Mum’s View: How to make the most of your parental leave

Parental leave is a finite resource. Use it wisely in your baby's first year.

Young Father With His Baby

It’s commonly accepted and expected that, as a new dad, you’ll take time off when your baby’s born.

It’s a time when you want to be around to experience every little thing. Every wiggle of those little toes. Every little expression on that cute face. And every little spew … OK, scrap the latter.

During that initial flurry of excitement, it’s often hard to look as far as the upcoming months as you live in the now, at home in your family cocoon of love.

But, what you should know is that taking time off throughout your child’s first year is just as important and enjoyable as taking leave in those early days.

When our first son was born, my husband took all his annual leave straight away. It seemed like the natural thing to do. But, as our little dot slept, we spent a lot of time sitting around. Me breastfeeding, him twiddling his thumbs.

Yet, a few months later bub and I were venturing out into the world more frequently and my husband missed a lot. He missed out on swimming lessons, park visits, and watching lots of ‘firsts’.

We both realised that his annual leave would have been better distributed throughout the year and so, with son number two, that’s exactly what we did.

Another new dad told me that he did the same, pairing his paternity leave with six weeks of annual leave he’d banked ahead of the birth of his son. He also regrets not spreading out his time better.

While it’s so important to support your partner in those early days, it’s worthwhile remembering that the first year is a marathon, not a sprint.

So, if you’re expecting right now and deciding how to spend that precious leave time, here’s why you shouldn’t blow it all in one go.

Babies get more fun as they get older

There’s nothing more adorable and life changing than meeting and bonding with your newborn. It feels like you could never get enough of that bundle of joy. But, let’s be honest, they don’t do all that much. Sleep, feed, poo, repeat.

So, while gazing at them and inhaling that sweet baby scent is something to cherish, the reality is things get more fun as they grow. And these are things you don’t want to miss.

The hysterical and contagious cackles that only a baby can produce. The smiles, the rolling, the response to your funny faces (yes Dad jokes start young), and then the crawling and walking. So, bear that in mind when considering booking time off.

Bonding as they grow

If, as a dad, you’re working full time, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on bonding with your baby. By the time you come in from work they may already be sleeping, and first thing in the morning you’re rushing out the door. If your partner’s breastfeeding, you can feel a bit on the outer too.

Taking some time off through that first year might help alleviate that feeling. The breastfeeding routine has likely slowed down and being around during the day, as well as the night, means you get to bond as they grow. It’s slightly easier too because you receive more response.

You don’t feel like you’re missing out on the milestones

It’s hard to come home to your partner excitedly telling you that your baby has smiled, laughed, rolled or crawled for the first time. You might not struggle so much to learn that you’ve missed their first poonami!

Unfortunately, you won’t and can’t be there for all your baby’s milestones when working. But it can ease the blow to know that you’ll be there to experience each one when you can, with leave planned throughout the year.

Role modelling gender equality

The modern dad is hands-on, committed, and just as comfortable changing a nappy as a flat tyre.

So what better way to show your new child this than by proactively planning time off to be hands-on and supportive in the whole journey, sending the message that you and your partner are equals.

It also forms an extremely important and influential part of role modelling for your child from a very young age.

The buts…

Now, in an ideal world, you’d be able to take time off throughout your baby’s first year as and when you liked. You’d be present during those first few newborn weeks but would still have leave left for the rest of the year. Hooray!

Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world. Even the best employers don’t always place children above deadlines and, as a dedicated dad and employee it’s easy to feel pulled in both directions.

Similarly, unlike other countries which recognise the importance of additional paternity leave for dads, Australia is still some way behind. Sure, you can take unpaid leave, but it’s not always financially viable.

RELATED: The best 20 Australian workplaces for new dads 2018

Ways to resolve this

To enjoy and spend time with your baby in their first year, where possible, try to plan out some regularly occurring dates for time off.

If you have four weeks leave, maybe you could factor in a long weekend every other month, following your initial newborn leave. Doing this means that you can be around for most development stages.

Alternatively, take a week off every quarter. I can assure you that this will give mum something to look forward to too!

And when it comes to mums, this advice may apply equally to you, as increasing numbers of dads in Australia are taking on the role of the stay-at-home parent.

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