Why your “dad-baby bond” is good for the world.
Today is International Women’s Day 2019. This year’s theme is #balanceforbetter, and people around the world are sharing stories about how to make a difference in the fight for gender balance and gender equality.
At Take The Time, we believe that men have an important role to play and can do our part by taking parental leave. Yes, it’s an amazing experience. But it also does amazing things for women — at home and in the workplace — by leveling the playing field.
To mark #IWD2019, I was asked by a large UK-based employer to write for their internal parents network on the subject of parental leave and gender balance. I’ve shared the piece below, and I hope it serves as a good reminder to my readers about the importance of turning thought into action! I hope you enjoy it.
Before I had my first child, if you’d asked me to describe fatherhood I might have said something like ‘joyous chaos’. Like most men, I was expecting the baby to throw my whole life off balance. And yet, if you ask me today, with a daughter about to turn two and a second child on the way, I’d actually describe fatherhood as an opportunity to bring my life into balance.
This change of tune comes from my relatively unusual experience of dadhood. Early in my wife’s first pregnancy, we agreed that I would take two months of parental leave after her four-month maternity leave finished. Our main goal was to delay our child’s entry into daycare. We also felt it would be special if each parent had some ‘quality time’ to bond with the baby.
Those plans changed when, shortly after the birth of our daughter, we decided move across the Atlantic to chase a great job for my wife. To support the transition, I ended up spending almost nine incredible months at home as full-time caregiver for our little girl.
At first, like many new dads, I was a little lost away from my desk, and intimidated by the responsibility. Bottle-feeding was a struggle. It was hard to get her soothed for naps and we’d spiral into long crying fits. I also had no clue how to entertain a baby all day, every day.
The solution, it turns out, was to embrace the chance to ‘do it my way’. That meant creating a rhythm that worked for the baby, and for me. I grew more confident in my own parenting skills, learned how to manage some of the household chores too, and started going out more. Every time we went out, I’d get lots of attention from strangers. A dad alone with a baby on a weekday… people loved it!
Within just a few weeks, I learned how to fully care for my daughter and she grew to trust me completely. We had fun together, and I was there as she explored her world. Spending that time with her was, in the end, the greatest privilege of my life.
Eventually, I started looking for my next job. I wasn’t sure about how to address the nine-month ‘gap’ on my resume, but rather than try to hide it, I decided to add “Parental Leave – 2016-2017” and waited for feedback from potential employers. To my surprise, it’s been a conversation-starter with hiring managers and recruiters. Discussing my family commitments upfront has also made it easier to find family-friendly employers. My view is it’s always better to be honest rather than introduce surprises later. In exchange, good companies will be open to flexible working arrangements.
Ultimately, I was able to secure a leadership position at a small not-for-profit, where I’m employed part-time (three-days per week). It can be a challenge being away from the office when important decisions need to be made. On the flip side, when I’m at work I’m focused and efficient and my employer knows they’re getting my best work. It’s a balance that works for my boss, my colleagues, and for my family.
Looking ahead to baby #2, my wife again has a four-month maternity leave. I’ll be eligible for only one week of paid paternity, but my wife and I have promised ourselves that I’ll take two months of unpaid parental leave. It won’t be easy to sacrifice the income, but we’ve already started saving for it, and have made a careful budget to make sure we stay within our limits. We’re thinking of it as an investment in our family – in my wife’s career, in my relationship with my second child, and in the balanced world that we want to create for our children.
For me, that last point is key. My experiences are aligned with a large and growing body of research about the link between parental leave and gender equality. For starters, dads who take substantial periods of leave after the birth of a child are more hands-on at home. Additionally, in countries where men accept parenting as a truly shared responsibility, workplace discrimination against working mothers declines and the gender pay gap shrinks. There’s also growing scientific and cultural understanding that men taking parental leave can lead to better mental health outcomes for mothers.
When you stop and think about it, it makes a lot of sense: when dad takes real time to bond and care for their baby, it has a lasting impact on gender balance at home and in the workplace.
So how can you help create #balanceforbetter? As the founder of Take The Time, I believe there are three keys to success:
THINK: Help dads think about parental leave as a real option. That means helping men get educated about parental leave options in your country and workplace, sharing inspiring stories and building confidence.
TAKE: Help dads actually take parental leave. It can be intimidating at first, but with the right support, many families can make a plan that works.
TALK: Help dads talk about their parental leave experiences. Men who have taken parental leave know firsthand the joy and challenges it brings. It’s our responsibility to spread the word and inspire other working dads.
In my experience, the greatest joy of fatherhood is being present as your child explores the world. Help a new dad (or soon-to-be-dad!) take parental leave and you’re giving him an amazing, life-changing experience. Not to mention you’re helping bring #balanceforbetter for everyone!
Download our three-step guide today to learn more about our THINK / TAKE / TALK campaign!