Parental leave is a recurring subject in politics, around dinner tables and wherever people talk these days. Especially for me, a 30-something young parent.
As such I am blessed to work at a company, for which four weeks of parental leave for fathers has been a fact since its founding more than a decade ago. But what does parental leave mean and what does it look like more specifically, let's find out.
Both the french and the german expression for paternity leave roughly translate to fatherhood vacation, which creates a wrong image people have about this. Although I did not go to work for some time, I did not spend my days reading books, visiting a museum or leaving the country altogether. I spent time with what is most precious to me: my family.
A very emotional time
That being said, let's turn the time back two and a half years, my first child has just been born and all the expectations I had about what that means have been blown to pieces. It was a very emotional time, in hindsight I am really glad I had those couple of weeks to stitch everything back together and to get to know what it means to care for something so small and so dependant. I was able to be there for my partner in a difficult time, whilst being able to bond with this all new, tiny human being.
In the end it was quite the romantic time, with all it's ups and downs. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed, completely helpless and happier than one could ever think is possible at the same time. The days became months, the months became years and a second child came along. With a little more experience, we knew what we needed to prepare and what we were getting ourselves into. Turns out being experienced with having a child helps little when you have a second one, that is a whole new world.
The secret weapon
To make sure we had time as a family and to spend as little time at the hospital as possible we went back home a couple of hours after birth, where we spent the day recovering before the now older brother came back from his grandparents house. There we were, a family of four: A mother hours after childbirth, a newborn baby ready to be loved, an older brother not sure what just happened and me: a father with a secret weapon, four weeks of parental leave.
The first couple of days consisted mostly of making sure the parents can recover whilst not neglecting the children. This is especially true for the older sibling, so far he was the main attraction in our family, with two parents he could count on. We spent a lot of time and energy talking with him, including him into new routines, to make sure he feels involved and not out of place. The change he went through is remarkable, the former only child became an older brother within weeks, taking care of his younger brother as good he can, caressing the baby when it is sad or giving us space when necessary on the one had but on the other asking for his space, his time as well. I am amazed and really glad I was able to be there to witness that evolution first handed.
My leave was a time of bonding, finding limits, getting back into a rhythm, if that is possible in the time we had so far. Beyond those rather romantic notions there was, I can not stress this enough, a lot of diaper changing, washing clothes, keeping the household in order and all the other tasks, but we could handle those together, as a family and with a minimal amount of stress. (There was still a lot.)
Building the future together
It was quite hard getting back out there, getting back to work after all that warm and fuzzy time with my family. I feel we had the opportunity to create a strong foundation for our future together that will help us tackle the obstacles to come. As a father I am part of this journey and not just a sidekick in my own story.
What is parental leave? It is time spent with your new family. The opportunity to be there for a child you brought into this world (at least partially). It is you cleaning the apartment with a child in a baby carrier as well.
One thing is certain, it is no vacation, it will leave you exhausted. The good kind, the kind where you feel that you accomplished something great. For yourself as a human being, for you and your partner as a couple and for the future generation.
Thank you Liip for making this possible.