Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How an extended parental leave changed our lives

When Jon started his parental leave for 6 months we really had no idea what type of journey this would take us on as parents and as a couple. Would we hate sharing the same living space? Would we judge one another as parents? Would the house be a complete mess all of the time? Long story short, men taking parental leave for an extended period of time changes everything.

  1. We've each walked a mile (or two) in each other's shoes
I'm not sure how to emphasize how important this is - we deeply understand each other now. Sure, we've always been aware of the other's daily life but we've never truly gotten it until now - and there is no way to know until you experience it yourself. 

Jon knows firsthand the level of exhaustion that comes from caring for our children all day. With Jon home, I was able to travel more for work, opening my eyes to the long workday, commute and additional "quick" trip to the store only to rush home and walk through the door 2 minutes after the kids fell asleep for the night. I missed our kids terribly and stayed glued to all of the picture updates on our family photostream. I missed all of the funny stories Calvin tells throughout the day and funny faces Lucy makes and returned home to a completely exhausted spouse. Our role reversal enabled us to appreciate all that the other person does on a daily basis and it opened up our communications and understanding of the other's perspective. 
Now when we discuss future living situations, I emphasize the importance of a shorter commute for Jon whereas he emphasizes the need for close proximity to nature and other extra curricular activities for the kids during the day. We both understand the other's daily situation so completely now that we are willing to compromise more than we had before. This paradigm shift is truly priceless for us as a family.
     2. Increased independent parenting
Jon's comfort level with Lucy really increased when he started to get into a routine of taking her to the open preschools (Swedish playgroups) a few times a week. He knew her eating, napping and pooping schedule better than I did and would often give me tips on how to get her down to nap. This was a shock to my system and a welcome relief. No longer was I answering questions about how to dress her, where the diapers were located or what to feed her. He figured it all out in about a week's time. 
This increase in Jon's parental confidence also increased his overall confidence and competency. Pre-parental leave, Jon used to ask me ALL of the questions - "where are my shoes? have you seen my glasses?" know what I'm talking about. One day I heard him rustling in the front entrance, mumbling to himself, "Why am I asking her when I can just look with my own eyes?" - HALLELUJAH! What a moment! My heart leapt with joy! He CAN use his own eyes!?!? I've been waiting for this moment for YEARS. What a breakthrough. If that was all that was to come out of parental leave, it would still be worth it.
     3. We have over-parented our children
In addition to independent parenting, we often divided the childcare by reducing the parent-load in half, with each of us taking one child to give the other a break. However, since each of us always had a child that meant that neither of us really got a break - ever. Jon would take Lucy for a stroller walk while I played with Calvin at the playground. We weren't giving each other any alone time or kid-free time. 
Any stay at home parent knows that you need quiet time for yourself. You just need privacy and quiet for an hour or so. When I found Jon increasingly hiding in the bathroom (my old trick), it dawned on me that we were constantly burdening ourselves by trying not to burden the other with both children simultaneously. I can't lie and say that we didn't occasionally get on each other's nerves - we did - but it's to be expected when you share a physical environment for months in a row. We need to provide each other more alone time and space to stay sane. 
     4.  More once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Our lives aren't filled with many things because we save our money for experiences. With Jon on parental leave and me with a mobile job, we could be anywhere in the world and I could still work from my computer. We took advantage of this and spent every extra penny and ounce of energy we had on a string of once-in-a-lifetime experiences with our friends and family. We squeezed in a marathon of trips to Norway, France, Italy, the US and Poland and have hundreds of pictures to remind us of how lucky we are to have the time together.
backyard camping
Digging at the playground
Not only were we able to create outstanding memories in new places but we also took the time to create adventure at home. Every day we either biked to the beach for a relaxing time digging endless holes or we headed into the forest - foraging for blueberries. Those are some of my favorite memories and proof that you don't have to travel far and wide to create special moments.

Obviously it's the children who are the real winners of an extended parental leave. Though they may not remember all of our various adventures, we will and it has greatly enhanced the enjoyment of our everyday lives. 
Flam, Norway 
Sitting on a dock at Angso National Park, Sweden

Grinda, Sweden
Venice, Italy
Sigtuna, Sweden
Meteor Crater, AZ USA 
Grand Canyon, AZ USA
Lone Rock, UT USA
Zion National Park, UT USA
Osterskars Beach, Sweden
Lyon, France 
Archeological digging at our kitchen table
Austin, TX USA


  1. Lovely essay! Do consider writing a book on this topic. I know your American friends would love it and some of what you have learned is transferable. We, your family, are very proud of you.


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