Dads, it's time to take-off!
To all soon-to-be dads out there, a word of advice: Have you discussed your paternity leave with your wife and your employer yet? If not, then you need to get to it now. Take it from a dad who's been there on how to make the most out of your leave.
My wife’s pregnancy was an intense experience, not just for her, but also for me.
While she was almost entirely focused on the health of the tiny person growing inside her, my concerns were centred more on her well being and to some extent on: what would happen once the baby actually arrived.
That is not to say, that I was not concerned about our baby boy. But to be honest, I think, as a dad it is hard to “bond” with a foetus as we don’t have a direct connect like the mums do.
But believe me, once the baby is actually here, things are a whole lot different.
Are you ready for take-off?
While, my better half and I were busy digesting all the information that we had been reading in books and going over everything we had learnt in childbirth classes, my colleagues brought something up that we had not given much thought to until then: paternity leave.
Paternity leave was something that had not even crossed my mind, but given that the people who brought the topic up were all dads, I was all ears right away.
Each one of them, without exception, recommended that I take the entire paternity leave. Singapore regulations allow to make sure that could I spend as much time as possible as I could with my wife and our baby boy.
But it wasn’t that easy.
The first thing I did, was to read up on paternity regulations in Singapore. And you should too. Singapore’s Prime Minister announced recently to fund up to two weeks of paternity leave. So that means, one week of paid leave is there for sure. Your employer must agree to the second one. And there is even a way to get a third week, if your wife is willing to swap one of hers with you.
Next thing you need to do is check your work contract and your company’s policy on paternity leave. The company I was with, paid up to two weeks of paternity leave. Some companies even grant you longer leaves. So make sure, you know what you are entitled to.
You’re not done yet
The most important step: ask your wife what she wants. There is a very high probability that she would want you to be there at home as long as possible. But don’t take your leave just because you are entitled to or because your wife wants you to.
Dads-to-be, listen to me: do it for yourself. As far as I am concerned, taking paternity leave was a great choice for me personally.
Bonding with your child as a dad definitely starts right after birth and the more time you spend with your family, the easier it will be to understand not only the baby but also what your wife is going through.
Just do it. Just be there. Don’t miss that first moment as a family.
What did I do with my two weeks of leave? Read on to find out.
Split up the leave
So one evening, my wife and I sat down to talk about the time after the baby comes. Did we have everything prepared, what did we need to buy in advance and what could we purchase once the baby was here. We were sitting on our couch and my wife explained me how her employer is going to handle her maternity leave. That seemed a perfect moment to bring up my leave as well.
One of my colleagues suggested: “Once the baby comes, take one week off right away. Stay with your wife and the baby at the hospital and get used to the new situation. Then come back to work and use the second week a bit later, maybe the third or fourth week of your boy’s life. By then, you will be a lot more useful to your wife.”
When I suggested this to my wife, she wasn’t very keen. She liked the thought of me staying with her both weeks right away. But since we didn’t know what to expect–it was our first child after all–we agreed to see how things would go in the first week after delivery.
Luckily my boss and the company agreed to our plan. We decided, once the baby arrived, I would go on leave right away and let them know my plan for the other week, at the end of first week.
The new, the ugly, and the boring
Maybe not everybody has such a flexible employer. And maybe some would have compelling reasons to stay home both weeks right away. But, splitting my two-weeks paternity leave into two separate leaves was perfect for us.
The first week includes the birth and it is definitely a moment you should not miss. It is also the time when everything was so new to both of us that we wanted to do everything together. We fed him, we changed him, we bathed him. It was wonderful to have this time to adjust to our reality as a new family.
But pretty soon, routine kicks in. The wife–especially if she is breastfeeding–begins taking care of the baby round the clock. Although it is extremely tiring, the baby and mum get into a 24-hour rhythm.
During this time, I looked after the household, helped my wife catch some sleep when the baby was crying, and changed the diapers (by the way not that bad at the start, but still not pretty). But that was pretty much it.
Since I could not breastfeed, I was left with the responsibility of bathing or a nappy change, neither of which takes that much time to complete. Soon, I felt pretty useless.
Even if a dad helps mum with everything, most of the time either both the wife and baby are asleep or at least one of them is eating. The baby is not yet responding nor playing.. All he does is: eat, sleep, cry or stare at the ceiling. This might sound awful, but it is true.
Also, towards the end of the first week, my wife felt a lot more comfortable with the new (although still tiring) situation. This meant that I could go back to work.
It’s not a vacation
I took my second week of leave when my son was four weeks old. This time I focused on taking as much off my wife’s hands as possible. She was basically there to breastfeed, pump milk, and whatever else she felt like doing.
By this time the baby is already slightly bigger, makes more noises, and recognises you. As a dad, this makes it a bit easier. Both the baby and you will have a quieter time. However, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that this isn’t time off for you. You’re home and you’re working: taking care of your new family.
Nonetheless, it is definitely worth spending this time with your child, talking, soothing, bonding with your newborn. Remember, you are not only doing this for your wife, you are doing this for yourself. You are getting to know your new family member from the very start.
Looking after our son when he was just a new born and still is one of the most rewarding roles I have ever had.
Dads-to-be how are you planning your paternity leave? Mums-to-be do you want your husbands involved? Share your comments with us.