Temporary Full-Time Dad: The Post Mortem
I recently returned to my “9 to 5” job from 2 months of shared parental leave that I spent looking after my three and a half year son and now one year old daughter. The surprising under-use of shared parental leave by dads - according to recent reports as low as 2% - has made me some kind of unicorn.
For me, shared parental leave was a window to an alternate world that underlined how disconnected our lives can get from those nearest to us - our kids and our communities. It was also the experience of a lifetime, and that’s why I wanted to share my experience so dads of the future find a way to spend this unique time with their kids. I only wish the law had been in place when my son was born.
Full time parenting is like a leadership bootcamp
Experiencing full day parenting is no walk in the park, at least not with my vehemently independent boy and sweetest thing in the world (as long as she gets everything she wants) girl. This gig requires the ability to multi-task, think and plan strategically, deliver results under pressure and, finally, the true sales ability to bounce back after every ‘no’ (of which there are a lot.) And patience, on an unimaginable scale. All in all, parental leave is a good leadership bootcamp.
Quality time leads to better quality time
Of course, there are also some positives and the whole experience was one of discovery. I discovered that nothing, really nothing, can replace time with your kids. If your kids and family are anything like mine then the chances of time also being quality drama free time is fractional so the more time being physically present means the greater the chance of better quality time.
However, the funny thing with quality time (hereafter to be known as QT) is that it tends to compound. QT leads to more QT, and better quality QT at that. Over the course of my 2 months the quality time added up which means that I now better understand my kids - their passions, emotions, psyches and triggers. That understanding leads to a stronger bond with my kids which I think is the parental end game.
Getting emotional skeletons out of the closet
It’s also incredible how quickly a three year old can discover his or her parents’ mental and emotional closet skeletons. Even though it drives me mad sometimes, I have come to begrudgingly respect my kid’s ability to identify and knead a parent’s trigger points. In my case it has crystallised the need to talk to somebody who understands the depths of human psyche and emotions - not because I am broken but because I can be better. In hindsight had I taken care of this earlier in life, I wouldn’t have the mental calculus of trying to figure out how to weave a weekly session on the couch into my already crazy schedule. In short, Philip Larkin was right in This Be The Verse - we do fuck up our kids – though not sure about the conclusion he draws.
The discovery of my peak parenting level
There were of course other discoveries, like my peak parenting level is after two beers when I am just chilled out enough but still attentive, and in company of more responsible adults (habitual drinking by yourself not advisable during parenting). I have also heard from other parents another perk of spending the day with your young children is that you have somebody to blame your farts on – though of course it’s not anything I can comment on from first-hand experience *cough*.
Building better bonds with your local community
Outside of the home, while the “9 to 5 army” are in our offices, that’s when life in our communities is also at its most approachable. Without the stress of the rush hour herd there is casual banter with the local shopkeepers and personalities, which leads to relationship building and feeling more a part of the community. Being present at school drop offs and pick-ups provides the unique opportunity to interact with the heroic teachers and school staff whose care our kids are in when not with us.
While parenting is already an extreme sport (in my opinion), what makes us working parents most stressed is the mental and physical juggle between professional and home responsibilities. In hindsight, my time on shared parental leave was the least stressed I have been since I have been a working parent. And in today’s non-stop juggle of a world that is in and of itself a great achievement.