In the UK, dads can take up to 2 weeks paid paternity leave. But what is this period of time actually like for men? The real life experiences of paternity leave are often not talked about.
In this blog, first-time parent Josh Middleton shares tips on how to get the most out of paternity leave as a new dad.
Whether it’s a week, a month, or a year, there is no denying that this is a leave like no other.
You spend months preparing, physically and mentally, for the arrival of your newborn. You read books, watch videos, go to classes, spend (lots of) money and then one day… they arrive. As a father of one (currently), I can only attest to the experience from the point of view of those about to greet their first born, however I’m reliably informed that each new addition is its own wonderful and chaotic experience.
Once you’ve worked your way through the tears, made any calls you were going to make and probably had a coffee/tea/whiskey, you are then plunged into this little bubble in which you will try to fully digest the enormity of what this little bag of flesh truly means. Thus begins the most surreal few weeks of your life.
TIME. TIME. TIME.
Time is a funny word. According to Merriam-Webster, it is described as “the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues”, however that is simply not the case. There was nothing measurable about my paternity leave. Time doesn’t move the same way it does in the real world; days all roll into one, daytime naps feel like hours but last mere minutes, and weeks fly by in the blink of any eye.
Is paternity leave the "most special time"?
I only received two weeks of leave but saved up an extra two weeks of my holiday allocation to try and make the most of what many described as “the most special time”. Venturing into the unknown, you are bound to discover nuances you didn’t consider, at least not in the form you thought they would, and for which you will want time to work through with your partner.
For first-time parents, you’re both trying to figure out how to be a parent and provider for your child, all while trying to figure out baby’s behaviours and how they fit into your lives – give yourselves time.
As we approached the two-week mark, I found myself baffled by how men could be given such a small opportunity to figure out how to be a dad, and in the case of parents having additional children, how to be a dad to that child. Don’t get me wrong, I know that becoming a parent isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, I know postpartum depression exists for both mums and dads.
Equally, I know that that feeling of love isn’t always as instant or as “at first sight” as some make it out to be. I can only speak from my experience of being head-over-heels in love from the minute he sneezed on me in the delivery room (yes, that happened, but that’s a story for another time). I was lucky, but I appreciate not everyone will be so fortunate.
THE INFAMOUS TIREDNESS
All I ever heard from friends and family before our little one arrived was “oh you think you’ve been tired before… just you wait” or “you’ve never known a tiredness like it”. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m not tired – I’m many things, but I’m not a liar – but the magnitude of exhaustion has been massively overplayed in my experience.
My partner and I went into this wonderful adventure with our eyes wide open, we knew we would be tired and sleep-deprived, we knew there would be difficult moments to go along with the moments of pure joy, and so we felt that we were as prepared as we could be. However, it’s with the sheer amount of surprise and shock that some voiced their tiredness related cautionary tales, with which I take umbrage. Did these people not know?
YES, YOU WILL BE TIRED.
YES, YOU WILL BE SLEEP-DEPRIVED.
YES, YOU WILL GET THROUGH IT.
I’m not saying you need to go into parenthood on the back of weeks of some intense, all-night, sleep deprivation training, but I am saying you should prepare yourself for the fact you’re going to be running on fumes. Remember though, you can sleep during the day, it’s okay to get nothing done, the most important thing in those first few weeks is that beautiful little baby. As long as you are looking after your baby and trying to do your best by them, then you’re doing just fine.
JOSH'S TOP TIPS FOR PATERNITY LEAVE
1. "JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT HOLDING THE BABY, DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT HELPING"
This piece of advice was some of the most important I received in the build-up to our son’s arrival. My partner ended up going for an elective C-section for a myriad of reasons, and so we knew the recovery would be difficult for her physically. This meant she wouldn’t be overly mobile; she wouldn’t be able to lift anything heavier than our child, and she would be in a significant amount of pain and discomfort.
Therefore, my role became much broader once we made that decision.
I would cook the meals, clean the house, do the laundry, do the shop runs, all the little jobs, all the runs up and down stairs for forgotten chargers, all of this on top of helping my partner care for our baby. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when your partner is working with limited mobility and unable to do pretty much anything other than feed and care for our baby (my partner is very stubborn and this didn’t last for long, but you get the point). It’s easy to feel left out as a new dad but there’s so many little things you can do that make a big difference. Remember, just because you’re not holding the baby, doesn’t mean you’re not helping!
What else helped our new family?
2. NO VISITORS!
We decided early on that we didn’t want any visitors in the first few days/first week. We were about to be a new family who wanted to learn our way of navigating the beautiful adventure of a newborn and we didn’t want family or friends distracting us or our child from that. I would advise everyone to do the same. Being so isolated as a family really brought us close together, and I wouldn’t swap that time for any other in my lifetime. It provides the perfect environment to really embrace the love and identify what works and what doesn’t for you and your family. Should you wish to do this, make sure you inform people early on. Give them plenty of warning. We informed our loved ones months before our baby was due. My family in particular are very close and so without putting clear guardrails on ‘visiting times’, they would have descended on us before we hit the recovery room. Of course, this comes from a place of love and nothing is as exciting as a newborn baby in the family, but everyone will appreciate and respect the fact you want this time to learn how to be your own family.
3. JUST BE PRESENT
Like I’ve said before, I was lucky that I was able to extend my leave for as long as possible, but whatever your particular situation, really take the time to be present in those first few weeks. Do the night shift, change as many nappies as you can, get out for daily walks, let the baby be sick on you, walk around with them until your arm drops off… be present and be there in the moment with your family.
You won’t get another opportunity to be so blissfully cut off from the world, so embrace it. Those first few weeks of my son’s life were the most magical I have ever experienced. It wasn’t about what we did but, much like the baby goes through this gargantuan transition from womb to world, my paternity leave was all about the experience of living the transition from man to dad. I wouldn’t have changed anything about those first
few steps on my daddy journey.
You can reach out to Josh on his IG page: mydaddyjourney