James Mor­ri­son: 'So much changes ev­ery day'

The Guardian Australia - - News - James Mor­ri­son. Pho­tos by Kelly Barnes

Where I work, we are given an un­usu­ally gen­er­ous amount of time off for pa­ter­nity leave. Other fathers we know would usu­ally take two or four weeks off, and that’s all they’ve been able to take. But that seems like al­most no time be­fore you have to be back at work and not be with your child again. I mean even three months went by in no time. I felt bad about go­ing back. So much changes ev­ery day. Once you go back, you feel like you’re miss­ing out.

Peo­ple thought it was a good idea that I be­came the full-time carer. I think some of the peo­ple we know wish they’d been able to do it. One cou­ple we know did the same thing when they saw how well it worked, so that one or the other could al­ways stay home with their daugh­ter as well. We’re both lucky that we’ve been able to find some flex­i­ble part-time work that lets us ar­range it that way.

The ex­pec­ta­tion seems to be that once you’ve had a few months off, then you have to put the child into child­care, which we didn’t want to do. We would have to work ex­tra hard to earn the money to have some­one else be un­der­paid to look af­ter our child, and then we would miss out on the time with our child. It just seemed that no one ben­e­fited from that. In my work, as long as I do three days a week, no­body minds which days they are, so it was OK for me to shuf­fle things around as it suited. For my wife it’s sim­i­lar.

I work for a com­mu­nity NGO with gen­er­ous parental leave. It’s not a clas­sic busi­ness-ori­ented en­vi­ron­ment where it’s all about profit, so they’re able to be a bit more flex­i­ble about how their staff do things. I’m not sure how flex­i­ble a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment would ever be about that. I mean the sto­ries you hear about women – just the fact of hav­ing chil­dren at all seems enough to de­rail their ca­reers.

If you’re with your child dur­ing the week, and you’re a dad, peo­ple look sur­prised to see you. When I take her out to do things, it’ll be very rare that there’ll be an­other fa­ther there. There’s not the flex­i­bil­ity for the other dads to take the time off dur­ing the week. And it’s ac­cepted for women, but not so much for men.

We’ve been very for­tu­nate. The cir­cum­stances all came right, with work, and that we were able to fi­nan­cially keep things go­ing, even when work­ing part-time. It just worked out well.

Rais­ing kids re­ally is more than one per­son’s job. I think if the two of you are do­ing it, when you’re a team do­ing it, ev­ery­thing just gets a lot eas­ier. You don’t have one per­son com­ing home at the end of the day, and the other per­son say­ing, “you don’t know what I’ve been through, I’m ex­hausted, take over!”, and the other per­son who’s been at work all day says, “no, I’ve been at work, I can’t do it”. You both have the same ex­pe­ri­ences, and it’s just a lot eas­ier to deal with ev­ery­thing, be­cause you’re not com­ing from two dif­fer­ent worlds. And I think that ben­e­fits the child as well. For quite a lot of peo­ple it is prob­a­bly quite a fric­tional in­ter­sec­tion at the end of the day. Be­cause we’ve been able to avoid that, it has strength­ened our re­la­tion­ship.

There should be more op­por­tu­ni­ties to take pa­ter­nity leave. For both par­ents to have as much time as they can at home, when the kids are very young, I think is re­ally im­por­tant.

I met a truck driver at these classes you take just be­fore your child is born, and he was only able to take two days be­fore he had to go back to work af­ter his son was born. It makes things re­ally dif­fi­cult.

I think as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble need to be given this op­por­tu­nity. The more peo­ple do­ing it, the bet­ter.

As told to Svet­lana Stankovic. Pho­tos by Kelly Barnes.

Pho­to­graph: Kelly Barnes for the Guardian

James Mor­ri­son with his daugh­ter Ella at their home in Rostrevor, Ade­laide.

Pho­to­graph: Kelly Barnes for the Guardian

Mor­ri­son at home with his daugh­ter.

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