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A take on taking parental leave: a dad’s perspective

Confession: I took 6 weeks of parental leave. I know it’s not much of a confession. But as a guy, there’s still some stigma surrounding putting your family ahead of your job. Although most younger co-workers were supportive of my decision/jealous, with a lot of them saying they absolutely would do the same, I did get the odd jokes and strange glares and hesitant “that’s great” from mostly the older folks. Some family members expressed concerns about my job. Would I still have it when I returned? Would I be looked at differently for taking it?

Maybe part of it was in my head, but while parental leave for new moms is commonplace and often expected, dads are more reluctant to take any leave. According to a 2011 Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, only 11% of working Canadian fathers outside of Quebec, took or intended to take parental leave.

In Canada, new mommies are offered a maximum of 52 weeks of paid maternity/parental benefits up to 55% of their income, of which a maximum of 35 weeks can be shared with daddies. So why don’t more fathers take advantage? Well, one of the big reasons – money. Countries that have increased their benefits for new dads and parents have seen greater participation rates. Take Sweden for example, who after increasing benefits for parental leave, has seen their participation rate now jump to over 90%. Makes sense! And in my case, I think I would have felt more at ease if I had known more that were taking it or at least talking about. And info on the subject is pretty scarce, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past weeks from my own experience.

My reality check

Let me just begin by saying I have a newfound appreciation for stay-at-home moms and dads – I can’t even begin to say – I really don’t know how you do it! Although I really enjoyed my time at home, no doubt, going back to work actually felt like going on vacation. It’s tough. Tougher than I imagined. I thought I was going to be able to get so much work done around the house after the first few weeks. Have extra time to work on my blog. Work on this, work on that – in between a few bottles. Ha!

The first few weeks were incredibly hectic, as expected with a new child. Between helping my wife with all the feedings, diaper changes, washing bottles, and running other tasks around the house during their odd nap, it was tiring. And you feel trapped all the time. Although we had our occasional outing, I was really itching to get out.

If there was one thing I really missed from work, was a routine, a sense of order. Both my wife and I were on little sleep and still adjusting. But truly, the hardest part for me wasn’t the sleep or lack thereof, it was in trying to devote the same amount of time to both my daughters. My 2-year old would always come to me, right when my attention was focused on feeding the baby. And I could sense her little heart cry ‘daddy doesn’t want to play with me’. Ok, maybe it was a little more than sense it. I think she actually said those words aloud. Ouch! It’s a tough thing for your child to see a newer child in the home and getting all the attention. But I’m really glad I went through this period with her and if anything, I think it brought us all a little bit closer.

My reward

It felt short. It felt long. But for what it was worth, I enjoyed every minute of it – even all its craziness! And I’m glad I was able to be there for my wife to help her out, and be there for my little ones, to enjoy all the little moments, that you can’t get back. The one thing that I kept reminding myself, was I probably will never get this chance again to take this amount of time off and spend this much time with my family. Or at least, probably not for a long while. I only took one week of vacation back with my 2-year old, and I regretted afterwards not taking more time. I would have loved to have taken more time, but financially it would’ve been much harder. But you have to do what’s best for you.

Parting parental leave advice

If you’re considering taking parental leave, here are few things to consider:

  1. Plan to plan. For many, taking parental leave can be a tough financial decision to make. It’s important to plan ahead and find out how much time you can afford to take, regardless of how much time you’re entitled to. In Canada, the government provides a parental benefit equivalent to 55% of your income. Some companies do offer top-ups, but most (including mine) do not, so you have to find the other 45% from somewhere. And remember, these benefits are also taxed. My wife is self-employed and while self-employed maternal benefits do now exist in Canada, as this article points it – they’re less than ideal. So with her on no income and me on half of an income could have made it difficult, had we not planned properly. Luckily, we avoided any financial mishaps, because we had planned for it for a while and set aside some savings to cover any loss of income. Also it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your employee policies before embarking on your journey.
  2. Expect the unexpected. If you’re taking paid leave, it can take a bit of time getting you your money. So account for weeks, where there will be none. Here it takes a minimum of 2 weeks after your application is received just for processing, provided it’s processed right away. I didn’t receive payment until my 3rd week and although I was supposed to receive weekly payments, the 2nd week they skipped payment and paid me for two weeks on the third week. So if you’re expecting consistent payments – don’t. Always make sure you have a bit more set aside just in case.
  3. Take the expensive out of your expenses. Luckily when staying at home, a lot of your expenses are diminished. Possibly your transportation, daycare, nights out with friends. You can kiss them goodbye – at least for the first little while – make them visit you. I also found we spent a lot less money on dining out and spent more time on making meals. But there are also a lot of new expenses that come with having a new baby. Check out my post ‘Planning for your first baby‘.
  4. Enjoy every moment. Remember – your children will only get to be that age once and your time is limited so make the most of it. Yes, it does get a little hectic at times, but don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Sometimes you just need a little breather.

And remember – anything planned is possible.

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