Paternity leave: a mother’s perspective

Having our children’s father at home for six months following the birth of our third child has been a transformative experience for the whole family.

When I had our first two children Ben was working 12+ hours in London. So I was working all day and most of the night looking after a baby and a three year old. I’ve only just recovered (mostly). I loved our children. Their babyhoods were all the oxymorons. Delighted horror. Terrifying loveliness. Wakeful oblivion. Companied loneliness.

This time I’ve been able to enjoy our baby and our older children in a way that was not possible without my husband at home, and it has been possible for our older children to enjoy it too, without the same feelings of jealousy and conflict. I’m sure the age gap helps with that (the older two are 9 and 6) but mostly it’s because they haven’t had to give up the care of a parent because there’s always a parent who can be available.

Something that has been interesting from my perspective has been the comments other mothers have made to me about having Ben at home all the time. One or two get it, realise how much it helps the family balance, the extent to which it protects my health and mental wellbeing . Most wonder what Ben will be doing, despite having been trying to do all the things motherhood involves on their own once their husbands are back at work (typically after a couple of weeks) and knowing how heavy that burden is. A few suppose it will be rather annoying, as though he will be getting under my feet while I continue to do everything. I’ve never managed to do everything and I’m not convinced they have either.

But here is the biggest problem that I perceive with this way of thinking: the implication is that I could and maybe should be doing everything as far as our home is concerned. But it isn’t my home. It’s our home and we are in this together. The implication is that this isn’t Ben’s home as much as it is mine, that he is some kind of interloper and I’m the one at the centre of this family. That’s not the best way for any family to function. It’s resulted in some (not very) amusing comedy about dads not knowing how to care for children which is nonsense. But it’s also resulted in a society where men are pushed out while we decry the sad lack of male role models and where mothers feel constantly guilty for not managing an unmanageable burden.

Certainly in our family my husband doesn’t want me to bear that burden and I don’t want him to be pushed to the side of our family. Here we walk together. Except when he carries me over the deepest puddles.

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