Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The academic parent #3 – the return of paternity leave

Today I am back on paternity leave. My daughter is nine months old and my wife has returned to work. Rather than send our daughter straight to nursery, we thought it might be a good idea if I look after her full time for a month. We have done this for several reasons, which I will explain below. I had toyed with the idea of taking time off for a while (in addition to the paternity leave I took immediately after she was born), but it was a chance meeting at a conference dinner that really got me thinking. I was chatting to a lecturer who had returned to work following maternity leave, and she was explaining how her husband was taking 3 months of paternity leave. I explained I would like to do something similar, but given I’m currently a postdoc who is thinking about future jobs and perhaps needs a few more publications under his belt it wasn't the best timing for me. This was obviously crap, and luckily she called me out on it. There is never a “convenient” time to take paternity/maternity leave. There will always be an excuse. Since then the plan has been relatively set in stone, at least in my mind.

So, why take leave now? First, because I want to. I want to experience at least a small part of what my wife has been through the past nine months. It won’t be the same, it will be easier for me, but it will be close enough. More importantly, I want to spend more time with my daughter when she is still a baby. Second, because I can. I have an understanding boss and work in a supportive department. I may not be in this situation again so I should take these opportunities when they present themselves. Third, because it makes financial sense. Rather than take official paternity leave, I’m essentially taking all my annual leave in one go. I don’t think I have ever used up my allotted annual leave in a year. Most academics probably don’t. For this year at least that is what I am doing. This means, after a few months of statutory pay, my wife and I will both be on full pay for a month without nursery costs. This will help a lot. It would not have been financially viable for me to take official paternity leave, and therefore not be paid during this time, as we would not have had enough income between the two of us to cope. Fourth, because going back to work after nine months of maternity leave is a big deal, and having to cope with the emotion of leaving your child at the nursery seems like quite a lot to handle all at once. This way my wife can be at work knowing I’m looking after our daughter, at least for a few weeks.

Finally, because more men need to take time off work and look after their kids. I've had very mixed reactions to taking (only) one month off. Some have sounded shocked, others have asked what I’m going to do with my time (answer: look after my daughter). It’s that mix of reactions that made me realise it was the right thing to do on top of all the personal reasons listed above. If it’s still a shock that a man might take time off work to look after their child (and I reiterate, it is only one month so it really isn't that significant) then we live in a pretty weird society.