A bit scared

In the past two months I spent the first part of my parental leave. In Germany, fathers get the luxury of two months of paid leave. After our daughter was born end of July, I took a luxurious one month of holiday (I barely touched my holidays in 2020 due to the pandemic, so I took several weeks of holiday to 2021). Directly following this, I took my first month of parental leave. (The second month will be in March 2022.) Tomorrow it is back to ‘normal’ academic life.

The past two months have been very rewarding on the one hand – I got to spend a lot of time with the family, and we spent time in Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Italy, France, and again in Italy, trying to accompany the heavy challenge of the first weeks of parenting with family, good weather and nice scenery. On the other hand, my leave has been – how do I put this – mentally degrading? The way my brain is wired, I just need the intellectual challenge of work. Obviously, this is both a gift and a curse. It’s the reason why I am good at what I do. It’s also the reason I get overwhelmed by all the things I decide to do. I always take on too much. But for weeks now there was very little.

These two months I spent a combined total of five days on work. Things that I deemed important enough to schedule my private time for. I joined several interviews for a PhD position (we found a great candidate). I did some field work that just had to be done. I revised a manuscript that was due for resubmission early September. I reviewed three manuscripts, and handled one as an editor. From my phone, I wrote a blog post on an accepted manuscript, more or less spontaneously. But that’s it. Maybe it looks like more than it actually was, but it feels like I didn’t so much. The last three weeks of my leave, I didn’t even open my work email. I didn’t miss much, which is also a big reality check to not be so focused on my email all the time. This is usually one of my weaknesses. I read all my emails every day, and my inbox is ALWAYS at zero at the end of the day. It was a bit different these past weeks.

What I have noticed is that whenever I tried to get something done, it would only work if I would get out of the house, or my wife would take the kids out of the house. Doing work, or well, anything that is not related to kids, has been extremely challenging with the kids around. My blog posts on this space, for instance, I always prepared in the evenings, while my son was falling asleep cuddled up next to me. It was literally the only way.

From tomorrow, it’ll be full time work again. I will still be in home office for a part of my time, but I still have to find out what our department regulations currently state on this. I should be able to go into office in a few days as well. Our boy will be prepared for daycare. As my wife has one year of leave, she will take care of our daughter during daytime mostly. It should work – if there are no further covid restrictions, or lockdowns. A lockdown would be unworkable now.

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow how it all will unfold. Is it normal to be a bit scared? I am a bit scared…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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