Updated: Sep 9, 2020
I have taken 6 months off my full time job for parental leave in 2018 and decided to share my experience with that – maybe there are people out there who need some inspiration about what to expect before, during and after a father’s parental leave.
1. Plan. Plan well ahead and don’t stress out to do too much either. In Luxembourg you have to communicate to your employer 4 months in advance or so, but i recommend planning it a lot more ahead – maybe a year. This will allow you and your family more time to be excited about it and your employer to get ready for it.
2. Your heart wants to do it your brain doesn’t let you? Then just do it. Taking 6 months of the job routine surely will come with some sacrifice, but long term benefits I believe are greater.
3. Let’s bust some myths: “My company won’t allow it!” – its not really an option for a company that respects its people – men and women equally. For companies that don’t respect people it’s not an option either – it’s illegal not to allow it anyway (in Luxembourg at least). “I will loose career momentum?!” – 6 months is 1% of average working life – how significant is that? “My management will discredit me!?” – if your management does not have enough open mind towards treating men and women equally – it’s time to change your manager. “It’s a women thing…” – to me this is equivalent to saying kids don’t need a father it’s a women thing… so break the stigma be an example and change this opinion of whoever has it. “Team/work will crash while I’m away…” nope, it won’t, nobody is really indispensable at work and if you made yourself indispensable that’s a self made trap. Companies deal with maternity leaves and must keep a buffer for such cases. Chances are that you are indispensable for your family though!
4. Think about what activities will be the best use of this time for your kids and family. Think of exposing your kids to as many things as you can.Things that you believe your kids could enjoy. It is your opportunity to navigate them away from routine and that variety will stimulate a lot of useful experiences. Things that otherwise would be hard to be exposed to due to time/attention/location constraints. Then define 2-3 things you want to achieve for your kids by the end of this leave – try to define these objectives with your kids. Mines were: 1. Expose Nathalie to STEM related concepts. 2. Connect and spend quality time with extended family.
3. Build a long lasting good quality relationship bond with Nathalie.
5. Finances – put some money aside as early as you can – you are likely to spend more. If you’ll travel maybe you can think of renting out your place on short term market etc. Fortunately Luxembourg government has been forward thinking and created a good parental leave policy with adequate allowances that can comfortably cover for an average housing mortgage or rent and usual expenses (i don’t think many countries have anything like that).
6. Expect to learn new things about yourself, your spouse, your kids, your environment. If you’ve been working continuously for the last 10-20 years and suddenly stopped for 6 months, chances are that you will discover that live looks and feels different to what you thought it is. For example you wouldn’t know how empty a theme-park is on a Tuesday afternoon. You may also feel the shock of sudden change just like any other change so take it easy and allow yourself time to adapt to no routine. It took me 6 weeks until the point where i got rid of that intense corporate life momentum. Beginning was a bit bumpy for me. No back to back meetings so take it easy!? Easier said than done!
7. Kids – keep you busy, the beauty is that kids can absorb all the attention time you will give. Reality is that you will need YOU time as well so agree terms with your partner and find an activity that charges you back.
8. Venture out, do random things, get carried away with what kids lead on it can be loads of fun and adventure.
9. Coming back to work can feel like another shock. I was actually looking forward to get back to work after 4-5 months. However it was a shock to my kids – another big change for them and for me. I guess i didn’t prepare well enough for this change. This shift made me realize how little time a working family can allocate to kids, and how little you can do in few tired hours left after work. That’s about 20% of the time awake max. A sad but true fact. Realizing this makes me feel so grateful that i could take 6 months off and be 100% – ok maybe realistically 80% there.
10. If it took me 6 months to loose corporate momentum, it took me a week or two to gain it back. First week or so people were saying that i look very different, my face was looking super relaxed, apparently i had the zen face – a rare encounter in the office, not for long though…