Our period of Shared Parental Leave is nearly over. The Man has not managed to write a single blog post, despite his best intentions, so it’s up to me to make the most of my commuting time and share with you our collective thoughts on this whole experience before he goes back to work tomorrow. If you didn’t catch it the first time, here is what I thought at the start of his leave.
What Shared Parental Leave Has Taught Us
1. It’s not you, ladies, it’s the kids.
My husband has one of the most easy going temperaments of anyone I’ve ever met. Scratch that. He is actually *the* best natured person I’ve ever met. 3 days in to being full time with the kids however, that was not the case. Irritable, short tempered, snapping at your partner over the simplest things. Hey Mums, does that sound like someone familiar??
Well, here’s the good news. It’s not you. It’s not your personality. It’s just what hanging around with small kids all day on your own (and with very little sleep) does to you! Accept its inevitable. Tell your partner they’ll have to wait it out whilst your sanity only slowly return as the kids grow up.
2. Women do not make better mothers than men.
Ok, so that was a bit of artistic license, but you get the idea. It’s time to stop thinking your man can’t do it, and even letting *him* get away with thinking he can’t do it. He definitely can. He just needs the chance to learn. Same as you did.
I saw the incredible Anne-Marie Slaughter giving a talk at LSE last week and she gave a wonderful explantion of the situation:
“What if you walked in to a new job and your boss said ‘well… I guess you might be able to this job, but I’ll write a detailed instruction list for everything you need to do first and then call you every 10 minutes to make sure you’ve done it exactly right.’ You’d want to sue him for discrimination.”
The Man may not do things the same way as you, but that’s okay. He might do some things better.
3. Support. Support. Support.
It feels rather tempting to leave your partner a little bit in the lurch, so that when they fall flat on their face you can feel smug about being ‘the one who can do it all’ and to say ‘Hah! I told you so.”
YOU MUST RESIST THE TEMPTATION!! Do not set them up to fail. Raising kids is hard enough as it is. There’s no point in adding to the misery.
Whilst it’s important not to micro-manage, your partner will appreciate support wherever and however they need it. Be there to offer non-judgemental help. It’s just the same as learning on any job – learn by doing, and keep stretching a little way out of the comfort zone.
Considering my husband was severely lacking in the cooking skills department and was then charged with weaning a 7 month old baby, I helped a lot in the first couple of weeks by planning easy healthy meals and prepping food in advance. But over time, he’s been weaned off this dependency – first as I dropped the prep, stopped leaving him step-by-step recipes, and (very nearly) not planning meals on his behalf at all. Lo and Behold – HE *CAN* COOK AND HE IS ACTUALLY GOOD AT IT!
From never having a night off from cooking, there have been a few times where I came home and *did not know* what I was going to get for dinner. My idea of bliss. Also, no more pizzas ‘cooked’ mistakenly under the grill. Result!!!
4. It really is up to us all to be the change.
No matter how many times I’ve reminded people that my husband is on full time parental duty, I have endlessly had comments such as “how do you juggle it all?!”, “I don’t know how you do it!”, “oh when do you find the time??”
The truth is, I am doing nothing different from the vast majority of fathers. Just 2 weeks after their child is born, they are back in full time work. Nobody bats an eyelid at this (but perhaps they really should). In fact, Makers have had at least three fathers of young children in the last two cohorts – one with a child even younger than mine.
On the flip side, hubby has predictably been quizzed on how he is coping with being full time dad, whether they can come and help him in any way, how brave (and/or dumb?) he is for taking the time off and how people ‘really respect’ his decision to be SAHD for a bit. Again, not exactly the kind of views held of women on maternity leave (but perhaps they really should).
Being in this position has given us both the privilege of being able to challenge people on these types of stereotypical views. Which is great. The more people out there doing this, the more we can bust these myths and bring about greater equality for men and women together. So please, if you ever have the opportunity to take Shared Parental Leave, take it.
5. A stronger relationship
Of everything I did not really expect, the biggest thing has been the positive effect it’s had on our relationship. I feel I better understand what it’s like to be the parent away from home, missing your baby’s first babbles, the first crawls, the first time he stands on his own two feet. I will make more of an effort to send over regular updates, photos and videos during the day in future so he can feel more connected to us at home, especially when he’s working long hours.
He says: “I used to feel sorry for myself when I was stuck at work late. But I never really thought to feel sorry for you – for all the extra work you would have been doing at home alone. I should have done.”
Also, you know all those things you love to talk about in those wonderfully therapeutic Mumpathy sessions with your other Mum friends? Well now you get to be your husband’s Mum friend too.
And finally… Freeeeedom!!
One extremely fabulous benefit of SPL is that I no longer have qualms about leaving the kids at home all day with my husband. That means I can GO OUT AT THE WEEKENDS! I can go out for dinner with my friends. Maybe I will even have an overnight spa break. And I’ll no longer spend the time wondering whether my family is in A&E.
Our friends have reported enjoying the regular Facebook updates that The Man has posted during his parental leave. So I thought I’d leave you with some of the best bits here:
So you see… I think he finally gets it. What it means to be a mother.