It’s been five months since I last thought about work. My laptop is in its original packaging. My home office turned into a guest room and work goodies packed away. I’m currently taking a six month break from work since the arrival of Ariah.
Long parental leave is normal in some countries, but for a South African father, 10 Days is the maximum. The Lord has blessed me tremendously through Automattic. Their benefits are truly world class, specifically the generous paid time off. This is my fourth paternity leave period during the last 5 years. Through sheer privilege, I was able to be on paternity leave for 16 months all together.
Before tell you about the experience, I wanted to note the following. I’m not on standby. I don’t have to do any checkins. There are no work emergencies to take care of. I’ve handed over all my responsibilities to my team. Even after becoming a team lead, a great team mate (thank you David) stepped up to handle my responsibilities. That’s the way Automattic expects you to do it: when on leave, focus on your personal life, not your job. For the sake of communication, no news is good news.
So, how does it feel?
With our first two boys, Judah and Hosea, I had a lot of down time. Lauren breastfed exclusively which left me waiting on her call for assistance, but from Avah onwards, it felt like I was switching to another full time job. The more kids you have, the more valuable longer paternity leave becomes. With each new family member, everything becomes exponentially more complex.
The first few weeks was more about switching off from work and switching on to the reality of a new family member. I’ve already written about the challenging times we had with this pregnancy, but to add more context, with Ariah arriving early and then further complications with Lauren I was the full time carer for Judah, Hosea and Avah. I had a lot of help from my family as we moved back to my moms house during Lauren’s long hospital stay.
I’ve heard many people say “kids grow up too fast”. They all wish they had more time to spend with them. And this is the best benefit of paternity leave: a special time spent with your wife and kids. You get to take them to school, the park, outings and longer walks at the end of the day. You get to support your wife and entertain the new baby with your “googoo gaagaa” impressions.
Paternity leave is not a holiday. You don’t get to simply pick a destination and enjoy your time off. Having a baby is a serious responsibility and they limit your options quite a bit, especially in the first 3 Months. It is tempting to use the time for traveling and getting out, which we did, but during these outings we always realised that the best thing one can do is stay at home. The last few weeks felt more relaxing. We decided not to make any plans, avoiding the stress brought on by the desire to maximise time off.
Towards the end of paternity leave, your mind starts to wander back to work. How will you adjust? What must be put in place with the family to make the transition as smooth as possible? How will we cope with kids during late night meetings? What if I have to travel? The situation changes from being supportive to needing support. All these questions will be answered in the next few weeks, as we make the transition back to normality.
Whenever I’m away from work, I realise the great value it adds to life. It gives a sense of purpose, belonging and the feeling that you’re spending time on something more important than yourself. You’re in a team, part of the crew, rowing in the same direction.
Am I ready to work and take on the challenge of juggling more responsibilities? As I write this, I have little more than 3 weeks left. My mind is slowly making its way back to work. I’m about to setup my office again. I’ve started working on a side project just to see if I can still write some code. Planning to setup a few meetings before I return, just to get the feel for where I’m going to fit in again.
The past 6 months was life changing. I’ve grown as a father, man and a believer. I’ve realised how quickly things can change and how precious this life is that we all share.
Since the family is full, this is also my final paternity leave. Again, what a great privilege.