It’s Father’s Day here in the UK.
My two-year-old gave me a Father’s Day card on the direction of Mrs. CfC. I asked him if it was for me. He promptly shook his head and indicated it belonged to him…oh well. It’s the thought that counts?
I thought today would be a good day to write about what I’ve been up to these last few months.
Extended maternity leave for men is rare, but I’ve been lucky enough to do it not once, but twice.
As some of you may know, I’ve recently returned to work after almost three months off on combined annual and paternity leave, a.k.a maternity leave for men.
When I say this, the response I usually get is the repeat of what I just said but with a tone of shock and disbelief:
Three months off?!
This post will explain:
- How I got so much time off work;
- What I did to prepare for it;
- My experience being a temporary stay at home dad; and
- What it has been like to return to work.
As is normal for many of my writing on here, it will have a bit of a reflective feel to it with some tips for men who are on the fence about how long to take off work for maternity leave. I hope it will help dads-to-be understand what it can be like as a stay at home dad and to be better prepared for their paternity leave.
How the heck did I get so much time off?
The short answer is: plan.
I know sometimes people can be caught off-guard, but when CfC Baby One was born, we decided pretty early on that we would definitely want another child.
With that in mind, I started banking most of my overtime as TOIL (time off in lieu) instead of taking the money. Eventually, I had enough saved, together with my annual leave and statutory paternity leave to take almost three months off.
Mrs. CfC started saving more of her salary as cash to prepare for the extra time off work (this time a whole year).
For those who don’t know, dads in the UK can take up to two weeks of paternity leave and receive the statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay. This is currently £148.68, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
In the police, we get one week on full pay and one week at the statutory rate.
There is also something called, Shared Parental Leave where the parents can share the leave between them. I did not need to make use of this, mainly because we felt the extra time with mum would be good for both our sons.
Having a new addition to the family was a massive change for us as parents. I cant begin to imagine how much of a change it is for a two-year-old.
The reason why I decided to take so much time off for our second child was because I enjoyed it so much the first time around. For our first child, I took about two months off but it didn’t feel like it was enough.
The first few precious months of their lives are extra special to me.
I wanted to be there to experience it all and support Mrs. CfC
Tip 1 – Plan
Save cash and time off in advance.
Preparing for paternity leave
After saving up enough to book the time off, I told my manager. I gave my employer plenty of time to prepare for my extended absence (six months notice).
He was very supportive and appreciated the heads up, even though there was no formal policy which required me to do so.
As a father himself, he understood how important this time off would be for me, but questioned out of curiosity why I would put myself through it.
Tip 2 – Honesty
Try to be open and honest with your employer. Most will be understanding.
This was quite a common theme amongst other fathers I spoke to. For them, they wanted to return to work as soon as possible. They kept saying:
“Why would you put yourself through it?”
“You’re a sucker for punishment aren’t you?”
“Better you than me!”
I completely understand where they were coming from. It was tough doing it the first time around. CfC Baby One was a very anxious baby and he still is as a toddler. For the first week, I held him in my arms for the entire night. He just couldn’t sleep in the Moses basket and got so upset.
This gave my wife some rest between feeds. When the sun came up, she took over and I went to sleep.
It was tiring. He has only just learnt to sleep relatively well during the night.
It has taken over two years to get to this point.
So I get why those fathers said those things to me.
But, I felt bad for their partners. If it was the case of them not being able to get the time off or something (due to money or not enough leave), then I could understand better. To deliberately choose to spend less time to help their partners just doesn’t feel very supportive to me.
The other type of response I received were from those who do not have children:
“That’s a long holiday you got there!”
“Will you be going anywhere nice?”
I find the second comment particularly amusing. Oh, just you wait until your time comes!
Expect these sorts of comments and don’t let it deter you. As much as I sometimes felt bad having that much time off, I kept reminding myself, family comes first.
Tip 3 – You be you
Ignore comments to dissuade you from taking extra time off.
I felt bad mainly because the office I work in (dealing with some of the most serious and complex crimes) is really busy and we already do not have enough Detectives.
Also, I knew that no matter how long I went for, my work would be there waiting for me on my return, together with more work and hundreds (if not thousands) of unread emails.
Another consideration was my career. Being away that long could have affected the networks I had created, and not being kept in the loop with changes could have affected promotion.
Fortunately, I worked my butt off over the last couple of years and especially the months leading to the birth of our second child.
This meant that just as I was going on leave, I submitted my papers and evidence for promotion which I found out I was successful with whilst away.
You might be in a job that is cliquey or you think the power-dynamics might shift against you whilst being away for such an extended period. If that’s the case, you should carefully consider the trade-off; impact on career vs. invaluable time with family during this relatively short but important period of your child’s life.
Tip 4 – Plan harder
Plan ahead of time to minimise any impact on your career.
Only you know what’s best and what is possible given your own circumstances.
For me, I knew that I would regret the these times more than any potential effect on my career.
On my last day before my paternity leave, I set my out of office (words to the effect of):
“I am on an extended paternity leave.
