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We’re five months into being a family of five and I can’t help but regularly compare the experience to what it was like to have a small baby, first time around in 2010. It couldn’t feel more different. Last time, in all honesty, I struggled with the huge life change, I felt lonely and constantly worried I was failing as a mum.
Back then, Mr P took two weeks paternity leave, and then went back to work full time, while I stayed at home with the baby, battling tiredness, taking her to baby groups and changing endless nappies. I missed adult conversation and wasn’t mentally prepared for what it’s like to be on your own looking after a small baby, day in day out.
This time around, we’re doing things differently. Mr P is taking time away from his job as a primary school teacher to be at home, and I’ve just returned to work. Granted, I work from home as a freelance writer and content creator, which I feel incredibly grateful for, as it means I can carry on breastfeeding the twins in between working on my laptop and heading to meetings, but sharing the load like this is a possibility for lots of families thanks to the government’s Shared Parental Leave scheme.
Shared Parental Leave allows you to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you and your partner. It’s great because you can choose to be off together, or separately, and you can take the leave all in one go, or take it in up to three separate chunks. As you’d expect, you can also take Shared Parental Leave if you’re a same sex family or if you’re adopting.
The way I look at it, the more couples who make use of this, the nearer we get to closing the gender pay gap. As Sheryl Sandberg once said: “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” And why shouldn’t men run half our homes? It doesn’t just benefit women, and get more of us into the boardroom, it benefits men too.
Mr P is absolutely loving his time off work and says there are lots of benefits he’s seeing already. I sat down to quiz him on his experience being at home with three girls…
Mr P, how different is your experience being a dad to two small babies, compared to last time when you were a new dad?
“Last time, when the 8-year-old was a baby, I worked full time in central London, which meant I would leave early in the morning and then be rushing my work at the end of the day to try and get home for bath and bed time. I was only seeing my family for small snatches of time in the morning and evening, which just didn’t feel like enough time at all. I felt guilty because I wasn’t around to help.
“This time around, I’ve chosen to take time off and be at home. So I’m caring full-time for my twin babies plus being hands on doing the school run, helping with homework and taking the 8-year-old to after school clubs and playdates. I’m doing everything from changing nappies, settling the babies for their naps, playing with them to cooking proper family meals and keeping on top of housework and life admin. It’s full on!”
Does it feel like a very different experience?
“Yes, completely different because I’m now feel like I’m fully involved in how my children develop and that’s a really lovely thing.”
What do you think the benefits are?
“It’s the small things like seeing their first tooth come through at the first point and being completely in tune with their needs and what they want and when they want it. I saw both of the twins rolling over and smiling for the first time and being the parent that helps make that happen when it would traditionally be the mum is amazing. I’ve absolutely got a stronger bond with all three girls thanks to being at home. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Do you think there are benefits for the mum too?
“Yes – I can see how happy you are to be back at work and being able to balance that with helping to look after the twins, and still feed them. And it’s nice knowing that I’m sharing the workload, not coming home and having a baby thrust upon me because you’re so exhausted from the day.”
What have the challenges been that you’ve encountered?
“Experiencing looking after babies on a full time basis which everyone tells you is hard but it’s one of those things where it’s not until you actually do it, that you realise just how difficult it is. I feel like I have a pressure to keep on top of everything – from making sure the house isn’t falling apart to getting the 8-year-old off to school with her packed lunch, keeping on top of laundry and of course looking after the babies themselves which on its own feels like a full time thing.”
What kind of reactions have you had from people when you say you’re at home caring for your babies?
“The reactions have been very positive although I have had a sense from a few people that they might not fully understand why a man is at home doing these things. But I think I’m really lucky because I know a good number of other stay at home dads so they’ve led me to feel more comfortable about doing it.”
Would you recommend other dads take time off work to spend it with their young family?
This post is part of a paid partnership with Made For Mums and @afairworkplace to promote the UK government’s Shared Parental Leave policy. To read more about Shared Parental Leave, check out this article on Made For Mums.