This week I stepped down as El Capitan and my co-pilot stepped right up. His chest may be missing mammaries, but he’s got a clean license, broad shoulders and the constitution of an ox. He’s been waiting in the wings for some months now and he’s ready. Daddy Day Care is open for business.
When I was pregnant I knew I wouldn’t be taking my full maternity leave from work in order for Saint Luke to take time out with our impending offspring. It made total sense to us then, and even more now Freddie is actually here. It still surprises me exactly how surprised people are by this arrangement, it’s almost as though they don’t realise Luke had any part in creating our son and heir. Shared Parental Leave isn’t some sort of kooky alternative dreamed up by madcap employees who have a Zen Den and free Vegan lunches. Since April 2015, SPL has been an option at all companies because Nick Clegg made it so; so why should Luke’s leave be at all surprising? Perhaps it’s because only 1% of new daddies have taken up the opportunity, and I’ve been trying to work out why…
Maybe it’s because a lot of mums don’t want to give up any of their Maternity Leave, because it’s a bit like giving away your last Rolo – really really hard? Perhaps it’s because dad earns more money than mum or doesn’t know the words to Bah Bah Black Sheep? Or maybe it’s because men are so used to being told that they’re just not as good as women at parenting, and now they’re not as keen to try?
In a café last week, a lady who had been cooing over Freddie (as he attempted to eat his fist), remarked that I must have Luke ‘well trained’ when he sniffed a poo and quickly carted our bundle off for a costume change. Well trained? I don’t think so. If he was well trained he’d be a Michelin starred Chef, a master masseur, or a dog. And I’ve lost count of the times people have marvelled at how ‘hands on’ Saint Luke is. Of course he’s hands on, his hands are very clearly attached to his wrists thank you very much, he’s not Captain Hook. Luke doesn’t want to be trained by me or receive patronising pats on his back from admiring strangers (unless that stranger happens to be Emma Stone.) The fact is, we’re both piloting this parenting plane, trying to be the best we can be and doing almost anything we can to get a giggle from Fred. Of course there are things that I can do better, like breastfeeding and Luke’s better with explosive nappies (due to the strong constitution I mentioned earlier). Luke likes to carry Freddie like a rugby ball and fling him up over his head, whereas I prefer to count his creases and snuggle him in bed. Freddie thinks his daddy is hil.ar.i.ous but I’ll never forget his coat. You see the three of us are in this together; there’s no i in Team, and no gender specification in Parenting. Surely this isn’t revolutionary in 2017?!
But on Luke’s parental leave, every day he will be faced with a societal leaning towards women taking the parenting helm, from the Mother and Baby icons in the Sainsbury’s parking bays to the Mum & Me massage oil at home. And I wonder what awkward conversations he’ll be faced with in ladies loos because that’s where the majority of nappy changing facilities are? Despite daily messaging that reinforces Stepford-like stereotypes, Saint Luke is man enough to man-up in a ladies loo and do what he’s got to do.
I’m not judging people who have chosen to stick to more traditional roles if that’s what works for you (there’s a lot to be said for tradition, like booze for breakfast on Christmas morning). I’m suggesting that we should all start this journey on a level flight path, whether you are a man and a woman parenting, or two women, or two women and a man (you kinky buggers). We are all parents, and should stop feeding the myth that men are inferior to women in the rearing department, or that mum’s owe a debt of gratitude to dad’s who dare to do.
So although I can’t fathom why only 1% of men have opted to take Shared Parental Leave, I do know that Saint Luke is the best co-pilot I could possibly hope for. I’m not especially grateful because he’s a man, I’m grateful because he’s mine. And when I skip into a job that I love, I have the warmest feeling inside knowing what a precious time my boys are having together – I know this because I’ve been lucky enough to do it too.
Lady bays in Sainsbury’s