Few words are as misleading as “parental leave”. You may be on leave from a labor market perspective, but you are hardly not working. To an outsider it might appear relaxing and fun to “stay at home” and just snuggle up with a cute little child or two. However, anyone who has done it knows that the pace of life on parental leave far exceeds that of working life.
Insight into how little free time you actually have while on parental leave can’t be gained through reading or by listening to a semi-frustrated partner who snaps when asked what’s for dinner. It is an insight acquired through first-hand experience, that is, by being on parental leave yourself. Shared parental leave not only improves your mutual understanding of each other but also the likelihood of having more children and staying married or together. And of course, you form a closer relationship with your child or children if you are at home with them, caring for them.
Regardless of how wonderful it is to share leave in theory, it can still pull at a parent’s heartstrings when it’s time to swap. For the parent who has been at home the transition from constant contact with their baby to only seeing them in the evenings and on weekends may feel hard. The parent who has been at work may worry about taking full responsibility for a child who is still unable to talk. Easing into the transition is a good idea for everyone’s sake. Perhaps you can plan so that it coincides with Christmas or a vacation, making the change less abrupt? Is it possible for you both to work part-time for a while, with one of you gradually increasing your working hours while the other decreases them? One thing’s for sure. For these ideas to work, you need to anticipate and plan.
Agree on routines and caring for the child
It’s easiest for your baby if the partner who will be taking leave gradually increases their responsibility for the child. If the baby prefers to be cared for by the parent who has been at home up until now, that parent may need to go out in the evenings and on weekends. This makes it easier for the baby and the other partner to establish their own routines. Discuss how you view routines and caring for the baby together. Will you each have your own routine with your baby or would you prefer to both follow the same routine? Naturally, your baby’s personality will play a part in your decision. Some babies are happiest when there is a clear structure and others prefer to take things as they come. But you may be surprised. Even if you think that the routines you’ve established are vital, your baby may suddenly and happily adapt to the other parent’s routines in a flash.
Also, talk about how you feel about getting information and advice from the parent who was at home first. Asking “Can I give you some advice?” may make it easier for the other parent to accept the information. Also remember that everyone is different—some would rather be the one to ask when they are unsure about something, while others want a full notebook of written instructions.
In a recent study, parents were interviewed after they had been on parental leave and the majority answered that they would definitely advise others to take parental leave. The thing that parents liked most about their parental leave was hardly the endless housework—it was the time spent with their own little one that was so highly cherished. Being a parent alongside your partner is wonderful. But being the one your child turns to 50 times a day has a certain effect on your heart!
No one-size-fits-all model
Even if there are two of you and you have ambitions to equally share parenting, you may not choose to share parental leave. People and families are different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Sharing parental responsibility between you so that the parent who goes out to work can also take some responsibility for the child is another alternative. Moments where the parent who goes out to work can take over responsibility are important for the baby who learns to depend on both parents, and for the parent who becomes more confident and has the chance to explore their maternal or paternal side.
If you are a single parent, you’ll have the privilege of enjoying parenting on your own terms. But longing for a break and other feelings can also surface after you’ve had total responsibility for a while. Finding someone who can be a regular part of your child’s life and occasionally relieve you of some of that responsibility can make a big difference. This person may not be the close relative you envisioned but is instead the student teacher who lives next door—either can work just as well. Luckily children aren’t concerned about biological ties as long as their needs are met and they’re surrounded by love.
Sources: - Bergström M., (2021) Lyhört föräldraskap. Bonnier Fakta - Bergström M., (2012) Att bli mamma. Tankar och känslor kring att vänta, föda och leva med barn. Bonnier Fakta