Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

You will, no doubt, have read in the Gazette recently about Baker McKenzie increasing paid paternity leave to 12 weeks. Because I was pregnant with Deceptively Angelic Child 1 (DALC1) for, well, I think it was about two years, and was in labour for, I don’t know, weeks and weeks, my husband mistimed his paternity leave and only spent a few days with us at home after the birth.


DALC1 was a very good baby. I had my mum and my gran round the corner, as well as various friends who were already mums. I was thirty, and sensible, and always had enough money to put petrol in the car and drive to M&S Cafe to eat cake when things got hard. My husband and I had been trying for a baby for a while, and (when he wasn’t at work or commuting three hours a day) we spent the majority of our spare time beaming at the child like loons.

And yet, it was hard. The little blighter wouldn’t put on any weight. I remember so clearly the health visitor telling me that babies put on 'half to one pound a week' and I said, laughing, 'you mean half to one ounce!' Nope, all the other babies got big juicy thighs and mine looked more and more like Gollum every week. My one job was to feed the child and, without putting too fine a point on it, my milk was apparently skimmed.

My husband would get home from work as the witching hour began. As he held her on the sofa, exhausted, I would say 'do you think she’s crying because she’s hungry?' and he would say 'no' because he was just too tired to move. Sometimes I would say 'she cries less if you stand up and rock her' and he would look at me like standing up was so far out of his range of possible movements that he was probably going to fall asleep whilst crawling up the stairs to bed later.

In the mornings he would leave us sleeping, which meant that it was me who she opened her eyes with recognition to in week four, and smiled at in week five. It was me, my mum and my gran who witnessed her first crawl. On the day I believed her first steps would occur, I made her sit down all day until he got home.

I know this is a widely reported phenomena, but whilst I was at home losing all will to ever go to an office again, his career was rocketing as he suddenly, finally, wanted to provide, to be a role model and, well, basically to be a grown up.

Now, when I was looking for a training contract I became aware of firms who wouldn’t take on a woman in their twenties. It was just widely known. Unfortunately for them, it is my experience that in many areas of high street law the best candidates were, and continue to be, the women. In fact, there are simply a lot more women going for the jobs than the men. These women in their twenties might not want children, or be able to have children, or - call me crazy - be really great, profitable members of staff despite having children!

I would hope the situation is better now than when I was starting out, but the one change - the one big shift - that I believe will improve the gender pay gap, women losing out on jobs, men’s careers accelerating when they become dads, women having to do less life admin and dads actually joining the PTA (a whole other blog) is for them to take a longer paternity leave.

I think it is really under-publicised but of course shared parental leave is a thing now. You can swap every few months, or (did you know this) split the time between you and take it off together at the same time. The main obstacle here is financial, because many couples can’t afford for the man to take the pay cut that is involved. And we are back in the vicious cycle which meant that it was me, and not my husband, that just had to stand and stare at a nappy situation so appalling that I considered putting the whole child in the bin and buying a new one on one occasion.

So, well done, Baker McKenzie, for going a small way towards levelling the playing field. I’m sure there are a lot of dads who think it is a risk to take all the time off that is now available to them - it might be seen as a lack of commitment to their jobs, or affect their promotion prospects. I could say 'welcome to our world' but what I will actually say is this: that day when I woke up next to DALC1 when she was four weeks old and she looked at me as if to say 'oh hello, it is you again' - well, I don’t know what you city lawyers’ bonuses are like but they could never match that.


*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article