For two weeks, fathers in the UK are entitled to Statutory Paternity Leave: that’s paid leave, within 56 days of their child’s birth. To some that might not seem much, although Americans are given no paternity leave at all and in contrast, Icelandic daddies are granted 90 days. Whatever stretch of leave is given, poses the question: when he is on paternity, what is daddy’s role?
In the run up to his own paternity leave, my husband and I have been thinking about this. How did we play it last time?
In our antenatal class we decided that G would take on slightly more housework as I would be focusing on feeding baby. Everything else would be split 50/50 or we’d work it out as we go along. This may sound a sensible plan but now I know it’s not. In fact, it wasn’t a plan. It was like agreeing to make up your homework assignment on the spot, after 2 hours sleep, with a child screaming at you. When we were both extremely sleep deprived, managing tasks between the two of us just caused confusion. I know this won’t be the same for everyone, but I also know that we aren’t completely special cases (are we?!). We just need to know our roles and preferably, how to do them.
For example…if you generally do all the cooking, you need to consider that you will find it difficult to watch as someone else struggles to find the rice in the kitchen, whilst you are holding an inconsolable child. If you are a restless person who likes to multi-task and keep busy with different things, you are going to find it difficult being sat on the sofa with a feeding cycle of 2 hours for days on end. If you need to get showered and dressed in the morning before you can feel human, you might not be able to embrace the whole 24/7 pyjamas thing whilst the other person sorts themselves out. If your role is to keep the house tidy, you might not keep it as tidy as the person who usually does it. Or you might go over the top; spending far too much time cleaning when really you need to get on with making lunch for your hungry partner. If you think you are going to try to work from home a bit whilst doing the night shift with the baby, don’t be frustrated when this doesn’t quite work. Or when you need to sleep in the morning because you did some work without the baby, but your partner is desperate for some sleep too because they stayed up with them; a problem may arise. Prepare yourself for these feelings; maybe you need to ‘let go’ on certain things, maybe the other person needs something explaining to them in advance, or perhaps you should divide the daily tasks differently to how you first anticipated.
Making the most of paternity leave
Things to consider to avoid tension from your fellow zombie partner:
- Who likes being unwashed and in their pjs the most? The other person has priority over shower time.
- Who prefers cooking?
- …and cleaning?
- …and shopping for groceries? Are you going to get them online or at the shops?
- Who does washing? Are you going to separate colours from whites or not bother? What cycle are you going to use and how much washing powder? (I know this sounds ridiculous but…)
- Who has breasts to feed a baby? (perfectly sensible question again).
- Would you like to bottle feed instead/as well? Decide NOW to prevent any influence by the breastfeeding mafia when you are both in a vulnerable state. Note if you use online research to make your decision, it is very biased towards breast is best, so it is best to consider what is going to work for baby and you.
- Who is a night owl and who is a morning person? Ok, so night and morning don’t generally apply with a newborn but it might help you figure out shifts of some sort.* **
*On the subject: it is best not to “go to bed”. G and I thought we should try to carry on with our routine and would still go to bed at 10. It is torture when you realise that is not happening. So, try to forget that humans do this at all. You will sleep when baby sleeps for the first 12 weeks. Then the boss changes: you can teach baby what to do.
**Also, if one person thinks they can “cope better” with no sleep and therefore think they can help out more, then this is absolute b____s. Maybe they can on a day to day basis, but the sleep deprivation with a newborn is off the scale and you will both be just as bloody tired as each other. Put all competitiveness to one side. And is there anything more frustrating than someone snappily saying they are “not tired!”?
After two weeks you have both just about managed to keep the baby alive and not to kill each other. Congratulations!! With a combination of 10 hours sleep between the two of you, it’s time for daddy to return to work. Like a game of snakes & ladders, mummy slides back down the slippery snake to day one: two weeks and she still hasn’t worked out what her role is, but apparently now it’s everything. Daddy climbs a ladder two spaces as he gets into a clean car and sips a hot coffee on the way to work, before sliding back down ten spaces as he falls asleep at his desk and gets sent home to greet his manic partner; who thrusts baby at him as soon as he walks in the door.
Paternity leave: is it all its cracked up to be? For us, the tremendous and obvious benefit was that G was there to bond with his little girl, be there for me and experience the newborn lifestyle first hand: the crazy lows and the breathtaking highs. Ok, if he hadn’t taken paternity leave we may have argued less frequently, but we would have made up for it at the end of the day. He would have also been saved from tasks such as buying maternity pads and listening to me cry about my stitches down there, which given the choice I would rather talk about with my mum. But we would have been more like civilised strangers than partners. Becoming new parents can take a relationship to the brink. Thankfully we did not grow apart through knowing each other’s limits and having our flaws exposed under a microscope of sleep deprivation and challenge: we are definitely closer than ever.
Within the next few weeks we will experience this stage again.
- We have decided on our answers to the questions above.
- For example, Daddy will be preparing the toddler’s breakfast and tea and taking her/picking up from nursery; and
- I will be bottle feeding and therefore less of a prisoner to the sofa.
- We know how difficult it’s going to be: we will argue, I will cry, the baby will cry.
- We only have to look at our first daughter* to know it is all worth it; every drop of blood, sweat and tears.
*Preferably when she is sleeping angelically, or giggling or playing beautifully as opposed to running about screaming like a banshee or throwing bowls of food in the air.
G started his paternity leave today. Strangely last night he also dreamt he had two weeks left to live.
Paternity leave is precious. Use it wisely.