This week marks the final week of my parental leave from work. Again, I know how exceptionally privileged I am to even have the option to take paid leave as a father, but I’m already saddened that it’s ending. Like my parental leave back when the twins were born, I had grand schemes of what I would accomplish while on leave. I figured with one child instead of two, I’d actually have time this time to get some house work or personal projects done. Instead, I am sitting with four days left and amazement that it went by so quick.
Six weeks ago, we were sitting on the beach in Cape May with all three boys in the sun and surf. It feels like I blinked and now we’re deep into fall, the leaves are already off the trees, and the temperature is closer to being able to ski than the beach. After my first leave, I knew not to expect to get a ton done with a child at home and that my focus should be first on actually using the time to bond, but I figured I would at least have some time while he slept. While I did get a lot of great opportunity to play and spend time together, it’s incredible how much other little things took up the remaining time.
Like pretty much every other aspect of our lives in 2020, COVID situations had a big impact on how we spent our time. Since my wife and I are both home from work, but the boys are in daycare, I ended up spending a decent part of my day driving them in the morning and going to pick them up in the afternoon. We chose our daycare based on how much we loved it and the convenience to my wife’s office, not to our house, so the extra miles driving now mean that I spend around two and a half hours driving each day. I also still try to get my run in each day, usually while the baby naps. We also got a Peloton bike recently, and I’ve been obsessed, so even on the days I don’t run, I’ve been riding the bike. In fact this additional exercise is probably the only goal I have actually achieved during this time.
Obviously the biggest goal I had for myself during this time was to get to spend as much time as possible with the baby, but I also felt it was important to be a good husband and father and use the time to contribute in the house more. While I did get to spend a ton of time with the baby, feeding, changing, rocking him to sleep, and playing with him, I had limited time to do much around the house. I got to take frequent walks with him and the dog which gave more time for bonding too, but some of my planned projects like constructing my own desk fell by the wayside due to the time. I succeeded at making lunch every day, really leveling up my quesadilla and burger games, even finding ways to cook with the cast iron skillet on the grill for some amazing veggies. But the rest of the time really got eaten up with diaper changes, countless bottles, washing those bottles, and just making sure the house didn’t fall apart. My plan to make a desk from wood planks got revised to using a an already made piece of reclaimed wood, to just buying one at Ikea.
A lot of people, mostly those without kids, think parental leave is a vacation, at least partly. I think a lot of new parents think the same thing. They figure they’ll at least have some time to do the other things that have piled up in the house. Not so. As I was quickly reminded, parental leave is an utter necessity just to keep the baby alive and healthy. It’s a 100% full time job. Without the leave, one of us would surely have to take time off from work. There is no time between the responsibilities of keeping an infant alive. The worst part of parental leave is that it really doesn’t provide much opportunity for bonding with a child. I would much rather have time off with kids when they’re older and their personalities have emerged more to get to spend time together. Yes, vacations work for this too, but having a dedicated block of time just to get to focus on being the best possible parent would be great. So often with the twins I’m trying to switch from work mode or husband mode to father mode and that transition makes it hard. With dedicated time to just spend with them, there would be the potential for really growing together as a family. I’ll settle for just having universal parental leave first though.
One positive accomplishment during my leave was helping to get the baby on a regular schedule and ready for daycare. We had a rough schedule going with nursing and naps earlier, but it’s much easier to establish a regular regimented schedule at five months than at five weeks. We began shifting to formula more and more as well as introducing some solid food during my leave, and not only did he bulk up in weight, he also began sleeping a bit more regularly and for longer times. We went from nights with one or two wake ups and full feedings to nights with one and a few times without a wakeup and have begun weaning him off of food at night during the leave. With this, he’s really become much more alert and fun as he’s gotten older. When he’s awake now, which is more frequent, he loves to play on his activity mats, cracks up constantly, and has begun moving around to try to find us. Watching that growth and seeing his personality begin to emerge is the best part of spending all day with him. I think that even though it’s the hardest thing to measure daily, it’s the best part of the leave.
The worst part of parental leave is when it ends. I’m going to miss my little buddy so much when he goes to daycare and I start working again. I’ve gotten quite used to having him by my side throughout the day and having his smiles brighten my day. It was tough for me when the twins started school, and at least then I had an office to go in to. Being at home still when he goes in will make it harder to adjust. I know that even when I’m busy with work, there will be times in the day I look over at where his toys are and deeply miss him. I know that he’ll be having a blast at daycare and that the social interaction is good for him, but it is still hard to let go.
I really wish parental leave was longer. Just as I was getting into the flow of it and feeling like I was getting a hold of the situation and really bonding with the baby, it seemed to end. A month and a half flew by so fast that it feels like I barely had it. While I loved the time spent with him and am incredibly thankful to have it, I really wish I could have even more time just with him especially as he gets older. The twins, now at almost four and a half, are a ton of fun now and I wish I had time just to spend with them without having to worry about other responsibilities. I think it’s time we institute a parental leave for older children as well. Getting to just focus on being the best parents we can be is good for everyone.