What's It Like to Be the Only Dad At Mom & Tot Class?

You'll never be able to truly understand the other side until you're living it – and your partner will appreciate you more for it.

I'm not a regular dad. I'm a cool dad. In other words, I'm extremely hands-on, and I don't appreciate the "who's watching the baby?" jokes that people often spew at my wife.

Hello, I'm Nic. My wife, Alyssa, she actually owns this blog. I know, lucky me.

It’s really nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you all. But today, I want to share a personal story with you. A story about the first time I became someone's dad.

Becoming a dad

In spring of 2018, Alyssa and I welcomed our beautiful baby girl into the world. Her original plan was to take a full calendar year of maternity leave, which is one of the benefits of living in Canada.

In a stroke of super-convenience, my full-time position (at the time) was sessional and ended up only having to work about ten days after her birth before having a full two months off.

As time passed during that first year, a combination of factors led to my wife returning to work after ten months of maternity leave. In short, she missed work – and hey, I get it.

Once we made the mutual decision that it was time for her to return to work and for me to have time with our baby girl, I filed for three full months of parental leave.

As I mentioned, my wife and I shared most of the first two months of parenting our newborn (highly recommend), and I was the primary caregiver for months 11 to 13. So, in total – I was there in some capacity for five out of the first 13 months.

What's it like to take on parental leave as a dad?

A study from that same 2018 year of over 1,500 Canadian men showed increased engagement towards parental leave, partners or spouses of Canadian fathers still take eight times more time off than men do.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend like the entire three months as a primary caregiver was a walk in the park (see what I did there). I mean there were many days end where I felt like Phoebe in that Friends episode when she is babysitting the triplets.

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I also wouldn't recommend parental leave for everyone simply because I wouldn't recommend anything to everyone. Least of all, parenthood.

With all of that said, though, the upside trumped everything. Here are some of those upsides, or five reasons parental leave as a dad is an investment in family:

1. Learning the ropes is key

Experience is the best teacher. In parenting, the lesson is similar to that of being thrown in the fire and trying not to get burned. There's no better way to learn to change a diaper, discipline, burp, enforce routine and negotiate than to do it first-hand.

At times it feels like you are treading water with your hands tied behind your back. If that wasn't challenging enough, there's nothing like being peed on when you're down. Although, those times will all pass. Emerging from the other end of the tunnel, you'll value efficiency like never before, and you'll be amazed at how much you can do in a single day. It's one thing when you're sharing duties with a partner or any trusted person, but taking all of those daily responsibilities on your own is a whole other ball game.

You'll never be able to truly understand the other side until you're living it – and your partner will appreciate you more for it.

2. You grow just as much (and as quickly) as they do

A guarantee I can make to you is that acting as the primary caregiver will make you value family time like never before. Studies show that men in this role develop into stronger leaders, as they are more responsive to the needs of others around them. Men who fill the role of caregiver, in turn, are more respected by colleagues (markedly female).

I wasn't hell-bent on doing anything and everything with our daughter during those few months, but I enjoyed choosing experiences that took us (me) out of our comfort zone.

3. You can differentiate sacrifice vs. support

The year is 2019, yet there are still people out there who struggle with paths outside of the gender normative. We all know these people.

"It just doesn't make sense for _____ to take time off when _____."

"Well, why would the father' sacrifice time in his career' to see what it's like?"

Those narratives are so tired.

If you have the opportunity to support your partner in their life, albeit personally or professionally, 'sacrifice' is not a term I'd use to describe that. It doesn't have to be that black and white to say that whoever is caring for the child must be choosing to forego some higher level of their life – that ideology can also be put to rest anytime. Instead, you could think, "what is each of us gaining by being so fortunate to be in this situation?"

Of course, this depends on your circumstances, but if you hadn't learned it before becoming a parent, hopefully, it taught you there's a hell of a lot more to life than work.

4. The unbreakable bond

There's SO MUCH to be said for feeling in tune with your child's ever-changing emotions, especially in the early times. Best of all, you'll feel the confidence of finally decoding their noises and cries to determine their various meaning. Hungry, tired, frustrated. You'll probably still be wrong most of the time, but hey, false confidence is always confident. Everyone is just winging it anyways.

I think we'd all agree you'd rather your child be upset when you leave than struggle to understand the role you play in their life as they grow up.

5. You won't always have time

Time is the most valuable commodity on earth, and I know that's the most cliche thing to say but dammit if it ain't the truth. Passing on the chance to play such a vital role in your child's life is something you may not be afforded again. Plus, you'll have so many more fond memories and the chance to capture a few (thousand) photos/videos of all of the precious milestones.

Words can't describe the pride that comes with shaping your child's development, and you don't ever want to be looking back, wishing you'd taken the time.

I enjoyed the looks or comments when I would take her places.

People loved to ask "where mommy is" as if she couldn't possibly be somewhere else.. living her life.

My personal favourite was while sitting at a coffee shop and after coming in:

"Oh look at you, spending the day with daddy today?"

I say "Today?" and the conversation ends abruptly.

So I'm sorry, I guess there's a sixth. And it's humour. You can start planning your outings (and witty comebacks) now. What’s it like to be the only dad at mom and tot classes? It’s empowering. You should try it sometime.