10 Things I Learned on Paternity Leave Without My Wife
Fatherly is a publication for modern fathers looking to make the best of a good situation.
Everyone has advice for you when you become a parent. Nearly all of it is unsolicited. In conversation, I try not to dump unsolicited advice on new or expectant parents, so I’ll unleash my thoughts into the abyss that is the internet. My expectation: low traffic. However, I hope my daughter will read this one day, and that’s all that matters.
I became a father on March 3, 2016 to an amazing daughter. Her name is Sienna Wynn. Here’s a photo of her because the laws of the web require me to share a baby photo.
I’m grateful to work for a very progressive company (@Twitter) that gave me 10 weeks of paternity leave that can be used over time. I chose to take 4 weeks right after Sienna was born and another 4 weeks when my wife went back to work. My wife, Jess, and I overlapped for one week and took a mini vacation. Then, I had 3 weeks of one-on-one daddy-daughter time (aka solo paternity leave). Here are some of my lessons learned (in no particular order) from my solo time, from 4+ months of being a parent, and countless conversations with people I love and respect — most notably my wife, my parents, and my in-laws.
The benefits of breastfeeding are clear (i.e. health & nutrition benefits, special bonding, and cost savings). However, breastfeeding is incredibly challenging. To support women and encourage them to breastfeed, our country needs to pass legislation that allows women to stay at home for one year. Additionally, all men should be allowed (and encouraged) to take 3 months paternity leave. Based on my experience, I would recommend men take their 3 months in one month increments throughout the year, with the final month coming after the mother has gone back to work. That final month is crucial. In order for our society to progress, men need to see for themselves how challenging and enriching it is to be caring for your child alone.
Often times your child knows what’s best and isn’t afraid to let you know by using the one tool they have — lungs to scream or cry. It’s easy to get caught up in getting your baby on a schedule and trying to impress upon her what you think she needs. Look and listen for clues. Sometimes it’s best (and easiest) to follow their lead. As a friend told me, “they are built to last.”
There’s an infinite amount of information out there and it’s easy to get lost in the world wide web. Try to be informed by reading trusted sites and recommended books, but don’t google every single thing. It can quickly send you into a downward spiral of “my baby must have this.” Instead, call your pediatrician or a person you trust. I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a better response in a shorter amount of time than if you jump right to the web.
My dad reminds me that he worked late 2 nights a week throughout my childhood. I didn’t get to see him on those nights. Did I hold that with me? No, because when he was there, he was present. He wasn’t on his phone. He wasn’t staring at the TV. He was being a father. As Woody Allen said “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”
Not only have I learned a lot about myself over the past 4+ months, and grown as a person, but I’ve learned a lot about my wife, my family, my friends, and countless other people. Most notably, my wife has become the most incredible mother. I’m lucky to have married well, and have a best friend by my side to share in this adventure. Use this life event as an opportunity to learn about yourself and grow as an individual, as a partner and as a friend.
I was meeting a friend for lunch, and while ordering at the counter, Sienna started smiling. All of the servers behind the counter started smiling too and saying how happy it made them. Who knows why Sienna smiled (hint: fart), but I know that the server’s happiness was a result of her smile. That’s one example, but I know that no matter what’s happening in my day, if I see her smile or hear her laugh, my heart melts.
It’s easy to get into a groove with your child where you never leave your home. There’s always a reason to not do something… weather, naps, feedings, uncertainty, etc. Assuming you’re well-prepared and are putting your child’s needs first, GO! Get out of the house… see the world… allow them to see the world! Go out with your child, go out with your partner, and go out with your friends. Keep living. Remember, your child is entering your world. They’ll adapt, just as you’ll adapt.
I love working at Twitter for a number of reasons… the people, the product, and the work that I do. While that’s rare, you can find that at other companies. What sets @Twitter apart is their commitment to parents and other social issues. I will forever be grateful to Twitter for providing me with ten weeks paternity leave, and employing the most amazing managers that encourage you to use that time off to bond with your children.
I’ve been alone with Sienna for only 3 weeks and have a wife who comes home every night. This is hard work. It’s an absolute joy, but it is tiring and challenging. I can’t imagine how much harder it is if you’re a single parent.
One of the realizations you have when you become a parent is that all of the clichés you’ve heard (i.e. everything changes, it’s instant love, etc.) are true. The love I feel for Sienna is all-consuming, and unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. While having a conversation with Jess and my parents on the deck of my childhood home, we realized that when designing this crazy world of ours (remember: we’re all on a giant rock hurling through space), God (or whatever you believe in) must have known that (s)he needed to give an extra incentive to procreate to keep humanity alive. “Evolutionary love” is a special type of love that is reserved for your child. It expands your heart and taps into parts of your body that you didn’t know existed.