“She’s crying because she’s tired” is a statement which I can now make confidently. Only six weeks ago, I would only have dared to utter it in the form of a query to my wife, seeking her confirmation. Whilst I consider myself to be a fairly hands-on parent, the thought of spending all day at home, mainly alone with a newborn, has always been somewhat intimidating for me. It’s the crying you see — the diapers are no big deal at that age, preparing a bottle is a breeze and a newborn can’t get into too much trouble if you turn your back for a second. The seemingly unprovoked and uncontrollable crying (which my wife can bring under control in a second) is what makes me nervous.
Israel allows a father to take over maternity leave from a mother, provided certain, fairly easily fulfilled conditions are met. Practically, it doesn’t work for everyone, but our circumstances happened to be a good fit. I don’t recall the genesis of the idea — whether it was my suggestion or my wife’s that I sub for her, allowing her to get back to her therapy clients, but we were both in agreement that it was an excellent idea and that having fathered three children, I could perhaps be trusted not to damage a fourth.
Having cleared it with my understanding employer, I was looking forward to spending a whole month away from work — something which I’ve never done in my adult life. I envisioned tackling a number of long neglected projects around the house and working my way through a new cookbook whilst the baby slept.
The reality (of course) was somewhat different. My days began with dropping the big kids off to their various frameworks, but instead of continuing to the office, I returned home to be handed a smiling baby in need of diapering and wanting to be held — all day long. Whilst Bituach Leumi allows the father to take paternity leave, my daughter appeared to be somewhat disgruntled that she had not been consulted. Her smile quickly turned to a frown and tears soon followed, together with a demonstration of her not inconsiderable lung power. All plans beyond brushing my teeth and caffeinating myself went out of the window — I was quickly reduced to a nervous wreck.
As the month went on however, we began to develop a better understanding. I was able to recognize which screams were related to hunger and which to tiredness and I realized that by gritting my teeth and hanging on for dear life, she’d eventually fall asleep. For her part, she seemed resigned to the fact that I was not going to go away and that Mummy wasn’t going to be available 24/7 anymore and gradually seemed to accept my presence with greater grace.
Although the month is now over and I’m back in the office, I will look back fondly at the time that I was able to spend with my child. I was able to get to know her better at this stage in her life than I’ve known any of my other children. After the initial trauma, I was able to enjoy the time away from the office and have returned to work with renewed energies. Although the home repair projects went out the window, I was able to grab the stroller and explore the entire length of Park Mesila, visit the shuk, and, by typing one-handed, even get some writing done.
The most important thing that I take away from my month of being a full time dad, however, is a renewed appreciation of how incredible mothers in general and my wife in particular are. It’s taken for granted that once a baby is born, they are able to drop everything to spend 3 sleep deprived months caring for a newborn whilst carrying on functioning relatively normally. Having had numerous arguments about why so little had been done around the house, I have a far greater understanding and will be keeping my big mouth shut from now on!
In the last six weeks, I’ve had numerous conversations about paternity leave and without exception the response has been extremely positive. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, I’d certainly urge any new parents to at least consider the idea of better sharing the load and enjoying their newborn together.