Time flies. Can you believe the first quarter of the year is over? March is an iconic month for many. It\’s Women\’s History Month. It\’s March Madness in the US. It\’s cherry blossom season in Japan. For me, it\’s the last month of my paternity leave. After seven months of spending quality time with my wife, our son and our family, I go back to my full-time job (no, not childcare) today.
I\’m lucky enough to work in a country that offers 12-month government paid parental leave, and work for a company that supports parents to take advantage of this incredibly generous system. As a new father, I took seven months off of work. Here are the top seven lessons I learned in the last seven months:
1. It\’s Not A Vacation
If you are a parent, you already know this but childcare is hard work. Babies need attention 24/7. Yes, every night I’m woken up multiple times to the sing-song cry of my sweet son, and all day he requires our constant care. Just because a person is not generating income doesn\’t mean they are on vacation. I\’ve heard many parents say, \”Going to work actually feels more like a vacation.\”
Needless to say, I have so much respect for single parents and stay-at-homers. I\’m not even doing half of the childcare duties since my wife is the real MVP (Most Valuable Parent) here. I can\’t even imagine doing this all alone.
2. Mom Is An Absolute Rockstar
I had the opportunity to watch my wife become a mom. When our son was born, her priorities shifted. Her biggest priority is now taking great care of this tiny little human and raising him to be a kind child who will make a positive impact on the world. She’s a natural, and when I’m fully in charge it feels so much harder. She makes the weight of raising a child feel lighter. I have a deeper level of love and respect for her, truly setting a foundation for our family going forward.
3. Enjoy It, They Grow Up SO Fast
I heard this phrase over and over from other moms and dads, and it’s absolutely true. The little human who used to sleep 20 hours a day is now eating cauliflower, broccoli and beans with his own hands. It’s hard to comprehend how much development happens in such a short period of time.
My highlights from the past six months include witnessing his first smile, laugh, roll and all the other firsts. This might have been difficult if we weren’t together all the time.
4. My Team At Work Was Perfectly Fine Without Me
Admittedly, I was nervous about taking an extended leave from work. “Will my departure add more to everyone else’s plate?” “What will my team look like when I come back?” These are two of the voices I heard repeatedly in my head before I took my leave.
Thanks to the very capable and collaborative group of individuals, my team was more than just OK without me. Members stepped up and took more responsibilities. I’m glad that I reached out to my boss early about taking parental leave so there was enough time for us to come up with a plan to execute a smooth pass off.
In hindsight, this is what companies do – they handle people moves all the time. People taking parental leave should be normalized within every company’s culture.
5. Strengthening Partnerships
My wife and I both decided to take parental leave. One year for her and seven months for me. Because we have been spending practically every hour or every day together, we have gotten to know more about each other and establish a stronger parental foundation from the get-go. According to a study done by McKinsey & Company, who interviewed 130 new fathers and their partners who took extended paternity leave, 90% of the men they interviewed noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partner. And their partners also felt that the support was critical to forging a stronger bond.
Sometimes, our approaches to parenting clashed and we argued. It challenged me to verbalize how I was feeling in the moment so I could communicate my intention to my wife clearly. It challenged me to listen to her point of view, and we are stronger for it
6. There Isn’t Much Time To Do Anything Else
Before my son was born, I had a list of things I thought I would get done during my leave. The list included mastering Excel, playing golf weekly, reading more books. And nope, that didn’t quite happen. I did publish a book during my leave but I did most of the hard work before my leave (thankfully. Like I said earlier, childcare is hard. It requires time and attention. But spending quality family time together for this extended time will forever be my treasure.
7. I’d Regret It, If I Didn’t Do It
If you have an opportunity to take it, whether your company has a great parental leave policy or your country has a generous system, you absolutely should. Contrary to its low Global Gender Gap Index, Japan has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world: Both mothers and fathers can take up to 12 months of paid governmental leave. However, only 7% of fathers took any paternity leave in 2020.
Japan has a goal for this number to go up to 30% by 2030. Why? Because it has many benefits. Increasing the country’s birth rate, closing the gender gap, and making everyone happier to name a few.
I’m not going to lie. Paternity leave for me wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It has been transformative, exhausting, frustrating, and disorienting. Most importantly, it has been absolutely priceless. I can’t imagine not having done it.