I will not be reading any emails whilst away.
On my return, I will only read emails directed to me. All other emails will be deleted.
See you in the summer”.
(On my return, I got fewer emails than I thought I would – it worked!)
Tip 5 – Control your emails
Be ruthless with emails. Don’t read them whilst off and set expectations on what will be read on your return.
Being a temporary stay at home dad
According to Google, I might not technically been a stay at home dad because my wife was also home. However, it did give me a taster of what it could be like.
For some reason, the second time round was much tougher.
I knew it would be harder. We both did. We spoke to people. Did the reading. We were emotionally and mentally prepared – we thought.
Despite this, we were still surprised at how difficult it was.
Tip 6 – Manage expectations
No matter how hard you think it might be, assume it will be even harder.
I think this was because first time round, we were able to take it in turns. We only had one child to look after. There was some down time and we had energy to support each other.
This time with a toddler in the picture as well as a newborn, it was constant. There wasn’t a moment to recuperate.
The days all merged into each other and kept repeating:
- Get woken up at about 0530 (0600 if we’re lucky).
- Change of clothes.
- Brush teeth, wash face.
- Take to play group and have a snack.
- Go home for afternoon nap – this allowed me to do a bit of blogging or house work.
- Go to park.
- Bedtime routine and sleep by 9pm (takes him a while to settle).
- Repeat (with many naps, sleep being unsettled and nappy change at each stage).
When Mrs. CfC kindly gave me a couple of hours of alone time now and again, I felt guilty whilst being on it. It just felt wrong. Like I needed to be there to help her.
I kept looking at the clock to see the minutes count down.
With both parents being tired, communication took a back seat. We were just on auto-pilot. It took too much energy to engage our brains and have proper conversations with each other.
Fortunately, we snapped out of it and realised what was happening.
Tip 7 – Communication
Communicate with your parter. Even when you think you’re doing it already, try even harder. You’re a team.
Towards the end of my paternity leave, I started feeling better and got used to the routine.
CfC Baby One got really attached to me during this time.
It was wonderful.
We were best of buddies.
At night, we have this ritual where we would play certain games: he would pretend to take my spot on the bed and want me to shove him over (usually lasting about a minute of to and fro); to make a tent with the duvet; to tell him what we got up to throughout the day in fine detail (including the moment when he wakes up and shoves my face to get me up; I can’t skip that, he will act it out if I did!), pointing out diggers and trucks in his books, to singing nursery rhymes until his eyes droop and then finally, he pulls my arm over for a cuddle and spoon to sleep.
He’s such a sweet little boy.
Mrs. CfC definitely got demoted and I was clearly his favourite (after grandma). Nobody trumps grandma.
I get tossed to one side like an unwanted toy when grandma visits!
Nobody really told me what it would be like having this much time off to be with the kids.
The emotional side of things.
The effect it could have on a marriage.
The real stuff.
Maybe it’s because it’s so rare for fathers to have so long off to be with their wives together with a new-born and a toddler to look after?
Tip 8 – Emotions
It is likely that you’ll have a rollercoaster of emotions. Be there to support each other. Talk to family and friends. Things will get better and it is worth it!
Returning to work
I kept in contact with my manager and some colleague whilst I was away mainly because I didn’t want to return completely blind to any changes.
I think this helped because I was not anxious about returning at all.
As the weeks and days approached, I started to reflect more on my time with my family. During the early stages of my paternity leave, I was looking forward to going back to work.
I just felt so much pressure at home.
Torn between spending time with the family and also having a few moments to myself.
However, I no longer felt this way. Given the choice, I would have extended my leave without hesitation.
I found my flow and as a family, we adjusted to having each other around 24/7.
It was nice and I was going to miss it dearly.
On my first day back at work, it was straight into the fire pit. My seat wasn’t even warm before it was business as usual.
It was almost as if I was never off.
Tip 9 – Stay in touch
Stay in touch with colleague and your manager. Just not too often.
It was tough driving back to work for the first time. My two year-old stood in the front garden and just burst into tears as I sat in the car and turned the engine on.
As a drove away and looked in the rear-view mirror, I could still see him.
Stood there on the path crying uncontrollably and looking towards me.
I had to turn around to give him one more big cuddle and explain to him again what was happening. I’m not sure how much of it he understood.
Mrs. CfC then managed to distract him momentarily and encouraged him to go into the back garden so he did not have to see me walk away. As he trotted along, he kept turning back with his hand outstretched, pleading for me to come along.
Tears were still streaming down his eyes.
My heart broke.
That precise moment. Those few seconds. They were tougher than anything else I had experienced during my entire time off work.
Another reason to reach for financial independence.
Tip 10 – Saying goodbye will be hard
The first time you say goodbye as you head back to work will be hard. That journey will be like there is a piece of you missing. Don’t underestimate how emotionally difficult this could be not only for you, but for your kids and partner.
Did I have postpartum depression?
Fathers can get postpartum depression; also called paternal postnatal depression.
