How a Paternity Leave Changed Our Family

For the first few years of our children’s lives, it’s often all about mom. Our maternal instincts usually make us baby’s preferred parent – the one who seemingly knows best. This was the mom reality I unthinkingly accepted during my son’s baby years. But when my daughter was born, my husband took a paternity leave, and it changed everything.

A paternity leave was never something my husband and I had seriously considered. That changed when his work expanded its parental leave policy to include 12 weeks of paid leave for moms and dads. We were ecstatic about this extraordinary and unusual benefit, but we had no idea just how profoundly it bless our family.

How a Paternity Leave Changed Our Family | Twin Cities Moms Blog{Photo credit: Anna Ligocki Photography}

Daddy-daughter bond: A rough start

From day one, our daughter had a demanding, intense temperament. She was particular about who she liked and preferred a calm and subdued environment. Unfortunately, my husband’s deep voice, big stature, and assertive personality often unsettled our daughter, which made it difficult for the two of them to bond.

As my leave came to an end and his paternity leave approached, we began to worry a little. He was about to spend 12 weeks with a fussy, high maintenance baby who didn’t really like him. What would their days together look like? Would his time away from work be worthwhile? We soon found out.

The 12-week transformation

Like any new stay-at-home parent, my husband faced a learning curve. At first, I received occasional calls with random baby-related questions. When was naptime? Where was the baby shampoo? How do you clean infant poop from a onesie?

But soon he found his stay-at-home dad groove and developed his own unique routine. He introduced daily baths and found incredible joy in combing my daughter’s thick hair into a mohawk. When I questioned whether the crazy hair was necessary, he smiled and told me he liked it that way. I grew to love that crazy hair because it was an outward sign of their growing bond. Day by day, week by week my daughter began to adore my husband.

Together they developed their own rituals. My daughter became my husband’s companion as he practiced guitar, and she enthusiastically added her baby babbles to his music. And during playtime, he gently wrestled her, threw her in the air and surprised her with silly noises. While his manly games made me slightly nervous, my daughter reveled in them. She squealed in delight at his antics and always seemed to want more.

My husband loved his days at home with our daughter. He reveled in the opportunity it gave him to witness milestones he otherwise would have missed. But most of all, he was amazed by the strength of the bond they formed – a bond he previously assumed was only shared between a mom and her new baby.

How a Paternity Leave Changed Our Family | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Reversing roles

During his leave, my husband became the baby expert, which was a role reversal neither of us anticipated. Now I was looking to him for guidance on how to best soothe our fussy daughter. His new status bothered me at first. As her mom, wasn’t I supposed to know our daughter best? But my insecurity dissolved when I saw the daddy-daughter bond and felt the positive shift in our family dynamics.

After three months of me being the center of my daughter’s world, my husband got his turn. During the baby years, dads typically receive the unspoken message that it’s mom’s time to shine. Just wait until the toddler years, we tell them, then you can fully flex your parenting muscles. But my husband’s paternity leave showed us a new dimension of our parenting partnership, one where neither of us was left on the sidelines waiting for our chance to shine.

Fighting for change

I fully recognize that many women don’t receive the maternity leave they deserve. Every day countless moms return to work long before they are physically and emotionally ready. As a result, I understand how my husband’s paternity leave may be aggravating for some.

But as we’re advocating for a change in our country’s leave policies, let’s dream big. My hope is that 12 paid weeks of leave will be the norm for our daughters when they have children. But I also dare to dream for our sons. I hope that they, too, will have equal access to paid family bonding time and that everyone – parent or not – will be supported in caring for their families.

The journey to paid family leave in this country may be a long one. But if our family’s experience is any indication, this change will be worth the fight. As we wait and advocate for something better, I’ll treasure the memories of my husband’s paternity leave. I will always remember the time when my daughter first became a daddy’s girl.

Rachel Anderson
Rachel is one of those rare people who has never had a cup of coffee. She’s decided to start drinking coffee once she grows up. In the meantime, she gets her energy from the loves of her life: her husband of nearly 10 years, 6 year-old son, and 1 1/2 year-old daughter. She also loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the Thanksgiving holiday and the beauty of Minnesota. Rachel is a writer at heart and has built a career in corporate communications. The job closest to her heart is being a mom to her gregarious son and spirited baby girl. As a Christian, Rachel aims to give and receive grace every day.

2 COMMENTS

  1. When my son was born I was only able to take 7 weeks off work (short term disability plus vacation and couldn’t afford to take unpaid time off), my husband got 12 weeks of parental leave with full pay plus had 3 weeks of vacation so he had more than twice as much time off. It was hard to go back to work, but it helped knowing my husband was home with our son.

    • My heart goes out to you that you had to return to work at 7 weeks. What a hard way to return to work after having a baby! Like you, I found it incredibly comforting to know my baby was home with her dad when I returned to work. Returning to work was still hard, but I worried a lot less and was able to get back into the swing of things at work faster.

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