Parental leave

In the latest Healthy Families e-newsletter from the BC Council for the Families, an article on parental leave caught my eye. The writer cited two studies that suggest that extended parental leave does not positively affect child development. The question, then, is why is parental leave so important?

The writer goes on to state that the second study, carried out by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) showed that lengthier parental leave is associated with lower incidences of maternal depression. Maternal depression clearly has a negative effect on family functioning and well being; therefore, the writer concludes, extended parental leave contributes to healthier families.

While this resonates with me, it also has me thinking about “new normal” families and how fathers’ roles are shifting over time. My wife and I are blessed with the opportunity to both be at home with our newborn daughter, at least for the first six months. While this has meant sacrificing some income, the benefits for me as a new dad far outweigh the costs:

– Learning curve: a valued friend pointed out that my wife and I would be on the same learning curve with our newborn. She stayed home with her first child, while her partner had to return to work right away. Consequently, her childcare skills quickly outstripped those of her partner, which was problematic and frustrating for both of them.

– Co-parenting: related to the learning curve, having both of us at home means that we can truly co-parent. We can both take ownership of our transition to parenthood, and can also spell each other off when one of us badly needs a break!

That’s not to say that our roles are completely interchangeable, breastfeeding being one example. Being at home, however, does allow me to truly understand how much work it is for my wife to nurse our daughter. It isn’t as easy as the television sitcoms might have one believe, but at least I can be here to provide as much support as possible.

– Bonding: I don’t know what it’s like for dads that have to go right back to work, but I expect that I will have created an enduring bond with my daughter before I return to my cubicle warren. My father didn’t have that luxury. He generally worked away during the summers and my mother told me that, as a baby, I had to get to know him all over again when he returned home for my first autumn.

I am sure that there are a number of other benefits of parental leave that I haven’t even thought of. I am also very conscious of the fact it is a privilege for me as a new dad to be able to stay home for a while. For me, this highlights the importance of policies that support women (given that the work of childcare is still disproportionately performed by women) as well as policies that support the family unit as a whole (e.g., so dads can continue to take on more responsibility for childrearing).

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Things I didn’t know about babies…

So, I’ve heard the one about baby’s not coming with a manual. For the most part, I dismissed this – how hard can it be? Keep the baby warm, dry and fed, and we should be good to go. It turns out that there were a few other that would have been helpful to know…

Their hands may be cold (or, no, your child is not freezing) – our daughter always seemed to have cold hands when she first came home, and I was constantly worried that the poor thing was freezing. It turns out that newborns just have poorer circulation in their extremities. No need tobthrow on extra layers (which could potentially overheat the baby).

Their little bodies feel like furnaces (or, no, your child is not burning up) – paradoxically, while my little girl’s hands were cold, it felt like her body was throwing heat. A baby’s temperature is somewhere between 34.7 and 37.2 degrees Celcius using the auxiliary method (i.e., armpit). Even though she felt hot to me, baby’s temperature was always within the proper range.

They might sneeze at first (or, no, your child did not pick up a cold during labour) – I was surprised at how much our newborn daughter sneezed! At first, I worried that this might also be a sign that she was sick, but the nurse assured us that our baby girl was simply clearing the amniotic fluid from her sinuses.

They breathe faster than we do (or, no, your child is not hyperventilating) – it seemed that our baby girl was breathing so quickly. Was she sick, was she too hot? Not to worry, babies breathe much faster than adults (40 times per minute or so). The other surprise was that our baby’s breathing would slow when she was sleeping, and would sometimes be irregular – all normal. We eventually gave up on hovering over the bassinet to ensure that baby was okay.

They are more resilient than I thought (but continue to handle with care) – I had never handled such a new baby. At first, I coddled her like a delicate china teacup, and I obsessed over ensuring that her fingers weren’t caught when we were dressing her. Within a few days, I had the football hold down, and was handling her much more confidently.

My daughter continues to teach me every day. Now that she is around three months old, more and more of her personality is coming out. I am sure there will be a number of other surprises along the way, and hopefully I will capture a few of them here.

Keeskee is, well, even a bit more keeskee than planned

So, once again, I have been neglecting my little experimental blog. This time, I have a somewhat better excuse. Back in September, we found out that my wife was pregnant (yay!). We then got caught up in “get ready for baby” mode. Newsflash – you can never be ready for baby, and none of it looks like it does on television!

We welcomed our daughter in May (she was in her stroller with us at Darts Garden from my last post) and are just starting to come out of the fog that is having a newborn. The exciting thing is that we managed to make it work so that both of us are off for at least the first six months. We’re getting to know our daughter together, and we can help each other through the “what do we do now?” moments.

As I write this, it is five in the morning, and my little girl is curled up on my chest. As you may imagine, there’s a good chance Keeskee will continue to be attended to in a sporadic manner. When I do get to it, chances are some of the subject matter will change, too.

I will continue to hit on things to do and places to go, but with a more decidedly baby friendly focus (I miss you, outdoor rock concerts!). More than likely, I will also touch on our adventures as a new family, as well as brilliant gadgets, hacks, services, etc., that make parenting so much easier than when my ancestors carried their babies around in moss lined bags.

Oh, I will continue to seek out good, hot cups of coffee (but only when my wife is holding the baby). I will also continue to love the CBC, and am already working on indoctrinating my daughter in Radio One’s programming…