When my husband suggested he take paternity leave with our third child, I was skeptical. He hadn’t stayed home with our first two children, now six and eight. I assumed we’d follow the same drill: He would take a week off work while I recovered from the birth, and then we’d settle back in to our roles—me at home with the kids and him back to his full-time job.
Because I’d been a stay-at-home mom for eight years, I didn’t qualify for maternity benefits, and I planned to exclusively breastfeed our daughter. Did it really make sense for him to stay home, too?
But we both knew this was going to be our last baby, and my husband wanted a chance to really bond with her during her first year. He’s incredibly lucky that his workplace tops up his pay to 93 per cent for nine months, so we could afford for him to stay home. In fact, if neither of us took a paid leave, it felt like we were failing to take advantage of an amazing opportunity.
The more we mulled it over during my pregnancy, the more we realized the climate is right for a shared maternity/paternity leave. Increasingly, dads are being encouraged to take leave and spend more time with their babies in the early years, developing strong relationships. His workplace was supportive, and many of his co-workers with older children told him they wished they’d spent more time with their kids, and that he was right to choose paternity leave this time around. He’d never had a longer break from his career and was ready for a temporary change of pace.
Meanwhile, I thought about how nice it would be to share our baby’s first year: Having someone to hand the baby off to, so I could simply go take a shower. Taking our older kids to swimming lessons without having to cart the baby along. Having someone to discuss her milestones and sleep schedule with. What could go wrong?
Well, letting go of my household control is tougher than I imagined. Stay-at-home parenting requires micromanaging, and I’ve been doing it mostly on my own (happily!) for eight years. Only now, it feels like I have one more person to manage: a husband who has little idea of what goes into the day of a stay-at-home parent with two kids in school and a new baby. Tracking library books, bill payments, sports sign-ups, birthday parties, and baby needs are my job, and having him underfoot at home is like sharing a desk with someone at the office. There isn’t room for both of us.
We also aren’t used to sharing our lives 24/7. I have to delegate chores and errands to him, since he’s not aware of what needs to be done and when. He’s keen to share duties—and always asks how he can help—but it’s often easier to do it myself than to teach him how to do it.
We don’t see eye-to-eye on our daily routine, either. He’s a morning person who gets up before the kids and who uses an actual paper calendar and mechanical pencil to plan his day, while I need a full Bodum of coffee before I can face his persistent scheduling questions. “Do you have anything you need to do today?” “What should we have for dinner?” “Do you want to fit a workout in today?” Sleep-deprived from night feedings and holding a squirming baby, I often pretend not to hear him.
The kitchen is ground zero for our domestic turf war. I’m reluctant to let him make dinner, because it takes him twice as long as it takes me and I end up juggling three kids while he cuts the veggies into teeny-tiny pieces. He keeps reorganizing my pantry and kitchen drawers. I feel like my space is being invaded on a daily basis.
I’m breastfeeding five or six times a day, so I can’t get far between feeds, even though he’s around to take over some of the baby duties. (I do use a breast pump, but it takes me a long time to get enough for one feed, so I save that milk for special nights out.) We’re effectively stuck together. Travel might seem like a great idea, but taking our older kids out of school can be tough (especially when our eldest is struggling with reading). We can’t afford to jet off to Europe or New Zealand for six months of glamourous international travel, either. So here we are, living on top of each other, sharing chores and baby care while I desperately miss the freedom of my old schedule-free days.
I didn’t expect to feel resentment during our shared time, but I clearly do. His experience of paternity leave is much easier, in my opinion, than a mother’s standard solo maternity leave. I want him to experience maternity leave the way I did, and to come away understanding my life for the last decade.
After the baby keeps us both up at night, we can easily take turns having a mid-day nap. If we need something at the store, one of us pops out without bundling the baby into her car seat. He never has to experience the desperation of watching the clock, waiting for the workday to end so he can hand over the baby and take a minute for himself.
For whatever reason, his parental leave hasn’t included Daddy and Me read-alongs at the library, or baby swim classes. He’s not checking blogs about baby development or what the experts are now recommending for introducing solid food. Maybe he would venture out on more typical maternity-leave activities if I weren’t here, but I’ll never know. He’s happier putting the baby in the carrier and taking her for a walk solo.
Despite my agitation, the sweetest benefit to our time together is revealing itself: my husband is bonding with our baby girl. He gets to spend time on the floor playing with her when the other kids are at school. He gets to experience all her baby “firsts”—something he missed out on with our older kids. She knows him just as well as she knows me. And when he’s the one who goes in to her room late at night to soothe her, I don’t feel guilty, because I know he doesn’t have to get up early for work.
My husband also has more time and energy to spend with our two older kids. He’s doing school drop-offs and pick-ups for the first time, which means sharing more daily conversations, getting to know them better, and learning the names of their friends’ parents. He’s arranging playdates and volunteering at school.
As for me, there are some really amazing perks to sharing this time together as well. I can get a haircut by myself, and trips to the grocery store sans baby are truly heavenly. I’ve also started writing again.
The other day my husband suggested we get out of the house and get coffee at our local café. As the two of us enjoyed our cappuccinos and pastries, with the baby sleeping peacefully at our feet in her car seat, life seemed pretty sweet.
Maybe we’ll make it through these nine months together after all.
This article was originally published online in February 2019