by Holly Walker
We have made a big decision in our household this week: Dave has extended his parental leave until after the election.
Our original plan was to have three months’ parental leave each and for Dave to go back to work part time at the end of April, when Esther would be six months old. I was going to juggle things to work from home for one day, and for two days a week Esther was going to be in day care at the Parliamentary childcare centre, Playhouse. But as the time grew closer, we were getting more and more worried about how we would manage it.
As we have both discovered, “working from home” when caring for an infant is basically impossible, especially because we have one who prefers her naps out and about in the buggy thank you very much. Me “working from home” would have really meant me caring for Esther and trying to fit a few hurried work calls in or sign off a press release while out walking after reading it on my phone – not really ideal for anyone.
Playhouse looks fantastic. I got a great vibe from the staff and they have an excellent ERO report. They were open to using cloth nappies and expressed breastmilk and happy for me to visit during the day to breastfeed. I expect Esther will love it if she ends up there when she’s a bit older. But at six months she is still so young that I found it hard to imagine leaving her there from 7.30am – 5.30pm even just for a couple of days a week. A big part of me not feeling guilty during the time I am at work is knowing that she is with her Dad, getting that essential one-on-one time with an adult that she is securely bonded to. So it’s a great relief to know that will continue for a bit longer.
It’s an election year, and the next six months are going to be full on for all of us. I want to be able to give my all to the incredibly important job of changing the government and encouraging kiwis to elect a progressive new one with the Greens at the heart of it. Having Esther has been a huge motivation and given me a renewed sense of urgency to make the kind of good green change we so desperately need.
But I don’t want that to come at a cost to her, and if she’s with Dave for a bit longer, I know it won’t. As my mum said the other day when we shared this news with her, she thinks a family with a young baby can probably absorb about one and a half FTEs of paid work in addition to the full time jobs of caring for a baby and running a house. It just so happens that my job is the whole 1.5, and for now, that’s all we can cope with. We’re just lucky that MPs are generously remunerated so we can afford to make this decision financially.
Parliament and the public are in the middle of a conversation about extending paid parental leave, which I wholeheartedly support. There was an interesting piece on Morning Report on Monday in which an employment lawyer suggested employees were misleading their employers by saying they intended to return to work when they didn’t in order to access paid parental leave. I don’t think that’s true.
When you look at our situation, maybe it was inevitable that one of us was going to choose to care for Esther full time, at least until she is one. But we had to figure that out for ourselves. Until you have a baby, you have no idea what it’s going to be like. Our parental leave arrangements need to reflect that.