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When people hear that I am on paternity leave they usually smile and say: “How old is your child?”

When I reply “Five years old, three years old and 5 months old”, people often let out a nervous laugh in the beginning of my answer that lasts until I come to the part of “5 months old.”

It’s like people get confused around the idea of a father being on paternity leave with a three or five year old, as if I somehow must have missed the memo about how paternity leave should happen when the child is born.

I see it in the opposite way: I do not think paternity leave should happen after the birth of the child.

Just after giving birth the woman who just became a mother needs the man who just became a father to be there to help, support and assist the woman who just went though a tough physical trauma. At that moment it’s not primarily about taking care of the child, but about taking care of the mother – and the child.

It is of course important to be home with the child when it is born – but I do not call that “paternity leave” – I call that “supporting the mother leave.”

Instead I think it makes much more sense to be on paternity leave when the children are a little bit older.

For my newborn there really is not too much that I as a father can do. With the 3 and 5 year old on the other hand the bonding we are doing is amazing (regardless if it is taking a detour while walking to Kindergarten, going for a swim, learning how to bake or making up stories about small, angry purple dragons.)

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I therefore find it unfortunate that governments tend to restrict paternity leave to when the child is just born, or when it is very young.

In Singapore for example the rule is: “Paternity leave can be taken as a 2-week block within 16 weeks after the birth of the child by default, or flexibly within 12 months after the birth of the child if there is mutual agreement between the employer and employee.”

In Sweden, my native country, a country in the forefront of paternity laws the rules are different: There parents can take out their parental leave anytime from the day of the birth until the child is 8 years old (!)

Should fathers stay home with their family when their child is born?

Absolutely.

But the true magic of parenthood happens when a child is a little bit older and when you as a father can bond on a totally different level. A deeper level.

If in any way possible, save some of your paternity leave for when the child is older.

Do not let the magic of “having a baby” stop you from using your paternity leave to “have a child”.

Fredrik Haren

A blog about the magic of fatherhood and paternity leave. Written by Fredrik Haren, professional speaker and author who is now on semi-paternity leave with his three children.

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