One year ago my partner Ant, a plumber by trade, and I, an events manager, took on the mammoth task of becoming parents to our beautiful daughter.
While we are so grateful to have her delight our lives, it has definitely been one of the most challenging years of our lives.
I regularly feel the weight of such an important role we've undertaken in raising a curious, confident, healthy and well-adjusted human.
The truth behind this is that the current system in Australia doesn’t support families, children, mothers or fathers.
The first two weeks
The lack of support became immediately clear postpartum. I ended up with an emergency cesarean and in hospital for an extra five days, and was still very sore and needed extra support from my partner during this time (as well as beyond these first two weeks too, but that wasn’t an option).
By the time I was home from the hospital, Ant had around a week and a half left of his parental leave, to be at home with our new little human.
This time together was incredible in the sense that we got to spend the quality time needed to relish and fumble through the huge adjustment of becoming parents together and taking care of this helpless little being!
Ant being home meant he could have lots of skin to skin contact time with Ava too, to help develop their bond.
But this was just a flash insight into perhaps what could have been if the system were better designed to support us.
Ant wasn’t able to take more time off. Longer parental leave is not really something that is encouraged in the construction industry. We definitely faced a lot more stress with Ant going back so soon. His job is demanding and he works long 10 hour days, so I am doing the bulk of the unpaid work and care of our daughter.
The end of parental leave payments
I remember still being right in the thick of the sleep deprivation, full time breastfeeding, the daily struggles and postpartum fog when my “parental leave” payments ceased.
I remember reflecting at that time whether the government and those people in power of decision making really, truly felt that I, as a mother, should be ready to re-enter the workforce at what seemed far too soon. Was my role all of a sudden worth nothing?
We had barely begun adjusting to this new life, and to be frank, were barely coping.
I feel lucky that we’ve been able to make life work with savings and living on one wage so I could continue to be with the little person who needed me 24/7.
After just over one year, I’m back at work in a reduced capacity. Rather than my previous three days a week, I work a flexible one day a week.
With my partner working long hours each day with little flexibility and no family being close by I will remain at home with Ava and manage work on the side.
What could change?
Becoming a parent is the ultimate and most important apprenticeship of your life with no guidebook. All at the same time couples are seeing huge shifts to their relationships and their lives while adjusting to this new life.
The current ‘Parental Leave Pay’ policy does nothing to genuinely support the time it takes to do any of this important work.
I know that there is a proposal to increase parental leave by a few weeks; as parents we know this still doesn’t go far enough and continues to do an injustice to children, mothers, fathers, families and, ultimately, society.
It does nothing to support the vital secondary caregiver bond and by paying only minimum wage without super it entrenches dangerous gender roles in the home and in society. It does not support breastfeeding and misses a big opportunity to improve the lives of families, children and society.
For myself and my partner, 12 months’ parental leave shared between the two of us would have meant more time together at the start to form our new family bond and to support each other as we navigated being thrust into parenthood.
We enjoy simple pleasures. Before becoming a parent I loved yoga, seeing live gigs, time with friends, going to the movies, and spending lots of time in the garden! Ant loves surfing, good tunes, cooking and good food.
These days, time is spent with Ava bird spotting and exploring the creek with our dog Bobby, playing in all the wonderful playgrounds around us, reading books or playing music together.
If six months’ parental leave (12 months’ total) were available to both of us we absolutely would have taken this option.
Or as Ant said: “F**k yeah!”
For me as a mother, it would have meant that I was truly valued for the huge role I’m undertaking in society. For my partner, six months rather than two weeks would have meant more time establishing a secure attachment and bond that is setting the quality of not only their relationship, but the relationships Ava is going to have with others over the course of her life.
A 12 months’ paid parental leave scheme for Australia would be a gamechanger for the health and wellbeing of children, families, mothers, fathers and society.