As a guy who loves to work (seriously, I am one of those people who absolutely loves working), it was not an easy decision to come to terms with staying at home with the little guy. We knew that my wife was going to work, but to me, there was always an option of possibly working while we have someone take care of the baby, if the right circumstances presented themselves.
I work for an international company not based in Sweden, and when I told them I was taking time away for parental leave, and that this would be bringing me with the baby to my wife in Hong Kong, they were immediately supportive. This says a lot about my direct superiors – after all, outside of the relatively few countries (like Sweden, Norway, and Austria for example), there is not the normalized social support structure in place for parents to stay home with their babies for longer than 6-12 weeks. Anyway, there was awesome support and then a few days later, some opportunities opened up if I wanted to work in Asia instead of staying at home with my child full time.
I received an offer from the regional branch of the company that would have had me working in Hong Kong doing some very exciting things with them. The way the company is structured means every country is seen as it’s own separate “company” within the structure of the larger company. This to me would have meant if I took the job, according to the Swedish labor law, I would not be guaranteed the rights to my job in Sweden once our time in Hong Kong was done. This in the end became the deciding factor – after all, we do not plan on staying here forever, and when I do go back to work, I want to have what is legally my right: my position, as I left it, in Sweden. My superiors back in Europe understood completely my decision and supported it without question, and reassured me that all would be just fine upon my return, whenever that may be.
Another deciding factor was the idea that we would have had to hire a nanny to watch the little guy. My wife and I would both be working a lot, and that would likely mean not much time spent with him, and very few trips to see family. There are a lot of “helpers” in Hong Kong, who are basically low-paid live-in nannies from all around Asia. These people are under-paid and serve almost as domestic servants to the families who hire them. The person who was talking with me about working in Hong Kong said, “oh, you can get a helper for cheap to take care of your son.” But to me and my wife, it’s not about taking care of my son for cheap. It’s about caring for his development, his growth, his evolution. To stay at home with him is not about me being a babysitter, it’s about me being his teacher, his support, his father.
So, although it was hard for me to not take the job offer to work in Hong Kong, I knew after those discussions that it was the right thing to do to stay on parental leave with my son.
My work, which has been a huge part of my identity in my adult years, is still important to me. But now my work is being a father. And being a father, and a good father, is the most important thing in the world to me. The second is being a good, supportive husband. Those are #1 and #2, and that means my little family is everything for me. I have not had this clear view of my true feelings on all of this until now, and to have that clear vision is a nice feeling.
When I go back to work, it will be very important to me of course, but my family is still at the top of the priority list. There are ways to work hard while keeping your family #1, and I intend to keep that balance.
Just like any “job”, being a stay at home dad has good days and bad, stressful situations, and so on. And just like any job it is rewarding. But the difference between this “job” and the kind we all do in exchange for money, is that this job is 24/7, 7 days a week, all-year-round, and the rewards are endless. In a job where you get paid, maybe you get a bonus, a raise, a promotion. In this job, you get a child who is developing daily, the fulfillment of contributing to the forming of a new contributing member of society who will hopefully do his part to make the world a better place. And those cute baby smiles, baby laughs, and funny moments are the bonus.
I am eternally grateful that I live in Sweden and have had this child in the Swedish system, because we do not have to worry about my pay during this time while I am on parental leave (you are paid a salary for 480 days of leave, and can distribute those days as you wish for up to 8 years). For those in other countries (like the USA), there is a different cultural attitude about staying at home with your child, and until I moved to Sweden I simply did not understand why the system there was as it is. But in places in the USA, you can still make your child #1 – you don’t have to be a stay at home dad to do that. Here are some ways my wife is staying involved while she is working full-time. There are many others but it seems like it helps her and the little guy stay connected emotionally and developmentally:
- Prioritize your mornings and your evenings to spend with the baby
- Be the “primary handler” of the baby on the weekends or other times when you are not working
- Read to your baby (super super super important for a billion reasons)
- Play with your baby – mothers and fathers play differently with babies, and there are valid reasons why each type of play is important
And for me, here were a few “outlook-related” elements to consider:
- Make a decision to connect to your baby – that might mean disconnecting from some of your other hobbies or things you follow
- Enjoy it. Parenting is not a drag, it’s not a “duty”, it’s a fun thing to do. Laugh at the hard times and funny times, keep it light, and let it be fun.
- Make decisions as a “we” – not just you and your wife, but you, your wife, and your child.
I am sure that there will be times in the year ahead where I do miss work and that I really long for that different type of stimulation. I will cross that bridge when I get there, and try to prevent that by being “all-in” to being home with him. So basically, I’m using this time for the baby’s development, learning about him, and enabling him to learn about me as well. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll also learn a bit about myself, too.