Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, your baby, and the work you do.
I’m 34 years old. My wife, Kristen, and I have two daughters, 1.5 year old Ella and 3.5 year old Olivia. We live in Melbourne and are both avid snowboarders. We enjoy travelling, spending time with friends, and exploring new things.
I’m a Chartered Accountant who has worked in a variety of roles. Right now, I work as a finance business partner for the Origin IT team. It’s a role where it’s constantly busy with budgets, monthly reporting, forecasting, financial reporting and trying to drive better insights as to how we spend our IT budget. My main role is liasing with budget holders and ensuring that the team is financially on track. There are lots of spreadsheets, and the change to working from home has been something that I’ve had to adjust to, but now it’s something that I enjoy as I’m able to see more of my family.
After the birth of your child, you decided to take parental leave. When did you take it and how long did you take it for?
We’ve had two daughters and I took parental leave for both of them. Olivia was our first and I took six months full-time parental leave and then did six months part-time. Olivia was just over one when I took this leave and it just gave me the opportunity to build a better relationship with her. She was at a really fun stage and it meant we got to have lots of park dates, rhyme time and it meant that my wife could start working on her career again. It was also a chance for me to play a daily role in how Olivia learnt new things, and even meant that she saw a totally different side to me. I was no longer the person who bathed her and put her to bed, but someone who was there all day and kept her safe, prepared her meals, and was the person in the house driving the organisation.
When we had Ella it was right before the COVID-19 lockdowns began. We’re in Melbourne so it was hard juggling a toddler and a baby. I started to take one day a week just to break things up from a very early age and cope with working from home. By the time Ella turned one, Kristen was ready to return to work. Now, I’m using Origin’s flexible parental leave to take two days a week to look after Ella. It’s totally different this time around. I’m hoping to continue this until at least the end of the year, depending on work requirements. This time around we haven’t been able to explore or do those things like rhyme time or babycino dates. It’s been a lot harder, but I’ve still been able to build that amazing relationship with Ella. It’s the time I get to have with Ella where she is the sole focus and doesn’t have the spotlight taken away from her by her sister.
Overall, I’ve felt that the parenting responsibilities have been much more shared. To be honest, I don’t know any different, but I’ve had the chance to build fantastic relationships with both my daughters at a really crucial age. There is never a favourite parent in our house, we are equal in our daughters’ eyes.
What was the greatest challenge and the greatest reward you experienced during parental leave?
In terms of the greatest challenge, it’s really hard being the primary carer as a father. I mean it is utterly exhausting some days. I watched my wife go through so many highs and lows when she first looked after Ella and Olivia. I felt helpless.
When I finally took over the primary carer role, I felt like I didn’t go through the trials that other mothers did. It immediately put me on the backfoot when trying to mingle with other parents when I took the kids to parks etc. I found it hard to relate and join in with other parents simply because I played a different role throughout the birth and feeding after birth. It may have been all in my head, but over time I learnt to accept my role, and know that everything I was doing was for my daughters and the social aspect would come with time and experience. There is a lot of support for new mothers (which I totally agree with), but I did find that support for fathers taking on a carer role was limited.
In terms of the greatest reward, my daughters see me as an equal parent. Neither of them “run” to mummy when they are hurt. They run to the parent they want to go to, which makes me so proud. My daughters are learning that they can be strong young girls, and the gender of a caregiver doesn’t define who can show love or fix their sore knee. I’m also not pushing a gender stereotype on my children. It’s important to set an example for our girls in everything we do, which includes parenting.
The time I spent with Olivia and Ella is something I’ll always cherish and I hope that the experience I had with them has just as big of an impact on them as it did on me. I wouldn’t change anything, but I would have regretted not taking parental leave.
We know men can sometimes face discrimination and bias when they take parental leave. Did you face any strange reactions from people when you went on leave?
I got a lot of strange looks at parks, libraries etc. I was generally one of the only men in a room full of mothers. It took some time to get used to this and as I became more confident in my role as a carer, I stopped noticing the strange looks and focused on creating a fun/educational experience for Olivia and Ella. The more men become the primary caregiver, the more these reactions will be broken down.
How has that time changed you as a father and a partner?
My greatest fear becoming a new father was “messing up” my kids somehow, but as time went on, and as I became more involved as a primary carer, it became apparent to me that you just have to have confidence in what you are doing, communicate with your partner, and try getting out of your comfort zone. You also need to have fun. I can’t remember the number of times I have probably looked silly to parents, but my kids have been laughing and that’s all that matters in the end. I’ve also learnt that I need to listen, and be patient with the kids. Life is such a rush and sometimes you just need to slow down.
My wife and I work as a team. We both keep each other honest, and look for ways to make sure the kids are developing. There is no “this parent should do this”. We try to share the load equally, be it dirty nappies, getting up in the middle of the night, etc. We try to communicate about behaviours we are seeing and we also take the time to reflect on the cute things that happen day to day or when the girls learn new skills.
I’ve also learnt about the massive sacrifice that my wife made to have our two children. Through the pregnancy, and the first year, career on hold. Not only is it hard, but it can also be lonely. I already thought Kristen was a superstar, but taking the time off just made me appreciate it that much more.
What are the most challenging things you’ve discovered, about juggling work and looking after a baby?
- You never have enough time in the day to do everything. Focus on the things that matter, and do them well.
- Kids love interrupting video conferences.
- You have to communicate well with your boss and partner.
What are the best things about combining work and family?
There are days where we get to eat together as a family throughout the day and I can play with the kids on lunch breaks. No one is getting up early and missing the little moments. There were days in the past where I wouldn’t see the kids until dinner that night, now I get to see a lot more of the kids when I’m working.
Because of COVID, I felt like I got to watch Ella grow up everyday, and I wasn’t missing things. The lockdowns have been hard, but it means that we need to be creative, and find new ways to entertain the kids everyday.
What would be your advice to any expectant or new working father?
- Be patient, and enjoy the moment. It goes very quickly.
- Support your partner as much as you can, but sometimes you can’t fix everything, so just listen.
- Be consistent with your partner. It helps a lot.
- There is nothing better than watching your child learn a new skill, be it talking, walking or throwing a ball. Nurture them, but don’t force them to grow up too quickly.
- Dads tend to compare a lot. Your baby is developing and doing things exactly when they should. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
- You won’t regret it, but you will be tired!
What would be your advice to any manager out there in terms of enabling their staff to balance both career and care?
Give your staff the room to grow and learn and trust them to make the right decisions. I have been incredibly lucky in my time at Origin where my managers have given me every opportunity to take parental leave in the way that suits my family. I have been a full-time carer, as well as working part-time. It has meant that I’ve become much more productive on my working days because I know I have to be efficient, but I also have a great reward on my non-working days. Over time, I have also learnt about what works and what doesn’t work, and my manager has been completely supportive of this, despite the impacts it sometimes has on the business. Be flexible.
What I’ve Learned is a series featuring the parents (and wisdom) within the Grace Papers community.