Welcome to our blog series written by fathers on parental leave. They’ve agreed to share their hopes, fears, successes and struggles with us. The goal? To inspire other dads to take up the parental leave challenge. 

Meet Andrew, a father of two living in the Netherlands. He took paternity leave in August 2018 and decided to take another three months of parental leave from December to March 2019.

This is his story.

“Nobody ever looked back on their life and said ‘I should have worked more!'”

I‘m a two-time dad, with a three-year-old and a baby girl of four months. The idea of taking parental leave arose somewhere in the middle of my wife’s second pregnancy. We were thinking through care options for our future little one, particularly wondering when she would join daycare.

Our first girl was born while I was posted to abroad as a diplomat. Back then taking extended leave didn’t seem a viable option, though I must admit I didn’t explore the possibilities in that regard. 

In The Netherlands most employees have the right to take six months of unpaid parental leave per child. A key requirement is that the employer agrees to the amount of leave the employee takes. Many fathers in government jobs make use of their parental leave by taking a couple of hours per week over a long period of time. My impression is that taking a dedicated, extended period of leave is quite rare. 

Opening Up To The Possibility

Upon our return to The Netherlands, I was seconded to a government department. I made an agreement with my line managers that I would work four day weeks, working 9-hour days. This way I got to spend one full day every week with our then two-year-old daughter.

This was a great bonding experience with her, allowing us some quality time together, getting to know her better and enabling me to do a host of household errands for which I somehow never found the time.

Building on this experience, spending a longer dedicated period with our second child became more conceivable and appealing. So I suggested to my wife that I take a three month parental leave once she was to return to her work, roughly four months after the birth of our baby. She was surprised but quickly taken by the idea. 

Getting Signoff And Handing Over

The approval process at my work was quite straightforward and reaffirming. I was not sure what reactions I would get, but they were overwhelmingly positive.

I approached my two line managers with my request towards the end of the second trimester of my wife’s pregnancy. The request was unexpected, but both were very supportive. They discussed it with the senior leadership of the organisation that approves such requests. 

The primary concern for our team was continuity. Thankfully, my managers found a suitable replacement for the three months of my leave without difficulty. Clarity on this made the handover a smooth process. The final two months of my job I started looping my colleague in on different projects and scheduled a couple of sit-downs and a team-wide meeting to catch him up. Since my leave I haven’t heard from him; no news is good news!

One misconception I encountered with some colleagues was the idea that I am taking a sabbatical or long vacation. Although I do hope to have some time to myself, I expect to spend most of my time and energy taking care of our girls.

I don’t fear that taking leave will be construed as a career-limiting move. When our most senior boss learned about my parental leave plan, he exclaimed: “Nobody ever looked back on their lives and said: ‘I should have worked more!'” 

A Step Into the Unknown

My parental leave enables us to have our new baby join daycare around 7 months instead of 4 months. That is a welcome delay. Although we are very happy with the daycare (it’s the same one that our older daughter attends), we feel some dread at the prospect of leaving our little baby there so early.

I feel all the more privileged that I am able to spend this period with her one-on-one, taking care of her and get to know her better. For my wife, it also helps putting her mind more at ease in the transition back to work. Click to Tweet

Personally, it is also very much a step into the unknown, having to take care of a small baby nearly full time, not working in an office, but not being on vacation either. I will have to find a new rhythm with her, and probably adjust frequently as she develops.

On the one hand, in terms of the practicalities – diapers, putting baby to bed, dressing, carring/wearing baby, etc – I have ample experience from our first daughter, having tried to be involved as much as possible.

On the other hand, it will be a completely new and exciting experience to be on parental leave. There is lots of new territory to discover: bottle feeding, finding a good daytime sleep routine, and of course aligning with my wife’s work schedule.

Hopes and Plans for Parental Leave

I hope to have my main focus on our baby, and also our older daughter, who is in daycare three days of the week. Becoming an older sister is an emotionally tumultuous adventure for our spirited three-year-old, who switches with ease between enthusiastic playtime and full fledged tantrums.

At the personal level, I hope I will develop my identity as a father more fully, as at times I feel like my professional identity is more dominant. I hope this leave will enable me to find a different balance there. I also hope to become more aware of our (active and passive) parenting choices raising two girls.

I plan to find some activities to do together with my girls, like visiting friends, going on walks and exploring our city. I also hope to find some time for other things, such as some physical exercise, some home improvement projects, reading, writing and thinking.

My wife has been generous enough to enable me taking two kid-free breaks (each a couple of days), which I will use as retreat periods to catch up on sleep, reading, meditation and reflection. We may also do some international traveling for my wife’s job, during which I will accompany her to take care of our little one. In short, more than enough to fill the coming months. 

I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences!

Editor’s Note: The Dutch government offers two types of leave for fathers.

  1. Paternity Leave (kraamverlof): One week of job-protected leave at 100% salary. Fathers can use this leave during the four weeks after the birth of a child.
  2. Parental Leave (ouderschapsverlof): The Dutch government grants every parent job-protected but unpaid parental leave. Leave is calculated at twenty-six (26) times the number of working hours per week per parent, per child. For example, a full-time job of 38 hours a week gives a leave entitlement of 988 hours (i.e. 26 weeks ). These hours can be used in one block or in multiple period. It can be taken until the child is eight years old.

You can read full details of the Netherland’s parental leave policies here.