Our story starts when I became pregnant with our second son. After experiencing the stress and pain of being zombified parents to a new baby with our firstborn, my husband suggested that maybe he should take concurrent primary carers’ leave from his employer to give us an extended period after the new baby came, to settle into being a family of four. We were lucky enough to both work for employers that offered additional parental leave of 13 weeks at full pay, but that could not be taken if our partner was receiving parental leave from their own employer.
It’s quite usual for ‘the mum’ to take this parental leave followed by the Government’s Parental Leave Pay (GPLP), with ‘secondary carers’ leave being taken by ‘the dad’. But because I was working part time at the time, it was more lucrative for my husband to take this leave entitlement. So, we decided that he would take his employer’s parental leave and I would forgo the parental leave from my employer.
The plan was that I would be home with the new baby for the first year (taking the GPLP for 18 weeks at minimum wage, followed by around seven months of unpaid leave), and my husband would take the first 13 weeks straight after the baby was born. We loved this plan and thought that it would help our older child transition to siblinghood better, reduce the stress in the household from sleep deprivation, allow us all to bond as a family, allow me to recover from birth, establish our new routines and, most importantly, let us all wallow in the love of our new, bigger, better family.
My husband floated the plan past his HR business partner who seemed at first cautiously optimistic that the leave would be approved. However, the request was escalated to the most senior HR representative, before being denied. When he challenged why the leave had not been approved, he was met with, “parental leave is for birthing mothers, mothers of adoptive children, and same sex fathers”. This company is one that is quite public and vocal about diversity and inclusion so the denial was a huge shock.
We, as a family, proceeded to self-fund my husband’s parental leave for 12 weeks using other leave entitlements, unpaid leave and savings, and we are so lucky that we could scrape that together so we didn’t miss that time together as a family. Unfortunately, during these 12 weeks of parental leave, my husband was made redundant – we will never really know if it was because of the parental leave or not but it’s an interesting coincidence.
When reflecting back on this time as I write this almost two years later, we are so grateful that we weren’t bullied into changing our minds on our original plan to spend those few months together learning our new family – it was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity; time that we will never get back.
I have never been more thankful that we managed to do it despite all the pressure to give in. It was surprising how many people, many of them parents, questioned why we would want or need ‘the dad’ home for that long. “What is he even going to do?” “Is he having a holiday?” “Aren’t you home on leave anyway, mum?”
What happened as a result of that time was a family where both parents were equally as skilled in managing our children. There is no presumption of ‘mum’ from our children when they need something. My husband and I were and are equally as able to change nappies, put children to sleep, make the very specific version of porridge that everyone likes. We both know the daycare routines, and who needs what cuddly toy to feel comfortable at daycare drop-off, who is due for vaccinations, the names of our children’s teachers, and who is whose favourite Pokémon this week. Our sons have had a model of what it truly means to be a father in 2022, and I hope that this will shape the sorts of fathers that they become when their time comes.
Now that I am back at work, this balance and equality permeates the rest of our family life and I would love for every other Australian family to have the same opportunity – hopefully under much easier circumstances. Having a baby will blow your life up in a way that you could never imagine and having both parents there to rebuild your new and better future makes such a difference.
If you would like to share your story please email Maddy at [email protected]