One of the greatest gifts you can give a parent is the gift of time.
It’s true that it feels like your kid grows up way too quickly. I feel like I’ve blinked and Penelope has transformed from a tiny newborn into a wide-eyed boisterous girl who is having swimming lessons, plays with building blocks and sings in the shower.
But one of the reasons it flies by is that life gets in the way. Particularly work. When I finished my three weeks of paternity leave when Penny was born I went back to a 9 to 5 job and by the time you beat the traffic, pick up groceries and pull up in the driveway, you’re lucky if you have two hours with your daughter before she’s in bed. During the week it feels like your kid is growing up before your very eyes and you are only there for a fraction of it. Even on weekends, there’s always a million things you have to cram in. Weekends always feel like a race against the clock.
Which brings me to parental leave.
Let me sing the praises of parental leave.
I am a month into an eighteen week sabbatical from work as the full time carer for my daughter and it is the single greatest experience I’m having in my adult life.
Many mornings when I wake up, I still can’t quite believe my luck. Paid parental leave for Dads is still relatively new in Australia. I know a handful of friends and acquaintances who have been fortunate enough to experience it themselves and now I am one of the lucky ones.
This is my life today: We get up as a family and drop Jen off to work in the morning. Then I’ll take Penny out for some fresh air in the stroller and I’ll have a coffee. Maybe two. On Tuesdays she has swimming lessons. On Wednesdays she has Rhyme Time at the library. Those are the only fixed events in our calendar. Every other day is wide open for us to do whatever we please. Visit the local art gallery? Sure, why not. Swing by the shops to pick up some groceries and have a cheeky Nandos for lunch? Absolutely.
On a sunny day (which is nearly every day in Queensland), we can go to the park and lie in the shade. I’ll feed her some of her favourite snackoos and then we can watch the world go by. Sometimes we’re there for twenty minutes. Other times an hour. The beauty of parental leave is that it relieves the pressure of time. When I’m on a hundred and thirty day break, I don’t feel the pressure to cram in as many activities as I possibly can in a single day. In fact, its the opposite. I can relax and enjoy time with Penelope. The days seem long again. And I feel like I have a chance to stop and smell the roses.
It helps of course than Penny is a great kid. Everyone says this about their own child of course but Penny is the best. She sleeps through the night. She has a naturally cheerful temperament. She’s either excitable and playful or occasionally she has a quiet spell where she stares at everything around her, taking it all in. Either way, she’s great company.
After a couple of weeks of being her primary carer, I’ve picked up a few efficiencies here and there. I used to wait until she had one of her two daily ninety minute naps and then I’d do a mad scramble to finish all the housework. But I’ve since worked out that there’s actually quite a lot of it that Penny is happy to sit with me and watch. She loves seeing the garden being watered for instance. And spending time doing these relatively mundane house chores together still feels precious to me.
On another positive note, Australia is pretty progressively minded when it comes to full time dads. I’ve read online about how some dads are protesting in other countries to get better facilities for fathers to look after their babies. In Australia, there are plenty of parent rooms in close proximity to shopping malls and restaurant precincts and all the ones I’ve come across have been unisex. The majority of adults at the swimming classes and Rhyme Time groups are mothers but they’ve been very inviting and inclusive. Between the generous facilities and support network that I have, I haven’t really found the desire or need to join a Dad’s Group in my time off. I’d rather just spend that time with Penny.
I’ve been on my break for a month so far. In that time she’s started to crawl, she’s learned how to do a high five and she’s trying out all sorts of new things to eat. To be there for each and every moment of that is a blessing and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.