On Parental Leave

When my wife became pregnant with our third child, I'd just 'officially' graduated with my Master's degree and was working on casual contract for the Government of Canada.  A few months later, I became permanent ('indeterminate') and among the benefits I was eligible to receive was Parental Leave Without Pay.  Admittedly, this sounded like a bit of a non-benefit until I read the ES / EC Collective Agreement which also defines Parental Allowance: a second benefit automatically granted to those who qualify for Parental Leave Without Pay.

Basically, between the income replacement that one is entitled to from Employment Insurance and the employee benefits paid out under the terms of the Agreement, an indeterminate employee can stay home to raise their baby at nearly full pay (93%) for one year (2 Weeks Waiting Period + 18 Weeks Maternity Benefit + 32 Weeks Parental Benefit).

Now as the father, I wasn't entitled to any Maternity Benefit — my wife could take that — but the 32 weeks... 8 months away from work... well, maybe I could take that...

...provided I could get past the psychological hurdles, of course.  What kind of man takes 8 months off of work at the beginning of his public service career?

I'd never been in any financial position to entertain such a question before.

I took 2 weeks away from work for the birth of my first child, and three weeks for the second.  The extra week the second time around was to provide extra care.  My second was born with Jaundice, and needed near-constant phototherapy for the first nine days of her life by remaining wrapped in a biliblanket.

8 months?

I love my children; my children love me.  But I'm the sort of person that needs to remain engaged.  After two weeks of  R&R, I'm ready to abort my vacation and get back to my desk.  I crave mental stimulation.  I need structure.  As much as I should probably feel ashamed for my lack of evolution, I am a man first and a social worker second.  My sense of self is largely tied to my attachment to work.  My importance is in what I  create.  My value is in the income I am able to provide for my family.

But I created this child.  And the benefits will allow me to provide for my family.

With much urging from my wife, I took the 8 months.

I wish I had the right words to express how great it was.

Not idyllic, by any means.  A lot of work; worries; weird hours; exhaustion; exasperation when nothing worked.  But also immense joy; attachment; love; connection like I never believed I could feel.  And tangible response from my baby; recognition; pleasure from my presence; anxiety from my departure.

8 months went entirely too quickly.  For those last 2 weeks, I held her constantly.

I thought I'd been a good father to my first two children.  I'd taken as much time as I could afford, to be there as they entered the world.  But in retrospect I was something of a stranger to them, and they to me.  It bothered me enormously that they seemed more curious than pleased to see me return home at the end of the day.  I was often beside myself with frustration for my inability to calm them when they were hurt or distressed.  Nothing I could do had anything near the effect of my wife simply reaching down and picking them up.

My baby will be 18 months old soon.  For some time now — for as long as she's been able to, really — she has come running to see me when I arrive home from work.  Perhaps it's better described as high-speed toddling, but more often than not she beats her 4 year old sister to the door.

Even after I'm settled in for the night, in between her adventures with her pets and her older sisters, she'll come back to me with arms outstretched, "Da da!  Da da!" insistent that I hold her immediately.

I credit the baby for 'teaching' her older sister that these are good practices.  Not long after the daily return-from-work ritual began, my 4 year old also started racing to the door to get her own turn at being swept off her feet and kissed soundly.

I loved those 8 months.  They meant everything to me, and really showed me what they can mean to a newborn.  If there was any effect on my career prospects or my reputation, I can't tell.  My profile is actually higher now.  Twitter, blogging, involvement with GCPEDIA and GCconnex — these all came after my return to work.

Honestly, I'm kind of ambivalent about becoming a DG anyway. :)

If you've taken parental leave, or just have something to share on the subject, I'd love to read your comments.