PARENTS

Dads Should Take Extended Paternity Leave For Toddlers, Not Babies

20/05/2011 21:36 | Updated 22 May 2015
Dads should take extended paternity leave for toddlers, not babiesGetty

I wish I'd lost my job a year before I did.

'Say what?' I hear you cry.

No, really. I don't think I'd be half as reluctant as I am now. In fact, I might even have embraced housedadding.

Because, you see, I think I've had the worst of scenarios. Between a rock and a hard place; between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Now nobody likes to lose a job, but if you're going to lose a job only for your wife to find another that pays just as well, then it's better to get the timing right.

A bit of background: I was made redundant on June 24 last year. I spent six months trying to find another, failed, and then my then Working-From-Home-Wife stepped up to the plate and found another job.

Thus, we swapped roles. She now goes out to work and I run the house and run after the kids. Except the kids are at school for most of the time, so I'm trying to re-create what my wife did and find a way of making a living from home.

'What's this got to do with paternity leave?' I hear you ask.

Well, this: the Government has unveiled plans to allow fathers five and a half months paid paternity leave. This is heralded as fantastic for fathers, fantastic for families and, yes, I take the point that it's not so great for small businesses who have to find cover for these absent fathers while they're cooing over baby.

But this is where I have a beef with these new measures.

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In my experience, the father is not at his most useful, nor the child at its most receptive, when it is newly-born. Yes, we may have a role running around sterilising bottles, changing nappies, running to the shops, but beyond that there is little else to do with a newborn child except sit and stare and smile with a soppy 'I Made You' expression on your face.

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Babies sleep for most of the time. When they're not asleep, they eat. And if the baby is being breastfed, the father is about as much use as a butter kettle. Babies need their mothers. Mothers need their babies. Therefore, to me, granting five months paternity leave right at the beginning of a child's life is rather a waste of time.

I believe, rightly or wrongly, that the best time for a dad to be with his kids is when they're toddlers, aged around two, about a year before they're old enough for nursery.

Their personalities are developing, their needs are changing. They're at an age when they are forming not just physical bonds with adults, but psychological and emotional bonds. In my opinion, those bonds would be massively strengthened if dads didn't have to spend all their time at work during these toddler months, but instead spent all their time looking after their little 'un.

Which brings me to another point: babies are much easier to look after than toddlers (my Successful Other Half tells me). Once you establish a routine! They're mobile; they sleep anywhere; cry when something's wrong (easy to fix if you're an instinctive mum); burp, fart and fill their nappies a lot. Babies are not a two-person job.

But wait until they learn to crawl. Wait until they rise to their feet for the first time and discover every unplugged socket, every bottle of stuff they shouldn't be drinking. Wait until you turn you back on them for a mili-second and they've gone. Try to reason with them (not a chance); try to feed them their hitherto favourite food (they spit it in your face); try to get their shoes and socks on when you've got somewhere to go (they'd rather turn purple with rage).

Toddlers are about as difficult and as unreasonable as it's possible to get. But they are also the most loving, the most cuddling, the most affectionate, the most Squeeze-Me-Please-Me-Never-Gonna-Leave me adorable things you will ever encounter in your life.

And working fathers should not miss out on this stage - the trials, but especially the tribulations.

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Babies need mothers. But I would argue that working fathers need toddlers.

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What qualifies me to say this? Well, apart from being a stepdad to a nine year-old girl and a father to boys aged six and three, until last year I worked every hour God sent. My first hand experience of all the stages I've described above were at weekends.

I craved paternity leave, but not when they were babies. I didn't really connect with any of them when they were babies. But when they became toddlers, I really felt I was missing out. Massively.

By the time I did lose my job, it was just a fraction too late. I got to spend six months with my youngest son before he started nursery, but I was so obsessed with trying to find another job that those months were defined by anxiety, distraction and panic.

Now, five months into being a full-time Stay-At-Home-Dad, I'm starting to find my feet. I've got my domestic duties down to a tee; I've got the school runs off pat. But during the day, when they're at school, I feel my life lacks any kind of purpose or direction beyond waiting for the clock to tick so that the kids are back at home again.

Because when they are here, we laugh, we joke, we play games, and yes, we row and fight and bicker. If I'd lost my job a year earlier, perhaps I would never have become a Reluctant Housedad. Perhaps I'd be a Willing Housedad, because having the youngest around in his toddler years would have given me all the things I have described in this post.

And I think all of these things should be every father's right. And every child's right, too.

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