the idea of my wife taking the first six months and then me taking three seemed fairly natural. My wife loves her job and wanted to get back to it and the opportunity for me to bond with our son just seemed right. However, the more we looked into it the more we realised that our decision was fairly unusual.
Not only am I the only man that we know taking additional paternity leave but when I made the request at work I found that I was the first man to do so since the law allowing it came into force three years ago. Indeed, the TUC recently reported that less than 1% of eligible men have taken advantage of the opportunity since 2011.
All of this means that I have a weird sense of entering uncharted waters.
Let’s start with the professional element of this. Many small business owners are not too keen on the paternity leave provisions (and certainly not Nick Clegg’s proposed changes to them) and I can sort of see why. Whereas my wife was going to be off for six months and was given a short-term replacement my three month period is a bit awkward for the council; not long enough to get someone in and for them to usefully do anything but not short enough to be easily ignored.
Thankfully, I work for a local authority (thus not a small employer) and my work will be covered within the management team with some additional project support but nonetheless there is a small part of me that is worried that a) I am putting a lot of pressure on my colleagues, b) that they’ll manage my workload easily without me (with all that entails) or c) that some of the projects and pieces of work I really care about will flounder without me there. Logically, I know that each of these is overblown but nonetheless this represents an odd feeling. I know I am leaving but I’ll be back soon.
Personally, I also have an element of trepidation. Although I like to think that I done my fair share of child care duties since our son was born I am self-aware enough to recognise that my wife has definitely been in charge. It’s my wife who has worked out when to increase the amount of milk he has, chosen new activities for him to try, introduced new food, purchased new equipment and clothes, checked on his ailments, researched (with the aid of the Mumsnet gang) every baby related query and generally just been in charge.
That will now fall to me. I am really looking forward to it but the extra responsibility does feel a bit daunting.
Finally, there is the more prosaic concerns that I am sure all parents face; what to do all day. My wife has a bunch of mother and baby activities in the diary, many of which (mother and baby yoga and buggy fit for example) I am not sure I’ll be taking on so I’ll need to replace those activities and make sure I don’t fall into the trap of just staying in all day. I also think that, and I know this is going to sound odd, that I am going to miss work a little; the mental stimulation, social element and generally just the sense of achievement that comes from my job.
The above reads a bit negatively but I would not want it to seem that way. Whilst this does feel like uncharted territory for me I am really looking forward to it. I am particularly looking forward to spending time and bonding with my son which is by far the most important element of this period of leave.
I am also going to take the opportunity to explore my local area a little (and perhaps take a few trips) and spend some time with other members of my family (such as my Mum and Grandparents) who are, as you’d imagine delighted to have a new addition to the family.
I am also glad that I am the first person at work to do this; hopefully it will help publicise the opportunity to other men in a similar position. It won’t work for everyone but at least they’ll know about it.