I’m a traditional British gent, who generally doesn’t go overboard in celebrating things (we leave that to our American friends) and is not always great at sharing feelings or emotions. I’m the kind of guy that likes to put my head down and plough on. But that has changed since becoming a first-time father.
When my company, Zuora, announced a new parental leave policy, I wasn’t paying much attention. My son, Sebastian, had already been born and I’d had my statutory paternity leave of 2 weeks, so I assumed that it wouldn’t apply to me. It was only when a colleague pointed out that the 6 months (yes, you read right!) was available within the first year of Sebastian’s life, I had to confirm I wasn’t dreaming.
Strangely the first thought that went through my head wasn’t ‘when should I take it’? It was, ‘how might this inconvenience my own life’?
- Stalled Career – I found myself wrestling with the idea of whether I would be letting my colleagues down and if it would affect my career prospects. Maybe this is an indicator of what issues lie with societal norms and how striking a good work-life balance is not always top of people’s agendas.
- Difficulty Scheduling – Our incumbent HR system at the time wasn’t really geared up for it and plotting out dates came in the form of my Google Calendar. I thought it would be less disruptive to work if I took approximately every other week off for the first 2 months, a 5 week period over Christmas, back to every other week and then a 3 month period in one block at the end of my son’s first year.
- Company Ploy – I did what every new parent does and asked family, friends and colleagues for advice as to how I can play my part over 6 months. A friend who works high up in her company’s HR department tried to convince me that the policy was not what I thought, and when showing her the policy she simply replied “well I never, you do work for a very forward-thinking company”. My partner Louise couldn’t believe it either, surely there was bound to be some reason it would be withdrawn.
- Image as a Single Father – I would be on hand to make breakfasts, change diapers, cover nap times and everything in between. Attending local baby groups, I would almost exclusively be the only father there. It’s amazing what fathers can take for granted when their partners are keeping it all together, while you sit in the relative normality of a work routine. Being at home would change all of that.
Despite the stigmas I imagined I would face taking a 6-month paternity leave, it was Sebastian who was most important in the decision. I went for it.
It’s difficult to express in a blog, all of the moments I was able to experience by being at home for six months. From the first experience of solid food, crawling to walking, teething, laughing – the list goes on. Not to mention Sebastian was able to see his father busy with everyday tasks, which can be more interesting and sociable, than being stuck at home all day with his mother.
Without taking advantage of my company’s policy, I would have missed out on an awful lot of moments, which is something I don’t say lightly and I am eternally grateful for. These are unseen and probably overlooked effects of allowing parents to be involved so much in your child’s first year.
However, I returned to work feeling like I had played a pivotal role in raising Sebastian and was quick to share my experience with my colleagues. While there were plenty of jibes about whether I remembered what I actually did for a living, people were genuinely interested in how I’d spent my time.
I’d always known company culture was something special. So I urge you to celebrate and take advantage of parental leave benefits wherever you are in the world. The impact that it has on employee morale should not be underestimated as well as the positive effect it has on future generations.