Paternal depression exist, although there is evidence that it is not uncommon and that rates are higher than in the general adult male population. There is also little research into rates of depression through the early years of parenthood.
I honestly do not believe I was suffering from the “daddy blues” as it is sometimes called, although the thought did cross my mind.
Research (2) was a large study which followed almost 87,000 families for a number of years and found that fathers are at risk of depression, particularly in the first year of parenthood.
In another piece of research (3), the authors found paternal depression has a “specific and persisting detrimental effect on their children’s early behavioural and emotional development.”
Although this phenomena is not widely known, on the birth of both our children, I was not given a leaflet or told about it by the health practitioners. Because I vaguely knew about it, I was conscious to monitor my symptoms and knew to seek medical help if I felt I crossed the threshold.
I don’t think this is spoken about enough, especially from a man’s perspective.
For all the daddies out there, don’t be scared to seek help.
Tip 11 – Don’t struggle in silence
It’s okay to feel blue. Talk to your partner and when things start to get too much, seek professional help.
I cannot recommend enough the book Raising Boys in the 21st Century by by Steve Biddulph.
I found this book invaluable in helping me prepare to be a father. Whilst some of the advice in there is obvious to anyone who is decent and kind, there were still little gems which helped me understand the psychology of raising a boy.
It has made me become more aware that my words and actions have an impact on my children. They may not know it and I may not even recognise it now, but it will determine if they will grow up to be confident and kind men.
There is also a Raising Girls version which I have read and equally recommend.
We were told CfC Baby Two was going to be a girl; the scan confirmed it so I had been doing some reading. Turns out the scans were wrong. We were told they are wrong around 6% of the time.
We honestly had no preference but wanted to know the gender because it helps to buy clothes. There are not many gender neutral clothing at that age!
It took us a few days to get used to the idea that we had another son – in our minds, he was a she. We kept referring to him as her.
We are looking forward to the two brothers to bond, grow up playing nicely together and be best of friends!…it’s okay to be optimistic.
Lastly, does having children affect our chances of reaching Financial Independence? I think it depends on how you look at it. It certainly affects our budget and can make things difficult depending on your household income. For us, even if it delays our FI date, it is a delay we happily accept.
This post might have a slightly negative tone to it. I didn’t intend for it to be that way, but it’s unnatural for people to always be living life on a high like it can sometimes be portrayed online (especially on social media).
These are my own personal experiences so it might be completely different for you.
Having tried being a stay at home dad for three months, I know that doing it full time when they are this young does not suit me. I say this because I am in a position to go back to work and that my wife wants to be at home to look after them.
If she was a career-orientated person, then chances are I might be the main caregiver. As adults and as parents, we just have to make it work. As my old boss used to say:
“It is what it is.”
Translated politely as: “this is life, just get on with it”.
Quite clearly, my time off on paternity leave has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. But that’s life right?
I wouldn’t change it for the world and would do it all over again.
To be able to be at home to see my two year old son grow up so fast, utter his first words (“Da Da”) and to see our newborn smile for the first time is just indescribably wonderful. The best way I can put it is my heart bursting with joy.
Maybe one day, extended maternity leave for men would be the norm like in many of the Scandanvian countries (where take up is high), or in Japan (30 weeks full pay, but take up is low due to cultural reasons).
I know that my children will grow up to read this blog. It’s why I wrote it. So a message to my boys:
I hope you don’t think that I dreaded my time with you.
Being a parent is tough. Maybe one day you will understand if you choose to have children of your own.
It is through those difficult moments that allows me to grow to be a better father to you and a better husband to your mother.
If it was always easy, then we won’t have any moments to treasure.
Know that you’re the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
I love you both very much.
Is the idea of CfC Baby Three still on the table then? Ha! It’s definitely not off the table, but not quite on it either. Clinging on the edge is the best way to put it.
Happy Father’s day to all the daddies out there!
(1) NHS, UK. Can men get the baby blues?
(2) Davé S, Petersen I, Sherr L, Nazareth I. Incidence of Maternal and Paternal Depression in Primary Care
(3) Ramchandani P, Stein A, Evans J, O’Connor T. Paternal depression in the postnatal period and child development: a prospective population study
Playing with FIRE (Update)
As some of you know, the Playing with FIRE feature-length documentary is coming to the Birmingham, UK on Friday 5th July, 2019.
I want to re-iterate again.
The event is a not-for-profit showing. The cost of the tickets will only go towards the hire of the venue and the rights to show the film.
I’d love for the people around the Midlands area to pull together to make this happen so that we can all have a wonderful night out. We’ll get to meet like-minded individuals and share stories.
To help, two things are happening:
- The ticket price has been reduced to £12.
- A reader, who can’t make it has kindly offered to donate a ticket as a show of support. I am matching this. So we have two tickets to giveaway.
Playing with Fire Ticket Giveaway
Prize: x2 tickets to the show
- Share the Financial Independence Midlands Facebook Group on your timeline.
- Share the event on social media.
Once I have confirmed the above has been done, I’ll add you name into a hat to select at random.
The winner will be announced on Friday 28th June.
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