It’s not just mums who choose to stay at home with the children. There are plenty of hands-on and stay-at-home dads out there who also embrace the incredible joy (and chaos) of being their children’s primary carer.

However, although there is an active conversation about the need for longer maternity leave in the UAE and across the world, paternity leave and the need for fathers to have more time to bond with their babies is far less talked about.

And yet paternity leave can have lasting benefits, not only for father-child bonding, but for mothers and for the parents’ relationship. Children whose fathers took paternity leave have reported feeling closer to their fathers than those whose fathers did not take paternity leave; even short periods of paternity leave have been associated with greater marital stability and reduced risk of divorce; while Swedish research shows that flexible leave for fathers has a dramatically positive effect on maternal physical and mental health.

The lack of awareness around the benefits of paternity leave is something that should change, says Dubai-based father Dan Demilew, who has taken a year off work to be fulltime dad to his 17-week-old daughter Elena and to support his wife Clara’s career (while he also studies part-time for an MBA).

Here, he shares his thoughts on parental leave and advice for other parents on how to divide the childcare responsibilities…

Dan and Elena

“Given that the economy relies on quality parenting to raise the next generation of leaders, consumers, staff and taxpayers, I think it would be beneficial to invest more in quality parenting by providing better allowances for parental leave and also making them non-gender specific – meaning a flexible leave allowance that can be shared between parents. This would give parents the ability to do the best for their kids and society and the economy would be better for it.

 “The company I was working for here was offering two weeks of paternity leave, although the same company in Australia offers six weeks. But in our experience as first-time parents, it took three weeks for Clara and Elena to master the basics – and that was with support from two grandmas and me. So, perhaps three weeks would be the minimum starting point for paternity leave in my opinion. Although I think it should be closer to two months to cater for all family circumstances.

 “That being said, every family unit is different and so what might work for one family may not for another as we all have different tolerances, dynamics and (most importantly) support. Some parents have extended family, nannies or domestic help to call on. Others are single parents on low income. Some children require extra attention, others are more self-sufficient. There is no one size fits all.

“To soon-to-be parents, I would say to spend time understanding how you function as a couple and the constraints and opportunities provided by your environment. For example, do you share duties 50:50, or do you have a division of labour based on who’s best at what?

“Where do you want to be in two years, in five years and in ten years – geographically, career wise, as a person and as a couple? Then design your logistics and paternity/maternity leave division to suit.

“We are a good example of this approach. Clara and I initially planned that she would have one year of maternity leave and I would have two weeks paternity leave. This was because I was the main earner and our visas were conditional on my employment. Also, her skillset was better suited to raising our child.

“But then Clara was offered a significant promotion so, we re-evaluated and made a late decision for her to cut her leave to three months' fulltime leave and three months part-time leave and for me to quit work for a year to be Elena’s primary carer, while studying part-time for an MBA.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to spend so much time with my daughter so early on. I know most dads don’t have that opportunity. My dad did for a short period when mum was working nights and he treasures that time. Now I really know what he means.”

Pregnancy, birth and the newborn period from Dan’s point of view:

The biggest surprise about pregnancy was…

“How relatively easy it was. The literature had me prepared for vomit, binge eating, insanity and general turmoil, but Clara didn’t have morning sickness and only had mild adverse symptoms and lots of good ones.”

If we did it again, we would…

“Seek out a home birthing option, or at least a midwifery-led birth. In our experience, Dubai is very doctor-led and the doctors don’t seem as comfortable with natural births as midwives.”

One of the biggest surprises about labour was

“My wife Clara’s endurance. Even when she and I both thought she’d quit, she’d find a second, third and then a fourth wind. Prior to the birth, her biggest fear was her pain tolerance. She overcame that fear in spades.”

On breastfeeding…

“I didn’t realise before how important it is to focus on breastfeeding technique and how damaging the consequences are if you don’t get it right first time. I would say to soon-to-be parents to get a lactation consultant on site on
day zero.”

What I didn’t expect…

“The first 24 hours after birth are magical. Everyone is on a high and your baby is the cutest thing in the world.”

Be prepared…

“The Evidence Based Birth website was a regular go-to. It felt like the most objective and credible internet source. We also benefitted immensely from Love Parenting UAE’s hypnobirthing course, not only for the hypno material, but also for the extensive antenatal content, which I believe contributed significantly to our positive birth experience.

“If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to build a mult-perspective team of advice sources from diverse, credible backgrounds. If they all agree, then your decision is easy. But if they don’t, at least you get a balanced and informed view. Also, it talk to your sources verbally as opposed to over email as you learn more.”

The hardest thing about being a dad is…

“The extra time it takes to settle Elena because of a lack of breasts.”

The best thing about being a dad is…

“Moments when it’s all going smoothly, you feel content as a family and you give each other knowing glances to recognise this as a positive family memory.

The moment when it hit me was…

“Night zero. Elena didn’t stop crying all night and I remember thinking, ‘this just got real’.”

Our favourite place to hang out with Elena is…

“Our bed in the mornings. We’re together as a family. She loves it and so do we.

Parenthood in three words:

“Demanding but fulfilling”

Read more:

What pregnancy and birth is like from a Dad’s point of view

New Dad Blues: Why male postnatal depression is on the rise

UAE stay-home dad: Caring for a child is its own job