I feel there is an unspoken side to MANternity that I’d like to briefly address.
That is the guilt I feel about my wife going back to work early in order for me to spend time with the kids. Strangely it feels a little selfish to have this time with MY kids.
I suppose that shows quite how engrained the division of role down gender lines is, even to my, supposedly, progressive mind. (Yeah that’s right, I called myself progressive, Dad Blog Smug Levels reaching record highs!)
I truly believe that opportunities such as SPL are not just about getting some time off work but about breaking down those gender based stereotypes. My wife often responded to women who asked if she was concerned about me taking over with:
“He has had the same amount of training for this as I have, just because I’m the mum doesn’t mean I have access to a secret source of parenting answers”
In the build up to MANternity my wife was whole-heartedly supportive, and she remains so. She believes this is a brilliant opportunity for our children, for us as a couple and for me as a father. Not to mention there is a significant part of her excited to be returning to work and the challenges and responsibility that brings.
However I know she is, of course, sad to give up 24/7 time with the kids. These past 9 months have been easier than the first maternity leave, mostly because our son is around as well and a constant source of fun and conversation. We are all more relaxed because its second baby time and that has led to a really wonderful 9 month period for her and the children. A period that I have sashayed my way into the middle of and brought to an abrupt end!
When we were assessing if SPL would be a workable option for us there were times when it didn’t look like the best idea. But my mind was made up, f**k career penalties, f**k the inevitable comments of some colleagues, I had this opportunity to spend time fully committed to my kids and I was damn well going to take that. And yet as I pig-headedly pressed forward with MY plans I was also aware that I was signalling the end of my wife’s fun work free times. She was magnanimous enough to never bring that up but I do know women who have told me:
“I wouldn’t want my husband to take Shared Parental Leave because I want to spend the 12 months with my kids myself!”
Lets face it, while I support Shared Parental Leave as a policy, I’d also prefer it if we could both never work again and spend the whole time playing superheroes in my son’s bedroom. Clearly none of us would ever age as well. Immortality, eternal youth and enough earthly riches to support a Toys’R’us addiction, not that much to ask for during the austerity years, is it?!
So in many ways this is a thank you. A thank you to my wife for her sacrifice. For trusting that I could take the parental lead for 3 months and not upset all her good work. For not trying to “back seat parent” and not calling every two minutes from the office to check if the kids still love her. Truth is that she is a more secure woman and mother than that, and rightfully so.
This shift in dynamic has spawned other benefits however. We are now consciously creating situations where she gets some one-on-one time with our son. Previously I’d be the one taking him out for a while to “do something fun” and “give her a break”. Now he gets to associate those adventures with her as well.
I think, if I may extend my smug levels to offer advice to father’s considering SPL, I’d say “Don’t feel guilty.” The benefits of SPL extend beyond the obvious selfish ones. It will increase your appreciation of your wife and her work/life balance, also it will balance the equality with which your kids see the family roles. At least that’s what I’ve learnt so far, one month in.
I fear it is going to be very tough, for all of us, when my wife and I are both back to work full time in February.
Still… maybe the answer is a third?! Jehovah! Stone him!