For me, bonding with Tom was immediate. The first hour of his life was spent poking at one another on a hospital bed in a hallway outside the overcrowded delivery room we had all just been evicted from. That was three months back, and since then the bond continues to grow, thanks mostly to adidas allowing me to be at home and not forcing me to make a choice between parenting and career.
Before Tom arrived, my wife Maria and I sat down to discuss what would happen when two becomes three. We agreed that even though childbirth had earned Maria a clear role at home, she was also at a critical point in her career and I wanted to enable her to choose between taking time out and continuing her role in the workplace.
This is not the norm, even in fairly progressive Germany where only one in three fathers decides to take parental leave, with over three quarters only taking the ‘minimum’ two months. I am one of very few men in adidas to take parental leave for a ‘longer’ period (in my case nine months).
Nursery lessons to take to the office
Before Tom, I had never changed a nappy, held a feeding bottle or dressed a wriggling baby. To me, raising a son is a brave new world. Maria read all the books (I looked at some of the pictures and a handful of YouTube videos). We had attended a half-day baby care class where we sat around on our knees with a bunch of other newly expecting parents, but besides this, I really wasn’t prepared.
I know Maria is a great mother and I hope she sees me as a great father. However, parental leave has done and will do more than just develop our parenting skills. It has taught us the value of collaboration, be it via sharpening communication skills in tense 2am debates about who shall be the first to try and break Tom’s ‘I won’t sleep now’ routine, or when negotiating how best to temporarily cover my role (thanks Catherine Blond and Steffi Kuhm).
Taking care of a baby is actually harder than I thought, especially because it doesn’t stop at 5pm. However, it does build confidence. Caring for a newborn is wonderful, awful, exhilarating, depressing and inspirational, but it is an experience that helps you become a stronger parent and a team mate. Skills I’ve gained through my parental leave are equally transferable to my people management responsibilities, making me feel more confident, efficient and creative.
Raising a baby is another experience that allows me to hone my existing skills and build confidence in my ability to adapt, be flexible, and meet new challenges.
Am I worried about returning?
Well, reactions to my decision about parental leave have been positive so far, but I have also heard gossip about me retiring or resigning from my position. I guess in some ways I am a guinea pig, but I’m really hopeful that a gradual change in attitudes towards parental leave will give more men at adidas and other companies the confidence to take it without fearing negative consequences.
I would like to think beyond just legal protection and towards pushing the beneficial elements of taking parental leave. My decision has and will continue to fundamentally reshape me as a people manager, parent and spouse, and I believe it will contribute to the strengthening and resiliency of both my career and family.
Rather it should be seen for what it is – a development path for men and a necessary element enabling promotion of women into senior leadership roles who, without their men taking parental leave, may be forced to choose between parenting and career.
Tips for fathers on approaching parental leave with managers and teams:
- Sell parental leave for what it is, a chance to broaden your skills and to exhibit confidence, collaboration and creativity.
- Communicate early and regularly both upwards to your manager and downwards to your colleagues, especially if you have a team.
- Get active support from your HR partner and the Works Council. They are there to help you.
- Plan your temporary replacement well to ensure that your role is properly covered during your absence.