Note: As far as I know parental leave and paternity leave are used pretty well interchangeably, I just think the latter word is patronizing and dumb, so parental leave it is.
I’ve recently returned to my day-job from a 6-week parental leave that might not have happened at all. Months ago we had several discussions about whether or not it made sense; I already do work from home and we’re never exactly flush with cash. Ultimately, though, Natalie and I both felt deep down that is was an opportunity I shouldn’t to miss, and boy were we right. Years from now I know I will look back onto taking that leave as one of the best work- and life decisions I made. Here are 5 reasons you should consider doing the same.
Another note: I wish I could have one of my points be that “the finances will take care of themselves,” but I don’t want to presume. I am lucky enough to have a stable, full-time job with a pretty cool company and also to live in Canada where unemployment benefits are decent. Having said that, my leave did put us under a certain amount of financial strain and we agreed to rely on a modest line of credit to help cover expenses while my regular pay cheque wasn’t coming in. Debt sucks, but every time I make a payment on that loan I will think back to what it paid for and know that it was worth it.
1. You will appreciate your partner like never before
Look, I work mostly from home and get to see Egg a lot during the day. I’ve almost always been there for when he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and often handled that responsibility on my own. I thought I had a really good handle on what day-to-day care for an infant is all about. Turns out I didn’t know shit, and neither do you. I’m sorry to tell you this but it doesn’t matter how many diapers you’ve changed or lullabies you’ve sung; if you have been balancing your childcare with any kind of employment you know exactly as much about the experience of a full-time caregiver as you do about childbirth.
I’ll admit that pre-leave there were plenty of times that I thought mom’s routine of “dress the baby – out to baby & me yoga – get some groceries – play in the park – see friend for coffee – play with baby at home – get supper ready” sounded to me like a pretty nice little Saturday. Hoo boy, was I wrong. See, pre-leave I didn’t understand that the stresses of having an infant’s wellbeing hang on your every move and decision aren’t cumulative, they’re exponential. Like a snowball rolling down the hill into a boulder, ready to crush you. It wears on you in a way I hadn’t previously experienced.
Not that I ever would have made an actual comment about that nice little Saturday thing, but now I won’t ever think about it again, either.
If you have been balancing your childcare with any kind of employment you know exactly as much about the experience of a full-time caregiver as you do about childbirth.
2. You will learn tons and become a better parent
On the very first day of my leave, I proudly packed up Egg’s snack bag all on my own (had never done this before) and marched him down to the park. While I did a decent job with the snack, I hadn’t thought that when eating peanut butter with crackers it’s important to pack something to wipe grubby little baby fingers with afterwards. Faced with having to either suck the disgusting peanut butter and leftover rice cracker leftovers off those little fingers or soil my own clothes to clean him up, I sucked.
Always bring something to wipe up the PB and cracker mess – it’s just one of the dozens of lessons and hacks I learned over those 6 weeks. Snacking, napping, packing: I’ve got tricks for all that stuff now. It feels good.
3. Get to know your kid better as their personality starts to take shape
Sometime in that first year, babies transform from vacuous little slugs into wonderfully charming mini-humans. By spending time with your infant you can start to tell the diffrerence between real distress and overblown drama, Will your kid be humble, or sassy? Brazen and daring or cool and calculating? The clues are there in those first months and having extra time with your little one away from the pressures of work will allow you to start picking them up. It will give you an invaluable head-start on understanding the person your kid will become.
4. Got shit you haven’t been dealing with? Now’s the time
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are in advance; once the little one arrives the shit hits the fan (hopefully not literally). The house gets messy, chores get forgotten, things generally start to slide.
I wouldn’t say my day job is super demanding but between work, parenting, maintaining a clean (or at least safe and sanitary) living space and keeping up a romantic (or at least safe and sanitary) relationship, I was feeling stretched really thin. I guarded my hour or two of daily leisure like Scrooge McDuck with gold coins. Chores that didn’t absolutely require immediate attention got added to the List to be addressed When The Time Is Right. So did lots of things that I would have liked to do, but couldn’t muster the energy or organize the free time for.
Start going out running again? That was on the List. Replace the hole in the bathroom drywall? List. Mount the TV on the wall? Mount that idea right onto the List. Paint the front door a new pretty turquoise? Brother you better believe that was on the List for a while. And not in my wildest fantasies could I imagine so much me-time that I could organize myself to say…renew my interest in writing and build a website.
Accept that “When The Time is Right” might not come for another 18-20 years, and consider the value in creating the time to get to your List sooner. That isn’t to say that you’ll get everything done, or even a lot of it. See Point # 1 above; this isn’t a sabbatical. But at the very least, with the family time that a parental leave gives you, you should be able to knock off a couple of items and come up with some new perspectives on how to handle your List more regularly when you get back to the grind.
Accept that “When The Time is Right” might not come for another 18-20 years, and consider the value in creating the time to get to your List sooner.
5. This time is never, ever coming back
It’s the cliché I heard most often from clients, colleagues and family before taking the time off, and it holds up. These days are precious, and there will never be anything like them again in your life.
How much does someone change between ages 16 and 17? Ages 31 and 32? Exactly, you have a whole lifetime ahead of that slow evolution, but this first year is like the Big Bang. Imagine getting to watch the Big Bang.
I was only off for 6 weeks. When I started my leave Egg could barely crawl two feet; now he motors across our entire kitchen in seconds. That’s incredible, and I got to see that development for hours, everyday.
Have a serious career? When will you ever have the opportunity to take off a straight 6 weeks or 6 months again before retirement? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you’re reading this and it isn’t too late, I hope I’ve got you seriously considering this option. By taking an extended leave from work you can learn a new appreciation of the challenges of raising a baby, learn great new parenting tricks and learn more about your baby, and at the same time get a better grip on the other aspects of life that might be slipping out of control. I took six weeks because that was how long we could financially afford; I would have taken 10 months if I could. Take as long as you can afford, and cherish every day.
Go get ‘em.