Paternity leave panic: Balancing work, family and dad jokes

My wife and I are expecting our first child, and I need help!

Surprisingly, the thought of having a newborn child doesn’t scare me. It excites me. If you ask me again after the birth, I expect I’ll give a very different answer but don’t burst my bubble.

What stresses me out is all the planning and organising. This includes paternity leave.

So you’re telling me I’m just meant to drop everything at work and be off for two weeks as soon as I get the call? How does this work? Do I just do minimal work in the weeks leading up to the due date so I’ve not left jobs half done? Or do I cram it all in and stress myself out by working long hours? Or perhaps I just pass all my work off to a colleague? That last one is my favourite!

My wife and daughter are my main priority (and my dog, I can’t forget him). However, I worry that throughout the two weeks of paternity leave, I’ll be thinking about the mess of email threads I’ll need to unpick and the mass of work I’ll be returning to.

I feel guilty saying 100% of my attention won’t be on my family. I also feel guilty that I’m pushing a higher workload onto my colleagues.

This made me wonder, what do other men do? Who can I speak to to hear their stories?

Getting some paternity leave answers

To answer that second question, I’ve spoken to a couple of friends who’ve recently had their first child. One was useless. He said it was all pretty easy, and I don’t need to worry (his wife says otherwise, which says a lot about him). The other was a lot more detailed and helpful. The main themes were to control the controllable and trust your instinct.

Being the natural inquisitor I am, I did some research on what other men do. It shocked me a little. Only 32% of eligible fathers in the UK take full paternity leave. According to The Fatherhood Institute, this has been exacerbated by the recent cost of living crisis, as the average father would be losing around £1000 in income over the two weeks.

Men often struggle with mental health issues due to the burden they feel of needing to provide for their families, too. Yet I’ve never once heard someone speak about not taking paternity leave. Why is this? When does their break come?

My German cousin explained to me that in Germany, new parents can have Elternzeit. This means the parents can take up to three years off between them to care for and bond with their child and receive state funding up to their usual salary. It has been around for years, but only recently has it become common for fathers to take longer periods off work.

He also joked that he wished he never had the six months off, as his kid was a nightmare. At least, I think he was joking – I never can tell with my German family.

I know money isn’t the only reason why people aren’t taking paternity leave, but it does feel like a big contributing factor.

Supporting men to make healthy paternity decisions

I’m extremely fortunate to be in a position where my wife is a planner, my workplace is flexible, and we have family nearby – so I know we’ll have all the support we need so I can take time off to support my wife and spend time with my little girl. I just might need a little prompting on what’s expected of me or how to do things… in fact, I need people to teach me everything. I know nothing!

However, what about all those families that don’t have the opportunity for the father to take paternity leave? And what about the father? How does this affect them personally, and how does it affect their relationships?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions, but I assume a lot of people and workplaces have never thought about these things. I hadn’t until a few months ago. So as a final question to (hopefully) sum it all up: How can we, in workplaces and in greater society, support men to make healthy decisions for themselves, their partners and their growing families?

Definitely something for us all to think about.

Finally, as I recognise this blog hasn’t been as funny as our usual content, I’ll leave you with my first Dad joke:

“I met the inventor of windowsills the other day.

What a ledge!”

 

To learn more about supporting your people in your workplace, get in touch with Doug – doug@laughology.co.uk – when he’s not on paternity leave, he’ll be more than happy to help you.

 

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