Having your first kid is an overwhelming experience. I don’t care who you are. You can prep all you want and still be blindsided by different parts of parenthood. For me, it was the sleep. At least at first. The biggest surprise was when we found out we were expecting baby #2 so quickly. Two kids under two was not in the playbook for my wife and I...who, by the way, were both only children.
I went back to work just a few days after our first child was born. The initial newborn sleep deprivation surprise was real. Between taking a short leave (less than two full weeks) and getting about three hours of sleep a night, I was a shell of myself for about three months. I’m sure my coworkers had to extend extra patience and grace my direction since I likely wasn’t playing with a full deck that whole time.
I mentally braced myself for a repeat going into baby #2 when the luckiest bit of timing happened: North Highland announced an extended six week fully paid paternity leave policy. I messaged my wife as soon as I found out and I think she was more excited than I was. This was going to make the transition from one to two kids considerably smoother. How did it help?
More Help at Home
The leave wasn’t just a benefit for this one employee. It was a benefit for the other three people living on our home. Being able to be home longer with my wife helped ease the transition on her. Our second kid ended up being very colicky and had to be held and bounced considerably more than our first. The ability to be at the house and tag in and out with my wife on rocking the baby while the other took a catch-up nap made the new demands easier.
More Time to Recover
I mentioned earlier how I was a shell of myself for that “fourth trimester” with our first kid. The extended time off gave me more time to squeeze in naps during that first month of erratic sleep. I’ve been able to have my body adjust to my new sleep cycle and feel like a relatively normal person before going back to work. While I’ve been away for a longer period of time, I’ll come back a much more productive teammate than had I only been gone a week or two.
Most Importantly, Additional Family Time
A newborn presents their own set of challenges all by themselves. Throw in a 21-month-old toddler and things become exponentially harder. Not only were my wife and I getting accustomed to our new addition, our toddler was adjusting to not being the center of attention. The time at home gave me the ability to give her more 1:1 time, help getting her used to her new role as a big sister, and the additional rest necessary to navigate the uptick in toddler temper tantrums (which are very real).
The extra time at home also gave my wife and I more time. We kept our oldest in daycare and used the middle of the day to go on short excursions with our infant. They were short outings to local coffee shops in our neighborhood but getting out of our house helped us keep our sanity. It gave us time to talk to each other and not be totally underwater just keeping our two kids alive.
I went over a month without ever opening my inbox - the longest time in ten years I have unplugged from work. It wasn’t a vacation by any means but being able to disconnect a bit helped me put my full attention at home. In addition, having coworkers that were willing to pitch in, help out and give us the space to invest in the family was a huge blessing.
Extended paternity leaves are a growing industry trend but still very much the minority. I’m incredibly grateful that North Highland stayed ahead of the curve here. I’m sure my family is as well.