Earlier in my career, I didn’t realize what a significant and important role paternity leave would play in my family life. I now have three children — two sons aged four and eight, and a daughter who is eleven months old. Being able to take the leave I needed allowed me to bond with my children in a way that will positively impact the years ahead.
It wasn’t always this way when my wife and I were starting our family. When I had my first son, I was working at a seven-person start-up. The company was in the midst of a big launch and my son came early which was a surprise. I found myself on my laptop in the hospital, trying to juggle supporting my wife with my work responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, just one week after my son was born I found myself back online for work. It certainly wasn’t ideal.
With my second son, I took two weeks off out of the six weeks my company provided for paternity leave. While I allowed myself to disconnect slightly longer than I did the first time around, I still didn’t feel like I could fully be present for my family. I was excited about our growing family, but there was a voice in the back of my head reminding me of the projects that were waiting to get done when I returned to work.
There’s that old saying that the third time’s the charm and when it was time for my third child — my daughter — to be born, I think I finally got it right. I took time to really step back and ask myself, “how can I be there for my family while finding a way to balance work and life?”
I was now working on the Engineering Team at LinkedIn and decided to take eight consecutive weeks out of twelve weeks of leave provided — I knew I needed to spend time with my family during this important transition. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally and professionally. It was enough time to establish new routines, while leaving four weeks to spread out across the new baby’s first year.
Like many working parents, I’m still striving to find balance with work and home, but here are the key insights I’ve learned from taking my full paternity leave.
Take the time you need to establish a new routine
Looking back at the choices I’ve made, I’ve realized that ultimately, to thrive as a working parent I have to take the long view with my career. There are short term and long term impacts to our decisions.
For me, the key is creating routines. I’ve never been one to like setting them, and what I love about my job is that each day brings something new and sometimes unexpected. However, routines are critical for my children and my home life. These boundaries allow me to set a positive example as a father for my children — and also as a leader at work as it gives me the opportunity to be a role model for my team.
Going from two to three children, I recognized that taking one to two weeks of paternity leave is not always enough time to understand how our lives are going to shift. It takes time to get into a groove with new routines, so it’s important to take the time needed to establish and understand the new dynamic at home. How much time is needed completely depends on your needs and your family’s. For me, eight weeks was an ideal window. For others, it might take more time or less.
Get clarity on the roles you play at home
There are different roles my wife and I play in our family based on our individual strengths and needs. My role as a father has been to be there for my older children because our youngest child needs her mom the most at this time in her life. For us, it was crucial for the baby to get quality time with her mom during the first weeks and months as she got acclimated to the world.
This bonding time with my two older children was one of the biggest gifts I gave to myself and my family during my third paternity leave. I got to know their individual personalities and quirks that make them who they are. I also have a better understanding of my sons’ needs. For example, my older son needs space to try new things out on his own, with moderate amounts of encouragement from the sidelines. And once he’s figured something out, he really enjoys working with me to show off and improve his new skills. My younger son is the polar opposite; he benefits from active engagement and instruction to learn something new, but once he understands it (or thinks he does), he’s happy to practice independently and is less interested in validation or recognition.
I think that in the long run, spending this quality time with my children has allowed me to be the best father I can be. In many ways I model myself after my own father, who worked hard but was also always present in my life. He was around to cook, take me to school, help me develop my hobbies and interests, and more. I was very aware that he was more engaged than some of my friends’ fathers. I admired him and I wanted to be the same type of father for my children.
Set a clear set of boundaries
Ultimately, to be a successful working parent I realized I need to understand what my hard constraints are and where there is room for flexibility. Routines and limitations will change throughout different phases of life, so they warrant revisiting as kids grow older or jobs change.
With three young children at home, some routines are fixed. For example, our kids need to be at school and picked up by a certain time every day. It’s a constraint that my wife and I have to work within. When it comes to household tasks, my wife and I naturally gravitate towards particular tasks based on our strengths, so we embrace what we’re good at and enjoy doing.
For example, my wife is gifted in the kitchen – she can whip together a Michelin star-worthy feast within minutes with an infant in one arm, so she typically takes care of the cooking. I play to my management skills and pay the bills, hire maintenance support and handle most of the planning with our friends and family. For the tasks that neither of us enjoy doing nor have time to tend to, we share the responsibility.
Time is valuable, and it’s important to be aware of where you’re spending time – the actual minutes spent on the task and the emotional toll it involves. Where we cannot divide and conquer, my wife and I ask for help so it’s possible for us to spend more time with the kids. For example, you could pay a neighbor’s teenager to mow the lawn or hire someone to wash your car. Determining boundaries is a uniquely personal decision that depends on constraints, resources and what’s most important to you — so it’s crucial to be on the same page with your partner.
Outside of daily routines, I take my self-imposed boundaries into account. For my wife and me, we decided that it’s important for us to have dinner together as a family every night – so we’ve committed to holding each other accountable to it. To make it work, I choose to leave work every day at five o’clock. I’m fortunate to work at a company that provides flexible hours. Even still, at first it was challenging as I led a team where much of our productive work was completed later in the day. I learned to prioritize tasks, be more efficient during the day and delegate more effectively. An added bonus is that this allows me to set an example for my team, which may spark them to do the same.
Overall, making a pledge to myself and my family to settle into new routines and spend quality time with my children has made both my personal and professional life more positive. When I was transitioning from being a father of two kids to three, I needed to establish and understand the new dynamic in our house so I could in turn bring my best self to work. I know this allows me to grow in my journey as a husband, father, leader and mentor — and I hope these insights serve as inspiration for you.
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