This September I head back to work after a six month paternity leave. It’s been a great half a year full of plenty of morning snuggles, afternoon coffee meandering, rambunctious baby-time at the library, and more pool time than I ever thought possible. As this chapter of life closes, it’s good to reflect on my paternity leave – what worked, and what didn’t and what I learned from it all. Here are five reflections from my paternity leave.
Structure is key
Throughout my career, I’ve always valued staying busy and filling my days with plenty of work. And I’m not the only one that does this. I took this habit with me on paternity leave. During that time, I was committed to scheduling daily activities for my son and I. This made long days with a little person very enjoyable. These activities ranged from coffee dates with friends, visits to the local playground or grocery shopping at a favourite market. They gave us something to strive towards and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Plus they got us out of the house and kept us active. Key to both physical and mental well being.
Live in the moment not online
Partway through paternity leave I noticed I was checking my phone – a lot. Instead of paying attention to baby and all the unique and hilarious things he was doing day to day, I was constantly refreshing my Twitter app like a digital addict. When he’d start climbing around the playground, I’d be absorbed in a podcast. When baby was sleeping, I’d browse Facebook and cruise the latest news sites instead of sitting down with a good book or having a conversation with a friend. This escape to the digital world was understandable when the days got boring (as they often did) when looking after a baby. But in retrospect, it wasn’t always the best use of my time. The mental equivalent of eating greasy junk food rather than a proper nutritional meal.
I missed adulting
One of the biggest things I missed about work during paternity leave was the work relationships that I had with all sorts of folks around SFU. I missed the team effort to drive towards a common goal and all the fun, quirky and downright interesting conversations that would occur day to day among team members in my department. Raising a baby is great, but it can get lonely. For dads, it can be particularly isolating because, unfortunately, there aren’t too many of us guys on parental leave. Going on paternity leave for six months really hammered home the importance and value of social relationships
Saturday is always (and never)
Don’t get me wrong, I sure enjoyed the abundance of free time. It was amazing being able to go for a long walk in the woods one day without a thought about what’s going on at work. But when your Monday isn’t any different from your Saturday, the days and weeks can quickly become a blur. Rather than looking forward to the weekend, I found myself focusing on changes to the day to day routine (like trips outside of Metro Vancouver or even lunches with work friends and colleagues) for “mental breaks”. It was a good window into the importance of work-life balance and how sometimes the balance can be skewed the other way.
Babies change really quick in the first few years. Over the course of six months, I watched first hand as my son graduated from rolling, to army crawling, to crab walking, to walking propped up against the couch, to just plain walking. Along the way his diet changed, his nap schedule went bananas and his energy and gregariousness grew exponentially. All of this required a pretty significant amount of adaptability. Avoiding getting too fixed to one routine or approach or another was an important characteristic to my paternity leave and I hope to bring some of that adaptable approach back with me to work.