Thoughts after three month paternity leave ending

I recently returned to work after three months of paternity leave. Since I am living in Japan, I got lots of surprised looks when I mentioned having so long one.

In Japan less than 5% of males take paternity leave. Some get congratulatory leave of one week by the company, and go back working 60-80 hours a week. However, in reality Japan has quite supportive system by country, that allows both mother and father take up to 1 year leave with supported pay (capping around 300k JPY). It’s just usually not socially acceptable to take over 1 week holidays.

I want to share some personal experiences from paternity leave that started quite suddenly with almost zero knowledge and big expectations.

Why take it?

I believe even 1 month leave is extremely good idea, especially when the first child is born. I had almost zero experience with babies, so it gave a lot of perspective. Another reason is to get attached to it and realize that the baby is really real.

The first week after the baby was born, things were quite chaotic. At first I didn’t know how to hold the baby. I didn’t know what to do when he cries, how to make him sleep, or if it’s ok to leave the baby to cry for a minute or two, for example when you’re cooking.

I quickly read some books of the topic and asked friends what is ok and not. Turns out people have various opinions about these things, and most books and people avoid giving straight out ways to do things. But even shared experiences, tips and recommendations were valuable.

Generally babies are stronger than you would think, and get more resilient towards small things quickly.

At first even the slightest mistake could wake him up, but now 3 months later you don’t need to pay so much care about how you lower the baby from your arms, and he still stays asleep.

During the first month, there will be many small and big changes, changing from always crying to sometimes smiling. Seeing those closely was wonderful.

The baby, now being over 3 months old, keeps developing fast. He likes more attention and play. He’s also already holding his head up. It’ll be exciting to see what’s next.

What I learned

  • Don’t expect long periods of time for focusing (I did)
  • Babies cry a lot (I thought ours wouldn’t)
  • Expect to wake up at least 2-3 times during a night!
  • Mom has a magical tool to quiet the baby. Dads have just same what everyone else.
  • Human contact is very important for babies, for example
    • Holding the baby in your arms calms him/her down
    • Sitting next to the baby, just seeing your face, can calm him/her down
    • Baby likes to fell asleep right after feeding, in warm and familiar environment
    • Sleeping next to the baby can relate for the baby sleeping longer
    • When people are talking in the room, baby seems to feel comfortable
  • Babies are cute, and especially so after starting to smile
  • The dreaded diaper changing is not that bad
  • There are many applications (birth certificate, name, child support money, nursery) that are good to be taken care promptly

What I was able to do

  • I cooked a lot, experimented with various foods, organized kitchen tools, learned to sharpen knives
  • I carried water, food and warm clothes for the my wife when she was feeding the baby
  • Experimented with ways to make the baby sleep
  • Fixed couple of things at home, threw away stuff to make room for the baby stuff
  • I went to gym 3 times a week, lost about 3-4kg
  • Read and listened about 10 books, from tech, biographies and business, to cooking and babies/childraising
  • Launched a open source visualization library, though still very much work in progress
  • Played with technologies such as PostgreSQL, vue.js, graphql, ansible, d3, flask, tensorflow
  • Worked on a project that probably will get released someday
  • Studied a thing or two about cryptocurrencies
  • Got Japanese driver’s license (might come handy with the child someday)

Conclusion

I think spending the first weeks closely with the baby gives a good idea what to expect and what is coming.

It’s definitely not easy task at all for the mom to take care of the baby full-time. Going to office to work in some average job is probably much, much easier. Being there for the support is an excellent reason to take some time off.

I’m very glad I took the paternity leave, but at the same time also can’t help wondering if it would have been better to take it bit later, when the child can move around, and it’s more difficult to leave him alone…

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