A letter to my husband, as he starts five months of paternity leave

Perri Lewis
7 min readJul 31, 2022
A man holding a baby. He has sunglasses on, and a white tshirt. The baby is wearing a camo long sleeved top and pink and white striped joggers.
My husband and daughter hanging out in Walthamstow

JC,

I shouldn’t have been surprised that you would want to share responsibility for the first year of our baby’s life. You took over 95% of the household chores while I wrote a book, then built a business. For many, many years dinner just appeared on the table and the floors stayed clean without me doing anything. I never really resonated with the infamous piece about emotional labour that was published by Harpers’ Bazaar because I felt, if anything, you took on more than me. This should be the norm for everyone, but it’s not.

Yet, I was still a little surprised. I guess because it’s still so, so rare that men take significant time away from their work to raise children — whether because they literally can’t (the gender pay gap is real, as are the hidden barriers for father’s who want to), their partners want to take the whole year, or they simple don’t want to. I am so, so grateful, and proud of you for the decision you’ve made.

I know the last few months haven’t been easy. I’ve watched you fret about the things I’ve seen my pregnant friends sweat too — plus others, unique to dads. How much am I screwing over my team, my boss, my company by taking this time away? Are they secretly hating, laughing and/or judging me? What if the person who takes over from me buggers everything up while I’m gone? Or, what if they do such a great job that everyone secretly hopes I don’t come back? What will this do to my career in the long term?

Know that the blood, sweat and very real tears you’ve had are going to be worth it. You’ve experienced the pre-parental leave jitters — and you will experience the joys, and monotony, of being a stay-at-home-parent. You’ve already told me how you hope this helps you become a better ally to, mainly mothers, who face all this too. It will. You’ll be a better leader to others in your career because of this.

You’re normalising parental leave for fathers too. The young men in your company will know that it’s OK for them to want to take leave to raise their children — as the old adage goes, if you can’t see it, you don’t believe you can become it.

The more of you who make the decision, the better for everyone. The list of improvements to the lives of individuals, and of wider society is very, very long. More equitable division of parental labour affects everything from women’s earning potential to the breakdown of gender norms for who does what, and everything in between. (There’s not room here to go into how having a properly diverse workforce means better designed policies, services, tech etc — but I highly recommend you read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez to see the true impact this can have).

You’re setting us up to be genuinely equal partners in bringing up our little girl over the coming years and beyond. Right now I know Marni better than you, but soon that won’t be the case. You’ll be the one telling me when she likes her milk, gently nudging me towards new behaviours you think are better for her, gently stopping me from doing things that don’t work anymore. I’m nervous, but I also can’t wait. Because I can see how easy it is for the parent who took the majority of time off in the first year to, unintentionally, keep hold of too many of the decisions, responsibilities and chores surrounding children. There is so much you became unconsciously competent at during parental leave that you wouldn’t even realise you needed to delegate it. And because one person has been the primary caregiver for so long, I think it would be a real challenge to become equal caregivers even when both are back at work. I can see how the emotional, and very real household labour, just keeps being shouldered by the person who took that first time off — even if it’s not a deliberate decision by either partner. So thank you, thank you and thank you again. I want a world for Marni where all parents equally take on the responsibilities of bringing up their children, and the far-reaching implications of that I wrote about above.

I did start writing a handover for you. There was detail about naps and feeds and likes and dislikes. But I decided to delete it. Because in reality, Marni will be very different at 7, 9, 12 months than she was at 1, 3, 6. So rather than simply share the practical lessons I’ve taken on, here’s a few things I’ve learnt about being a parent that I hope will help you.

  • Don’t waste too much time tidying and cleaning when she’s awake. One of the best pieces of wisdom I heard from another mother (thanks Sahima) was that she wishes she’d spend less time doing that, and more time simply hugging, kissing and being with her children. You’re a stay-at-home-dad, not our cleaner/gardener/chef. I read a wonderful post on Reddit about the SAHP role being like that of a nanny — sure, they might do some chores while the baby is sleeping, but the focus has to be on the child, not on domestic chores. You’ll never, ever get this time with Marni again, so consider that before you leave her on the playmat to unload the dishwasher.
  • In that vein, “being with” your daughter is the single best thing you can do on your leave. For the proper definition, listen to Raising A Secure Child by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, Bert Powell and Christine M Benton. But essentially it’s about being in the moment with her at all times. Watch and listen to her cues and you’ll figure out what she needs. Sure it might take a bit of practice — I think it took me about 6 weeks to feel like I was thriving rather than just surviving — but you will get there. Practically, that means staying off your phone when you’re with her, and I’ll admit that is tough. You can doomscroll in our evenings together instead, and I promise not to judge you for it.
  • That said, do make time for things that give you energy. The old adage “put your own oxygen mask on before helping others” is very true here. You can’t give her everything if you’ve got nothing in the tank. For me, spending time with people gave me energy — you know I was out meeting people four days every week, using maternity leave as a chance to hang out with interesting people doing interesting things. Make it a priority to figure out what that looks like for you in the first couple of weeks so you have the mojo to keep “being with” her in the remaining 20.
  • Google, parenting books, forums, other parents — they can be both friend and foe. Too little and you’ll make rookie mistakes or miss super-useful stuff. Too much and you’ll get decision fatigue and anxiety from all the stuff you could or should be doing differently. I’d say learn the “rules” (I use the NHS website as my base) — then you can make good decisions on when to break them. I’m so glad I know the fundamentals of good sleep and good feeds, so I know when to follow, and when to ignore them in her best interests.
  • Find your people. This might be your BFFs who are also dads, the one or two friends who are taking parental leave at the same time of you, or new allies from classes. Having those people you can ask for advice and vent to have been a lifesaver to me. I imagine it might be tougher for you, as there’s only the odd one or two guys in the classes I’ve been to, but the effort you put in to discover these people will be worth it.

There’s plenty more I could say, but that’d be getting into too much of the detail. Know that I love you, I trust you, and I can’t wait to see you and Marni grow closer and closer.

One last thing. Forgive me if I find it hard to let go. Since you went back to work on week three of Marni’s life, I’ve focused almost entirely on learning how to look after her. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m really, really good at something. I think I’m a good mum and I think I’ve made some good calls over the last few months. Logically, I know that you need to be her primary caregiver now, and you need to lead on the big decisions, around feeding, sleeping, development and more. Emotionally, I think I’ll struggle passing on that mantle. In the first few weeks, I know I’ll interfere too much, question too much and probably leave you feeling disempowered and frustrated. Please be patient with me as I figure out how to take a step back. I know I’ll get there — I learnt how to do it at Mastered (thanks to this feature on giving away your Legos) — and I promise you I will learn how to do it again with Marni.

Perri x

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Perri Lewis

Co-founder and CEO of Mastered. Ex journalist and editor attempting to fall back in love with writing again.