Yep, we’re talking about taking parental leave. Big call? Maybe. But after Sydney father-of-two Pete Rhodes took 18 weeks of parental leave to care for his youngest son, Liam (now two), he described it as “the best decision I’ve ever made”.
Here, Pete describes the impact it had on his life, relationship and family.
“When Harvey (now five) was born I never really got the chance to spend any significant time with him to make that initial connection. He was born in December, so I was able to take some time over Christmas – I probably had four weeks off work. That left Clare, my wife, dealing with parenthood almost on her own to a degree. It was quite a tumultuous time.
“When Liam was about to come along, I had a couple of chats with people at work (at the time Pete worked at PwC) and it transpired that they were incredibly supportive of dads taking time off. So I leapt at the opportunity. They offered 18 weeks full pay and I took that parental leave when Liam was born.
“It was such a great opportunity to experience that hands-on parenting in the first formative months of Liam’s life. Taking parental leave certainly given me a stronger bond with my kids. But it made me more confident not only as a parent, but also as a person.
“I used to think that my work was stressful, but having to manage two boys under three years old gives you a fresh perspective. I came back to work feeling totally blissful and Zen. Now there’s hardly anything in a work context that gets me too stressed. It’s far harder to bring children up than to manage very important people at work.”
“Taking parental leave was also extremely positive for my relationship. It meant I was able to experience first-hand a lot of the things that Clare had been going through with Harvey the first time around.
“Looking after a baby is quite monotonous and difficult. It’s pretty easy to keep a little baby alive, but it’s much harder to keep them constantly stimulated, happy and satisfied. And do all that in a way that means you don’t also lose your mind. Taking parental leave has made it a bit easier to deal with those moments where you’re both tearing your hair out. And I think it means that there’s less chance of those moments snowballing into problems within the relationship.
“Being at home with the baby meant that I was able to empathise more with my wife and properly understand her frustrations. That meant I was able to support her more. I could anticipate moments much quicker and know what I really needed to do around the house in order to be more helpful. Because the first time round you haven’t got a clue and you generally get it all wrong.
“Taking parental leave built trust and solidified our relationship as a true partnership. So, we bring our children up as partners. We’re both taking on the traditional roles and we’re sharing both. So, we both work full-time and we both bring our kids up with a lot of help from a very expensive day-care system. (I do think the cost of childcare in this country is prohibitive and the government’s got a lot of work to do to address that issue.)
“I’m pretty confident that if I hadn’t taken the leave, Clare would’ve found it harder to get back into work. But after about four weeks, she was able to work from home part-time. That was really good for her as she wasn’t having to commute and didn’t have to leave Liam – because obviously he still needed to feed. But one or two days a week, she could shut herself away in the home office and get back into her work. I’d look after both the boys and together we’d have a total riot.
“I’m now a lot more aware of some of the broader community issues that we need to try and change. There’s still a huge stigma attached to dads taking extended leave. There’s a bit of that old school approach of it’s the woman’s job and the woman’s role. That absolutely needs to be quashed.
“But there’s also the worrying statistics about how difficult it is for women to get back into the workforce if she doesn’t have partner who’s also able to take some time off. In places like Sweden where dads taking parental leave is the norm, women getting back into the workforce is not a problem. The quicker they can do that, the quicker they can get back onto the corporate ladder and lose fewer opportunities.”
“What advice would I give someone who worked for a company with a less enlightened parental leave policy? It’s really difficult. I was lucky. I can sit here and bullshit you and say I’d tell him to demand that the employer grants it. But things don’t work like that in the real world. What I would say is that corporates are not going to change their minds unless enough people do the same thing. We need to demonstrate that the change is required.
“You could start by getting some guidance from a network of people that have been through the process. Get some ideas as to how you can go and talk to your employer and try and change their mind. In an extreme scenario, you could try and find a competitor that offers it, confront your employer and say: ‘Look, I want this leave. If you’re not going to give me parental leave then I’ve got an offer for a job over here. What would you rather I do?’
“Statistically, companies with better parental leave packages get better staff retention. Your staff are likely to be more loyal, more content, and also far better at getting their job done in a very short space of time – so they will be more efficient. So, it should save employers money in the long run by accepting the very short-term cost.
“As far as my experience went, there was no downside to taking parental leave whatsoever – there were only positives. Bringing up children can be stressful at times – there’s no manual so you’ve basically got to make it up as you go along.
“But when you’re both sharing that, you are genuinely sharing parenthood rather than just allowing one of the parents to do that role. It sets the framework for the way you want to do things going forward. You want to be parents together throughout your child’s life. So why not start out that way?”
To find out more about parental leave go to: https://parentsandcarersatwork.com/