I had a peek into the window of the life of my wife today having had the first of many days to come off work to look after the kids whilst she went back into the classroom to teach. It’s an exciting time for her as the kids are now that little bit older, at 18 months and almost 4, so she can have a day for herself and her career and not feel guilty about being more than just Mum.
I chose the word guilty carefully to highlight not only the mother’s guilt they bestow upon themselves for wanting to do something for themselves, but mostly as it is society’s expectation placed on mothers to be the primary carer of the kids until they are old enough to be independent themselves. Whilst her school was stoked to have her back and very accommodating, most workplaces seem befuddled by fathers wanting to share the parenting load and reduce our work hours to spend their own time with the kids.
When a woman announces she is having a baby the workplace, without a second thought, goes about organising the maternity leave and will be accommodating when they intend to return to work with whatever hours they can spare. To be fair, workplaces are legally obliged to coordinate with mothers returning to work, which is great. However, as the father in this scenario, maternity leave aside, when we ask to cut back out hours for our family we may as well be asking for a million dollar salary in most cases.
At the time of birth, with respect to all the companies I have worked with, the father is entitled to one week of unpaid paternity leave. I had thought this the norm until I started hearing of companies who still pay as per normal for that week, or others that allow 2, 3 or 4 weeks. My Brother in Law was able to take a belated 3 months off when his wife was ready to go back to work. But sadly these are the exception not the rule.
Interestingly, from what I have experienced the stereotypical point of view that the mother sacrifices everything and the fathers work, is not isolated to a male managers. I know of female managers who struggle to grasp this concept just as much. I can’t help but feel that the workplace is falling behind society with fathers wanting to be more hands on in the raising of their kids.
From discussions I have had and also from what I have read there seems to be a common thread of misunderstanding when it comes to fathers asking to change their work hours. It has nothing to do with our work mindset, for me I am very happy and constantly challenged in my job. It doesn’t even really have anything to do with our wives wanting to go back to work, although this is a happy consequence. What we really want is to spend as much time with our kids whilst we can.
At this age they’re completely innocent and naïve, they are constantly learning and they don’t even know it. They are immersively impressionable and miss nothing. They’re learning that Dad goes to work and is gone all day, whilst Mum stays with us and does everything for us. I can still remember the stage with both my kids that instead of crying when I had to leave that they just said “Bye Bye Daddy” and waved me out the door. Heartbreaking. Sadly, they are learning that this trend of parental inequality with work is just a part of life as it has been for the past century or more. Even though they have no idea about work, it is the routine that they adapt to and accept.
But today was the first of 6 days over the next six weeks (annual leave days) that I had with the kids, doing kinder drop offs, grocery shopping and all the home chores and kids stuff that needs to be done. It was one of the best days of my life. I got to see so much of the things I only hear about. It could be a small thing like Fletch going up to the lady at Bunnings and asking for a stamp, which for him is a big deal. Or seeing how close he and Immy are as they insist on holding each other’s hand as we walk along the foot path to the café for our afternoon hot chocolate.
I can’t help but feel that my time is fixed and that society won’t change quick enough for me to really experience fatherhood beyond evenings and weekends. I can only hope that by doing days like today as often as I can spare annual leave days, or carer’s leave days when they get sick, that by the time Fletch and Immy have kids that it was dads like me that helped to create parental equality in the workplace. After all they are equally ours too!
[Sorry no photo today, sometimes the moments are just to good too capture]