I am currently on maternity leave with my first child. Before I had the baby I agreed to split my maternity leave with my partner 50:50; I planned to take the first six months with him taking the last six. I am four months in and finally starting to enjoy my maternity leave; I feel like I’m getting to know my baby more each day. The first few months were tough and breastfeeding wasn’t easy. My partner took a considerable amount of time off upfront, which really helped as he picked up the household stuff while I focused on the baby. Now my maternity leave is coming to an end and I really don’t feel ready to go back to work.
However, my partner is upset about the possibility of shortening or completely foregoing shared parental leave. He said he would be resentful if I took this time away from him. But I will feel resentful about going back so soon when everyone around me is still off with their little ones.
We get paid around the same so that’s not a factor but I’m not sure what to do. Do I extend my leave so I get to spend some of the good times with my little one? This would risk my partner not being able to forgive me for taking the time away from him. Or do I stick to the original agreement and suck up the fact that I will have to go back eventually?
My child is breastfed and I do all of the night shifts. She will take a bottle but can be a bit hit or miss with it, especially if she’s tired. Money wise I’d be happy to dip in to savings but my partner does not think this is wise. I’ve offered a middle ground of extending by a few months and him taking the rest but he doesn’t want to do this.
This is, unfortunately, part of the problem of making a decision on a theoretical, rather than actual basis. Neither you nor your partner could really imagine how you’d feel once the baby was born; things that made perfect sense – contractual even – on paper are now not so easy to put into practice.
Now the baby is here you are dealing with how you actually feel. But as the specialist I consulted this week, child and adolescent psychotherapist Graham Music, said what’s really missing from all of this are “the needs of the baby”. Her needs should be your focus.
The reality is that you will no doubt find the separation from your baby and the return to work hard, whenever that happens, and I have a lot of sympathy for you. But you will also probably enjoy being back at work more than you can now imagine. Conversely, your partner may find being a full-time parent different from how he envisages it. If you are the one working you also need to renegotiate the night-time feeds: it is very hard to do this and work effectively. Given your baby is breastfed, that also needs to be taken into account. A board certified lactation consultant can help advise on your baby’s feeding.
Music felt there was something “very competitive in your relationship with your partner”. We wondered what had “erupted”, as Music put it, postpartum, and what else is being played out here with your baby as currency. It seems very polarised: it’s you and the baby or your partner and the baby, but in fact what you need to do now, is learn how to be a three, a family, and work together.
Music felt you could both do with some time away from the baby (it needn’t be long, just a few hours) to talk this through, because “if you can become a more loving couple there may be a [more] loving compromise”. This should be less about resenting what you’re “taking away” from each other and more about how you can support each other to do the best for your child.
So sit down, maybe with a third person, and talk about your baby’s needs first and foremost, how they can best be achieved, then your needs and fears and try to find a middle ground, which may not necessarily be what was agreed months ago. Being an effective parent is about being endlessly flexible because things change. They may change again in another six months, or sooner. Your baby needs to be brought up in a loving, collaborative environment and not one where she is part of a timeshare deal. After all, when you are both back at work you are going to have to work out how to co-parent together, so you may as well start now.
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