Taking secondary carer's leave - the second time aroundMay 22, 2022
[Originally published on LinkdeIn, 19 Aug, 2019]
A week ago today I returned to work from almost 7 weeks of paternity (secondary carer) leave following the birth of our daughter / second child. I am very fortunate to work for a firm that offers equal parental leave for mums and dads. I already utilised PwC’s full array of benefits when our eldest was born, including paid parental leave, unpaid parental leave, part time and numerous flexible working options. From these experiences, I also created a website, www.suittiestroller.com to encourage and support corporate dads taking parental leave, doing my bit to advocate for gender neutral parental leave policies and change to social norms. Now experiencing it all again with child #2, I am even more convinced of the importance of working for an organisation that supports working parents through this very challenging time.
I could use this post to discuss all the benefits of dads taking parental leave for the health and wellbeing of the child, the mother, family, employer and broader society in general. Instead, I want to share my learnings about taking an extended period of secondary carer's leave upon the birth of our second baby, and how this experience the second time around differed from the first. For dads, parental leave is typically broken into:
- Secondary carer's leave: short term leave, usually up to 10 days, taken upon the birth of their child; and
- Primary carer's leave: longer term leave (e.g. several months) where a parent takes on the role of primary carer. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 1 in 20 dads take primary carer's leave.
The following insights refer to my recent 7 weeks leave as secondary carer, made up of paid parental leave, annual leave and government Dad and Partner Pay (DAPP).
1. As before, this was no holiday
I’m constantly amazed at how many people think paternity leave is a holiday for dads. It was actually full time work, literally 24/7 for 7 weeks. My wife and I were a team and I was involved in everything except breastfeeding. Through the day, I was cooking meals, cleaning the house and changing nappies for both our kids. In the evenings, I took over post feed to settle our baby back to sleep. On many nights, I was up from 2am-5:30am straight, getting barely an hour of sleep before our two year old burst through the bedroom door to greet us with a boisterous ‘Good morning, it’s day time!’. Supporting my wife through the first few weeks of evening shifts had a big impact on her recovery, as well as helping me develop (or re-find) my own settling skills to continue sharing the caring responsibilities.
2. My role as the secondary carer changed
For our first child, this initial leave was all about spending time to bond with my son and learning how to be an involved dad. Second time around, this period was... still all about bonding with my son. In fact, I hardly saw my newborn outside the 2am-5:30am shift.
Taking 7 weeks leave and still feeling like I had limited opportunity to bond with my daughter was my biggest shock. I found my main role this time around was actually helping our two year old adjust to having a baby in the family and finding ways to help him feel loved. Upon gaining a new sister, our previously angelic little man suddenly started hitting, spitting and acting out in aggression towards us - things which he never did previously. While he doted over his sister, he was clearly insecure about how this new addition left us feeling about him! That is, until I started paying extra attention to him while my wife recovered and looked after our newborn. I realised this was actually my primary role this second time around - to continue looking after our eldest and assure him about his new role in the family while my wife regained her strength.
3. 8 days leave just isn’t enough
At PwC, we are able to take 3 of our 18 weeks parental leave upon the birth of the baby. This is over twice the national average (1.6 weeks) for secondary carer's leave, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's latest gender equality scorecard (also see this white paper by Parents At Work for further interesting statistics and insights). At the two week mark, I turned to my wife and said, ‘There’s no way I could be going back to work right now’. Of course I could have, but it would have impacted her recovery and I would not have been able to give my best at work. Our daughter still didn’t know that night time is for sleeping. We were also recovering from various illnesses that had plagued our family in the months leading up to and following the birth. This included a virus that my wife had for over two months, hand foot and mouth disease (thanks daycare!) and another 10 day virus that I was still recovering from the week after our baby was born. Adding in the recovery time from a high risk birth, 7.3 days simply was not enough time for me, my wife, our son to reach a good and healthy place (see point two above) before I returned to work.
4. In 2019, gender neutral paid parental leave should be the norm
As a beneficiary of gender-neutral parental leave policies, I’m obviously an advocate for dads taking parental leave (how could I not?). But as someone who has done my own research into the broader family, societal and even corporate benefits of gender-neutral policies through www.suittiestroller.com, my conscious would now stop me from working for an organisation that chooses not to provide or promote gender-neutral parental leave. As a PwC partner recently said to me about our generous parental leave, ‘it’s just the right thing to do’.
I have received nothing but support from PwC in starting my family. They even promoted me during this most recent period of leave, knowing that I will also be taking the remaining 15 weeks of my parental leave later in the year. This shows me that PwC’s parental leave policies aren’t just policies- they are pillars of a corporate culture and mindset that supports working parents. They are a firm that is walking the walk in this space, so thank you PwC.
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