When PapaPenguin was created in November 2019, my vision was to share as many stories as possible from fathers to fathers that were worried, unaware or confused as to how they could be the parent they wanted to be. There is another side that we can’t forget. What are the benefits to the fathers partner when they have opted for Shared Parental Leave, Flexible Working, Full Time Stay at Home dad or any other mixture that allows them to be the parent they want to be?
I am grateful that Susha Chandrasekhar has shared her story of being a working MamaPenguin with the support of her working PapaPenguin husband…..
….“How many months will you be taking off?” is a question asked of expectant mothers but not often of soon-to-be fathers. The assumption is that the father will take at most two weeks of paternity leave after the birth and then biff on as if nothing particularly life-changing had happened. Actually, you now have a new person living with you who, despite sleeping 18-20 hours a day, somehow keeps you continually busy and tired. And that’s just the start.
Much has rightly been written about fathers and children. But there is another angle too, that of the mother. When pregnant, I was working at the Department of Business as a lawyer on the Shared Parental Leave project. Sadly, the legislation did not come into force in time for my family to benefit from it (oh, the irony), so my husband had to negotiate an ad hoc arrangement of 3 months with his employer. It is said that the more senior a person is, the harder it is to take parental leave. My husband is a Professor at King’s College, London and he managed it, later becoming Head of Department. After my maternity leave ended, my husband did the changing, feeding, playing, walks in the park. He says that those three months were the best, and most exhausting, of his life. For us all, it was magical to see the bond between father and son deepening. For my part, I felt less wary of returning to work because I knew that our son was being cared for by his father.
But shared parental leave is just one aspect of raising a child and I’ve found that ongoing flexibility for my husband has had a huge impact on me as a mother and as a lawyer. I have worked part-time, flexi-time and from home. But with school pick-up and drop-off, homework, dental appointments, organizing costumes, parties, and so on, regular shared help is great. In particular, if our son falls sick, it is not assumed that I will cancel my meetings and take the day off. I feel more fully engaged with my job, as I don’t have to stress about what is happening with my son. It has a benefit too in that we do not have to employ a nanny. Not only is that expensive but it can be complex as nannies leave and there is the hassle of finding a new one.
Flexible working does not necessarily mean less working but different working. My husband can be found typing away at 2am in the morning to meet a publication deadline and I sometimes log on in the evenings after bath-book-bed. School holidays are still a challenge but we manage. Bringing up a child is the greatest joy and the greatest juggling act. It’s fantastic to share that joy – and also to have two pairs of hands to catch the balls rather than just one pair flailing around.
Author: Susha Chandrasekhar
Photo Credit: Susha Chandrasekhar