Diaries of a dad on parental leave

Boris Couteaux Boris Couteaux Feb. 21, 2019

Challenging gender stereotypes, one diaper at a time.

 

I recently took 2 months of parental leave to take care of my now 1 year old son, Junah, and baby, was it a wild ride. I went into it very naïvely thinking it’d be a vacation and that I’d have time to do things like read that pile of books on my night table, think about my career goals, see some friends, etc. I used to think: “what’s the big deal, a baby doesn’t do much anyway right, can’t I just keep working and watch him at the same time?”. How could it be so hard to cook and clean and take care of a baby when you have the whole day off? But boy have I realized - parental leave is no vacation!

 

Another naïve thought I had: “this is 2018, all men are now feminists. There will be plenty of other dads on pat leave and everybody will think it’s normal for me to do this”. Nope. Still heard comments about how people were surprised that I would want to take so much time off work and not focus on my career. Why not let my partner deal with baby stuff? Still got the “awwwww”’s from passerby’s that my partner never got (ever heard of a bunch of moms getting together making the news? Well, that’s what happened to me and a bunch of dads). And yes, still had to entertain the jokes about my ‘inability’ to change a diaper properly or answer questions like “sooo, how’s your vacation going”, half expecting the answer to be that I hated it or I somehow failed. Still one of the only dads at the drop in centre (although apparently numbers are growing).

 

It changed my relationship with not only my son, but my partner, my parents, and the world around me.

 

Because the truth many people who haven’t gone through it don’t realise is that raising kids is a full time job. And a hard one of that. Physically and mentally. I felt extremely lonely at some points. I had absolutely no time for myself. Not a whole lot of people to hang out with (although initiatives like DadsTO are now starting to pop up and I was lucky enough to have a friend on pat leave at the same time). Very different intellectual challenges or social interactions. I tried to stay busy and get out as much as I could for both our sakes, but that’s hard too, between non-accessible TTC stations, snow storms and the lack of changing tables in men’s washrooms. And oh-my-god-my-back-is-killing-me.

 

I cried. But then I laughed so hard it was worth it. I got extremely frustrated. And then very excited. All in all I’d do it again 100 times over. It changed me in ways I didn’t expect, as I discovered parts of myself that I had no idea were there, and it changed my relationship with not only my son, but my partner, my parents, and the world around me.

 

I had so much fun with Junah and have now created such a strong bond with him. Before taking pat leave, I used to think of myself as being a fairly involved dad because I helped my partner with night shifts sometimes, I LOVED carrying him in the baby carrier, and I’d spent the odd weekends just him and I. But back then I have to admit I always felt a little lost at some points when I spent a long time alone with him. Don’t get me wrong, we’d play and laugh and it was wonderful...but then he’d start getting fussy and I didn’t know why or what to do really. But those days are O.V.E.R. I feel so much more confident in my ability to care for him now, just because I did it all and I’ve seen it all. I know his hungry cry, his tired cry, his poop face and his pee face. I know when he needs playtime and quiet time, and I can gauge based on what we did that day how easily he’s going to fall asleep.

 

And that changes our family dynamics too. My partner is no longer the only one to think ahead: what to bring for different types of outings, or thinking about what he’s going to eat that day so that we don’t find ourselves at 6pm with a crying hungry baby and nothing in our fridge for him. I’ve developed those reflexes, which means lifting a bit of the mental load of parenting off mom so not only does she feel supported but she knows that we’re a team of equally able parents, and she is (hopefully) no longer frustrated because she has to think of everything. I’m also able to appreciate what she did - spending 10 months with our newborn - in such a different way, and I love her so much more for it.

 

There is still a lot of stigma when it comes to men taking parental leave.

 

Taking time off also meant that my partner could go back to work earlier and start working on her career again (quite literally closing that gender pay gap), knowing that he’s with me and not starting daycare. This was hugely facilitated by her company as well (shout out to Benevity, a BCorp) who’s progressive parental benefits program supports women in the workplace by, among other things, encouraging them to share parental leave with their partners.

 

I know that my partner and I were very lucky to even be in a position to share this parental leave and we are extremely grateful for that privilege (hats off to all of the single parents out there who are the real heros!). But I have to admit it was very scary at first, leaving my job and not knowing what I would come back to. But I was also afraid of sucking at it. And I hadn’t heard of many other dads doing it either. Thankfully impak (my employer) was really supportive in the transition phase and in welcoming me back, which helped a lot. But the reality is a lot of employers aren’t, and there is still a lot of stigma when it comes to men taking parental leave. Stats vary, but only about 10-15% of fathers take parental leave in Canada (that number is higher in Quebec, where conditions are better). I think that needs to change.

 

So to all the dads out there: do it, it’s worth it. #feministdad


Boris Couteaux
Boris Couteaux


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