“That’s a nice idea, but you’re never going to do it.”
“You’ll change your mind, believe me.”
“Wow. I can’t believe you’d let him do that.”
These are the things people say to you when you tell them you are planning to split your year’s parental leave in half to spend six months with your first baby, then hand over to their Dad for the next six.
It’s understandable. Pregnant people make all kinds of unrealistic plans:
Of course I can work from home with a newborn!
My baby will never eat anything that comes from a jar.
My baby will sleep through the night from six weeks.
I will never, ever bore my friends silly with endless stories about poo and teething…
But this one, the plan that my partner Brent and I cooked up in the very early days of peeing on sticks and avoiding soft cheese, this one stuck.
When we decided on it, we had no concept of just how unusual we were. It seemed like common sense: We both had jobs we loved. I earned more money than he did, so the extra coin would be welcome. I was extremely keen that parenting would be shared in our home and Brent was more than happy to give it a go.
Listen to an HR expert on everything you need to know about maternity leave on our Year One podcast, here. (Post continues after audio.)
He asked his boss. His boss said, ‘Help me find someone to cover your leave and you’re on’. He did. Plans were laid. We didn’t consider it a big deal.
But, turns out, it was.
Only two per cent of Australian men take parental leave. That compares with up to 40 per cent in (you guessed it) countries like Sweden and Denmark, and even Portugal.
The midwives at the Early Childhood Centre were sceptical. “Where do dads take babies?” one asked me. “The pub?”
Other people weren’t sure it could be done.
“You just won’t want to hand over that baby and go back to work,” I was told often.
And some expressed disbelief that a man – A MAN – could do the drudge work of looking after a baby, day after day. Only a mother, surely, knows how to fill those hours between naps. How your little one will only finish their mush if you feed them the first half in their highchair and the second on your lap. Only a woman, surely, knows the right way to jiggle that tiny person to sleep, to comfort them when they’re whingey, to remember tummy time and to pack the wipes and to make sure that bottle isn’t too hot, or too cold, but just right.