Tips for making the most of your parental leave
4. Don’t do it alone.
Find other mums and dads to learn from and journey with you. We were very fortunate that we had lots of friends all falling pregnant with either their first or second child around the same time we became pregnant with our first. This meant we had plenty of people we could call on for advice, organise play dates with and ultimately learn from and journey with through this new phase of life. We were able to collectively navigate through all the challenging stages together, learning from each other from things like settling techniques for babies that wouldn’t sleep, to learning about helpful features when searching for the right pram. We even had a facebook group set up to ask questions, organise events and play dates and even sharing interesting articles relating to babies and parenting for all to read and comment on. This certainly helped us to realise that we were not in this alone and break the isolation that can easily occur during this time. Sharing war stories is always fun and we have picked up many great tips along the way.
It is also easy to form bad habits while on parental leave, particularly if you experience a bad run with sleeping, teething or health issues for your child, or even yourself and your partner. During a stressful week, it can be tempting to not leave the house and park your child in front of the tv while you try to get some down time, or even just survive. Being in such a state could be symptomatic of needing other forms of help, in which case you should definitely speak to someone, even your doctor. If you are simply in a rut, remember that this first year is the most important year for your child’s growth and development, and you are currently the primary person responsible for their overall development. They need interaction with others as much as you do.
Many communities will have lots of great activities that you can attend that are designed to help the development of your child develop. Community libraries may host activities designed to introduce babies and toddlers to books, reading and even music. Community halls, centres or churches may have playgroups designed to introduce children to music and other interactions with young kids. If you live near a music or arts school such as a Conservatorium, they may also have classes for babies. Of course they may include a small fee. The advertising of such activities are still usually directed at mothers, and can be somewhat unknown to new dads. However a quick Google should help you find what some good options and can be a great way to help get you and your child out of the house and have a productive impact on your child’s development.
While it often felt easier just to stay indoors while on parental leave, getting outside and seeing the sun has a big impact on your health and mental well being. In fact, staying indoors all day may lead to anxiety and insomnia, and may even throw off your internal rhythms, increasing risk for obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, depression and other diseases. Spending as little as 20 minutes a day outside in green spaces can even have an enhancing effect to your level of physical and mental energy.
Getting out of the house each day also carries with it a sense of accomplishment when a small child is in tow, and is good for their own development. There are also lots of things to do with babies / toddlers that you don’t even realise exist when you don’t have children. Children’s playgrounds and local pools are fantastic as baby becomes more mobile (with heavy supervision of course!). Many malls and shopping centres have children’s play areas, while the simple picnic blanket on some nice green grass can be just as pleasant for a bub. Many public libraries and community centres also run programs for bubs that can be a great form of entertainment while also teaching your bub to interact with music as well as other kids.