Not every father has the opportunity to take paternity leave, but Michael Cusden did. Here is his take on the experience …
Everything in life is a journey. As I sit here riding the bus into work, I can’t help but look back at my time on parental leave.
My time at home with our baby boy ended just over a month ago, and it has taken me this long to truly comprehend just how special it was.
To catch you up, I left my job for six months and went on paternity leave. In Canada, there is a year of time dedicated towards taking care of a new baby. The mother and father can split up the time however they want as long as the mom does the first several weeks.
This was our second child, and long before we were even pregnant I had said that if we had a second I wanted to stay home and experience everything that goes with being a stay-at-home parent. My wife agreed to share the time and my adventure into full-time parenthood was set.
As the day approached for me to stay home, there was so much to be taken care of. I had to let work know and start putting my mind around the fact that I would be home with our boy all day, every day. My employer accepted my wish to stay home with open arms and that made the transition easy.
Now that I am back at work, with new some new people, a new office, and a much more advanced company, my time away really allowed me to take a step back and see what I really could add to the mix.
I am not going to go into the daily grind of parental leave (or the PL as I coined it) because I updated this daily on my blog, Like A Dad. There you can read all about our adventures, milestone moments, and wow, the amount of photos I took borders on obsessive. This piece of writing is more about documenting my feelings as I look back. How it has changed me as a dad, man, and person.
The feedback I have received from friends, family, and the community has been amazing. It was almost to the point where I was being applauded for doing something groundbreaking. I was simply parenting. Is that such a big deal?
But as it goes, the dad generally does not stay home. That is changing, and I have gotten to know so many amazing dads online and in various groups. They are out there.
My experience was great. I always get asked if it is was hard. I reply that it was not hard because it was fun. It was mentally draining, but I would never call taking care of your own children hard. Digging ditches is hard. Having a blast playing with your baby should never be seen as a chore.
Were there times of absolute frustration? Hell yes. Waking up in the night, not being able to figure out what was wrong, and of course accepting that you were not the boss, were all hard.
For me, I love managing the house. I love routines and sticking to it. This made the transition to home life pretty easy. Just add a baby and go!
It took me about three week to get into it and feel comfortable. In the beginning I was actually trying to do work and parent. That did not go well. So after one month, I stopped caring about career and focused 100% on the family. My son deserved that. I would never have the chance again. The odds are pretty high we are done with kids, so it was very important for me to watch every little detail of growth and soak up that time.
So after the six months, how have I changed? Well, I personally don’t think I have changed much as a parent. Outsiders may disagree.
What did change for me was my level of appreciation for new parents and stay-at-home parents. What they do every day for their kids and family. The amount of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into raising a baby. I had an idea because I watched my wife do it for a year the first time around. But now that I have lived the life and walked a diaper-covered mile in those shoes, I don’t take things for granted.
Does our son realize that his dad took on the second six months? Probably not. But I do feel this higher connection, a comfort, with our second son. He melts upon being picked up. I seem to have a control over him that I don’t remember from the first time around.
Now maybe it is all in my head, or it is the bond formed during all those bottle sessions and strolls around the house rocking him to sleep. Sitting at work each day, I mostly miss those things. The after lunch bottle and nap. The smile on his face after that same nap when I picked him up.
Now I’m back at work. I went from spending several hours with him per day to barely even an hour per day during the week. The first week or two was rough. I missed that little guy a lot.
I also discovered why a lot of moms want another baby after they go back to work. For all the stuff that the outside world sees as work – diaper changing, having food thrown at you, lack of sleep, and a messy house – I see that as stuff I want to experience again.
I understand that not all dads can take parental leave. Circumstances don’t always line up. Some countries don’t help out a dad either. I fully get that. But I also want to let all new dads know that if you can do it, do it. It was an experience that can’t be redone. I learned a lot about myself, opened up the conversation when it comes to dads who take on new parenting roles, and most importantly, I got to see our baby grow up in front of my eyes.
That to me is more important than any job, career, or any other reason not to do it. I don’t even want to get started on how I think it should be mandatory for a dad to stay home for at least a month.
So as I reach the end of the line on my bus ride, all I can think about is when I get back on the bus in eight hours to ride home and see my boys again.
I am a very happy dad.