James Morrison: 'So much changes every day'
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.
James Morrison with his daughter Ella at their home in Rostrevor, Adelaide.
Morrison at home with his daughter.