To parental leave or not to parental leave
As a kid, becoming a dad one day was something I always looked forward to. I have a brother that is 10 years my junior and when he was born my whole world changed. At the time I wasn’t present for any of the overnight feedings or colicky all-night scream fests, but between the diaper changes (the less stinky ones of course), bottle feeds, spit-up soaked shirts & play time I knew that I couldn’t wait to have a child of my own. I know, crazy right? A 10-year old that actually enjoyed all that stuff. I also had no idea what parental leave was but little did I know that one day my life would be changed forever because of it.
In the Beginning
I’ll take you back to the Summer of 2015. The nights we long, the days were hot and there wasn’t a care in the world. Like any other young professional, I had a certain level of respect for my job. Was I happy in the job? Not a chance. Did the job provide a steady income and stability for us at the time? It sure did. I knew, however, that it wouldn’t get any better after our kids were born. My days were long, I often worked weekends or late into the night, and I technically wasn’t even supposed to be allowed to take time off when the kids were born because it was so close to the end of the year and holidays. At this point, Thalita (being a teacher at the time) was on her summer vacation and would make a brief return back to work in the fall before starting her maternity leave.
Taking the first step
The decision to take parental leave while Thalita was on maternity leave was the hardest part of it all. We had become used to a certain “standard of living” and reducing our dual income to less than one of our salaries was terrifying, to say the least. In fact, this is the very reason I had turned down other jobs in the past even if it meant a potential career change. I’d often think, “How is this going to work? How are we going to ever pay our bills?” Before we made any decisions we had a sit-down and sorted a few things out. Firstly, how much time was I comfortable taking off? We initially settled on 15 weeks and somewhere along the way that number changed to 20 weeks. We knew that we were both entitled to 70 weeks of parental leave combined but would only be paid for 35 of those weeks. At some point during this time, Thalita’s maternity leave would end and there would be no more money coming in from that side. This made it even harder to budget, but we did.
Cutting the fat
We filled out our budget 2 weeks at a time and allocated our spending accordingly. I’m sad to say that this practice didn’t last more than a few months but it was just what we needed to get us to live on less and weed out the things that were no longer important or necessary, like those steak and potato dinners served with that bottle of $24 wine or ordering out one to two nights a week or buying lunch daily instead of packing a lunch. We crunched numbers over and over again, filled out every government form we could to ensure we would receive maximum coverage and, on top of that, we prayed. A lot. It’s surprising what you can live on when you’re intentional about it. We never missed a payment and our fridge always had enough food. I knew one thing and that was that I didn’t want to miss a second with my boys. Talking with other fathers I came to notice a common theme and that was that a lot of them (that went back to work right away) missed out on those early bonding opportunities and didn’t really feel connected to their child until around the 6 month mark when their baby no longer simply cried, ate, slept and pooped. I wanted to be there to wipe up every drop of spit up, change all the diapers and rock them to sleep as many times as my sanity could manage and then some!
Soak it all up
I’ll share in another post about what life was like after coming home from the hospital, but for now I’ll let you know that taking time off was the best thing I could have ever done for more reasons than I knew at the time. Not only was I able to share in the learning with Thalita and become a parent with her, but having each other around all day every day meant we were able to support each other mentally, emotionally and physically. ‘Cause sometimes you just need a hug, you know what I mean? Parenting is hard and too often mom is left on her own in the beginning to heal, repair, become a parent, keep a baby alive, sleep, feed, shower (maybe) and receive enough nutrients to physically make it through the day. Oh and let’s not forget keep the house (somewhat) in order and prepare meals. Without having each other, those first few months would have looked a whole lot different. We were able to take turns at many tasks. We could take a nap if we needed. We shared what seemed like endless smiles as we cradled our little guys. We laughed more in that time than ever before and would high five at the end of the day and repeat daily, “We did it, we kept babies alive today!” Don’t get me wrong we had our fair share of arguments that often came from a place of frustration and fatigue, but in the end, I know that if Thalita was alone she would have struggled a lot more (mostly because we had twins), and that our experiences of becoming new parents would have been very different.
I’ll leave you with this
I get that not every couple can do this. Depending on your job, geographical location or financial situation, taking time off work may not be realistic. One thing to consider is that you don’t have to start with a huge chunk of time. Start with a month, a couple weeks even but take. Time. For. Your. Family! What’s nice is you can always extend the time if you find you realize that it’s feasible. But guys, don’t overlook this. There will not be a day that you’ll regret taking the time. Those weeks and months you’ll spend with puke in your hair, coffee on your breath and most importantly, a baby in your arms will be some of the most heartfelt moments of your life. Even if you do end up going back to work early or not taking time off at all you owe it to yourself to rush home at the end of your day, jump in with both feet and be that kid’s dad! Those days will fade away so quickly. You’ll never get this time back and you don’t want to miss a thing.
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about your parental leave experience.
Until Next time…
The Unfit Dad