Working dads. Boy, they have it hard, away from the kids for all that time. I'm one of the fortunate ones though. I recently returned to work after five months off looking after my youngest daughter.
I was able to do this thanks to the Shared Parental Leave policy that came into force in April 2015. A policy which gave my employer very little say in the matter.
I've been a clear winner from SPL. Those five months were the best five months of my life. One would also hope that Mina and her older sister Lola benefitted from having my undivided attention, although in truth Mina probably won't miss the training plan I devised to get her walking which made the preparations of most Olympians appear desultory (well they say you should encourage your kids).
One question I've been asking myself though is what was the benefit for my employer in me looking after the girls? Because there must be one.
Well there is. My time off might not have made me love my employer more (although If you're reading this, boss, of course I love you, and not only because you're paying for the mortgage and the girls' clothes) but it has made me a better employee.
Paradoxical as it sounds, not being at work has made me better at work.
How's that then? Well just think of the soft skills I was able to hone at home which will serve me well in the office. Skills such as:
If I look back at my time off it was essential the story of how Lola and I worked together as a highly accomplished partnership (think Holmes and Watson or Sharky and George) to keep Mina out of A&E. Officially I was in charge but that's only half the truth. Lola, when not at school, was my deputy and at times her effectiveness in the role seriously called into question my own ability. Hence why I ended up delegating most of my responsibilities to her. For instance, while I'm easily distracted, Lola, when assigned a task, sticks to it like UniBond, so I often put her on Mina watch to ensure that her little sister didn't eat too much Lego or tip herself off the bed. Suffice to say, surveillance is now Lola's speciality.
I once read that psychopaths lack empathy. Placing myself in the shoes of my fellow man has never been my strong point and although I'm not quite up there with Bates and Bateman, I've always known that my insouciance towards others' feelings represented a deep-seated character flaw. Let me tell you though, faced with a pair of little girls you have no choice but to become attuned to their every emotion. Get it wrong and the tears flow like Victoria Falls. Consequently I'm now well-practiced in appreciating the most delicate of sensibilities.
A key workplace skill. Negotiating with a four-year-old about why she can't have an ice cream when she's already eaten pancakes for breakfast, a packet of Haribo as a mid-morning snack, cake after lunch and chocolate later that afternoon is no easy task; the only thing more difficult, I've found, is negotiating with a tired baby who won't go to sleep. I'm sure there are pirates hijacking cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden who are more easily talked around then my two. I now know that yelling only achieves so much; exhaust that tactic and all you have left is your innate powers of arbitration.
Or as I like to call it: simultaneously cooking the girls' dinner and replying to a text message from my wife with one hand while preventing Mina from climbing into the oven or ingesting the magnetic letters on the fridge with the other and meanwhile helping Lola to hunt down her slippers which are on different floors of the house at the same time as trying to get her to write a birthday card for a schoolfriend whose party she's going to the next day and answering the front door to the Amazon Prime delivery guy as the dishwasher sits there beeping impatiently to tell me its done. Now when I hear people at work talking about needing to "keep all the plates spinning" it takes an effort not to laugh maniacally in their faces. If only they knew.
Before I began my leave I drew up a mental list of jobs that I hoped to tick off during my five months. Things I thought I'd shoehorn in around the childcare. A generous estimate would say that I completed somewhere between none and ten per cent of these tasks. Lo and behold, it transpires that kids and getting things done don't go hand in hand. I quickly learned that you have to make every second count and squeeze every possible ounce of productivity out of the time you have. That way you may actually get to the end of the day having not only kept your children alive but also having achieved something tangible. Filling the car up with petrol perhaps, or returning a library book.
Now that I'm back at work I'm pretty pleased with my new skillset. As should my employer be. This is what they get from the deal: a paragon of the corporate world, finely tuned and replete with all the optional extras. I'm such a shining example to those around me I could probably become a LinkedIn Influencer. It can only be a matter of time before they have me running the shop.
And for that they have my time off with the girls to thank.
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.