Andy Wilson, 35, told his bosses at the London School of Economics that he planned to take four months off to care for his baby under the government’s Shared Parental Leave scheme.
They didn’t just agree, pat the executive officer on the back and send him on his way; they agreed to pay him his full salary.
This allowed his wife, Sophie, to return to her career as a marketing manager and Andy to learn a bunch of stuff. Here are his insights from his months as a full-time parent:
1. Fatherhood in Britain could do with a rebrand
When I told colleagues I was taking time off to care for my daughter, Martha, there was a divide in their responses – which sums up the problem.
2. Men are more likely to be ignorant about it
When I told an older male colleague about what I was doing, he joked, “Oh, great, you’re going on holiday on the taxpayer’s expense for four months.” I laughed it off, but it illustrates what’s wrong with attitudes to parental leave in this country. They’re old-fashioned.
3. Women will respond quite differently (and better)
A female boss said, “Look, see the next four months as a secondment – like another job. Make sure you enjoy it; it’ll be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it’ll be easy. It won’t be.”
She was right.
4. You’ll enjoy it more than you can imagine, but it’s hard work
It’s not an easy job. I don’t think I fully appreciated that.
It takes up most of your time thinking about what’s next, what I need to do: napping, feeding, eating. Changing nappies, entertaining them, putting them to sleep.
5. You’ll see a side of life that most men never see
Traditionally, the only people most men see caring for babies are their mum or other women. The man just comes home from work, maybe plays with the kids for a while or looks after them on weekends.
Doing it full-time is quite different, but very fulfilling.
6. There is one downside to full-time childcare as a man: ‘gransplaining’
It’s like mansplaining, where men talk down to women, but where grannies talk down to dads.
It’s happened a few times while I’ve been out with Martha. Older women would come over, coo a bit, then one would say, “Is mummy at work today?”
Another will then go, “I don’t think she’s very hungry, dear.” And I’m there, thinking, “She is. I know this because she eats at this time every day and I’ve got to recognise her signals.”
The subtext is, “You’re a guy, you have no idea what you’re doing.” But it’s best just to smile and suck it up.
7. You’ll question the way our society is supposedly structured
Why shouldn’t men be able to make homes while women can earn the bread, if each wants to? SPL makes the role of a house husband a viable alternative, rather than it being held against you.
Plus, breaking down those traditional roles can only be a healthy thing for future generations.
8. You’ll set an example
I’ve done this as much to set an example for my daughter as I did it for myself.
When Martha grows up she’ll be able to say, “My dad was lucky enough to be supported to take time off to bring me up. I’m glad he took up the opportunity.”
Find out more on Shared Parental Leave here