We have made some noteworthy progress as a country with regards to paternity leave. South Africa enacted a new law in November 2018. 7 more days were added for working dads.
Now, dads can take up to 10 days of paternity leave. According to Sonke Gender Justice, paternity leave is an important part of every father’s journey. It creates an opportunity for fathers to bond with their children. Not only does this create a stronger bond between the father and infant, but it also leads to “long term involvement in care”.
The caring part is very important for this conversation.
Infants are a full-time job. Newborn children are humans that still need to be studied and figured out. This process alone requires an investment of time and energy. The social stigma that exists in the parenting circles makes some dads perceive paternity leave as a non-option. They do not need to take it because parenting is the woman’s job.
Fights, resentment and constant misunderstandings between the new parents.
Imagine your partner coming back home to find the house dirty, you are dirty, and no food is ready and he asks “but you have been home the whole day, what have you been doing?”
Life with a newborn is characterized by sleeplessness, crying for no reason, confusion, hunger, and dirt. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. And if the father chooses to not take paternity leave, it is a one-man rollercoaster. This means that women are expected to figure things out on their own.
So why do some dads choose not to take paternity leave?
Some men feel like they cannot contribute in any significant way, especially if the parents have chosen to breastfeed. We usually say that men have useless nipples, and this kind of narrative alone makes men feel like they don’t have to be at home for those few days/weeks.
Unfortunately, some cultures still perpetuate the social stigma that exists regarding parenting. As a black mother myself, we are encouraged to go to our mothers or in-laws for the first three months of our post-partum phase. This is to assist the mom to heal properly and have the guidance of an elderly woman. But she goes away without her partner. He is left alone in their home and nothing changes for them. They can visit now and again, but they are never really part of the first three months of their baby’s life.
So it is a catch 22. On the one hand, you need all the help you can get. On the other hand, you want your partner to be as involved as possible. Their absence from those pivotal first few days and months makes it easy for them to ask for other children when they feel like the current one is too big. They live in a bubble where they are exempt from the challenges of the first three months.
The first three months of a child’s life is do or die. This is the time parents are trying to adjust to having a new person in their lives, and are trying their best not to screw it up. The first baby milestones are coming soon, and this gives any parent anxiety.
The only thing that matters during this period is your new child. Not your hygiene, your sanity, your need for nutrition or your sleep (although sleep would be nice). The first three months are chaos and mayhem.
When you don’t tackle this mayhem with your partner, mayhem never exists in their world. When you tell them you have not slept for 20 hours, they will ask you why you don’t sleep when the baby does. When you try and explain that you could not bath cause the baby refuses to sleep on their bed, they will tell you that you are spoiling the baby.
This is why open communication is so important in relationships, especially when we are about to bring a life into the world. It is important to have an open and honest conversation about what the other partner expects from the other.
Taking paternity leave is more beneficial than other men (and women) may think. So have the difficult conversations before the baby comes and discuss why it is important to take the maximum days that are being offered.
Karabo Motsiri is a first-time mom, over-sharer, lover of life, chronic napper and married to her best friend. She loves a good party because the dance floor is her happy place. She enjoys good food, good conversations, laughs a little too hard, and cries during every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. She started her blogging journey because she wanted to share all the ups and downs of being a young modern mama in South Africa. Her blog Black Mom Chronicles has been featured on Ayana Magazine & SA Mom Blog. She has enjoyed airtime on Power FM and frequently writes for the parenting section of Saturday Citizen. She also works with MamaMagic on their Product Awards, Milestones Magazine, Heart to Heart blog, and the Baby Expo, which is South Africa’s biggest parenting expo.