// Adam is a new father living in Alberta, Canada and is in the middle of a nine-month stretch of parental leave. This is his story. //
I knew I wanted to be at home with my kid before I knew we were pregnant, and my partner, Lauren, knew she wanted me at home, too. Like so much of our reasoning, the roots of those aspirations were split between cold academic theory and raw emotion.
Theory vs. Emotion
On the theory side, automatically leaving the vast majority of babycare to a female partner presents an unfair emotional and physical workload that further entrenches geographies of gender: the home and the heart as female spaces, and the outside world and the mind as male spaces.
I didn’t want to put that burden on Lauren, and we didn’t want to present gender in these stark and limiting terms to our baby’s brand new brain. The fact that solid, ongoing social support is the best preventative measure against mental health issues like post-partum depression was further weight for the “stay at home” column.
On the emotional side, I wanted to be a big presence in my kid’s earliest days – yes, for the long-term bonding I’ve heard it helps build and the ways I felt I could be a better partner – but mostly because it’s such a rare and incredible occasion. Given the opportunity to experience the incredible changes of my child’s earliest days, how could I choose to leave for 9 hours a day, especially when my kid is only awake for that long?
Initially, I was thinking about taking six months of leave, but for a number of reasons (more on those in a follow-up post) I ended up taking nine months off work. Mostly, I think more time would have been even better. I go back to work in two months, and I already feel some anxiety about it.
The Hard Parts Of Being Home
It would be untrue, though, to say I haven’t sometimes wished I was doing something – anything – else besides being at home. I work for a landscape conservation charity and, like most non-profit jobs, mine is a passion project more than a strategy for prosperity. I miss being part of some really important campaigns to protect the wildlife and wild places I’ve spent my life falling in love with. I miss the passionate people who are working on those efforts without me. I miss going outside, on foot, all day, in questionable weather.
I have also spent a lot of time trying to get a tiny person to go to sleep, sometimes with no hope of success and generally in dark spaces without company. On the occasion that such efforts have succeeded, I have spent a lot of my time cleaning things, folding things, or planning how to clean the things I’ll later need to fold.
There may have even been a moment in which I said the words “I think I’m having a crisis of masculinity” to my partner. That might have happened. Who can say for sure?
After 30+ years of steeping in “Western masculinity” I would probably have had that feeling anyway. But, it’s definitely exacerbated by the reactions other men give when I tell them about my long leave. “What are you doing with all that free time?” they ask, expecting that I’ve joined a new volunteer program or gone skiing everyday. Those are things I would do with free time, if I had a bunch of it. But the answer, of course, is “I’m taking care of my kid.”
Building Long-Term Confidence
That said, as our baby has grown and become – in fits and starts, but generally trending towards improvement – more predictable, I’ve been able to add more variety to my days. Even little things like writing this blog can make a big difference in my mental wellbeing, which helps me be more patient and observant with my kid. I’ve even, once or twice, been able to go outside, on foot, all day, in questionable weather.
More importantly, on more than one occasion I’ve been able to hang out with my kid on my chest while watching coyotes along the river, and I know that having those experiences will make me more confident doing things like that when he’s old enough to care about them. I’m not only excited to get into the alpine with my kid, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to do it while reading his cues and meeting his needs. I’m not sure I would be in that place without taking significant amount of parental leave.
If you can find a way to be home with your baby, do it.
Editor’s Note: In Canada, new (employed) mothers have a guaranteed 15-week maternity leave that is considered medical leave, paid at 55% of pre-baby earnings.
Beyond that, there’s parental leave that, subject to eligibility, can be taken by one parent or split between the two. There are two options:
1) ‘Standard’ parental leave is up to 35 weeks, paid at 55% of previous earnings up to a max of CAD$547 per week.
2) ‘Extended’ parental leave is up to 61 weeks, paid at 33% of previous earnings up to a max of CAD$328 per week. Basically, the government stretches the same amount of compensation over a longer period of time.
Additionally, parents of a child born or adopted after March 17, 2019 may be eligible for five “use-it-or-lose-it” weeks under the government’s new Parental Sharing Benefits.
Full details of this new Parental Sharing Benefit can be found here. But in short, parents who select ‘standard’ parental leave benefits can receive up to 40 weeks (up from 35), but neither parent can access more than 35 weeks in total. This forces both parents to take SOME (at least five) weeks off if they want to access the full 40 week offering.
Similarly, parents who select ‘extended’ parental benefits can receive up to 69 weeks of parental benefits (up from 61 weeks). Neither parent can access more than 61 weeks in total, so this means both parents will need to take at least 8 weeks of leave.