Date October 12, 2013
Daisy Dumas, Daniella Miletic
After months of antenatal classes and nursery decorating, not to mention years of looking forward to being a father, Luke Harris jumped at the chance of extended parental leave.
The new father took three weeks off from his role as co-chief executive at Harris Farm Markets when Ivy, now 10 months old, was born.
Mr Harris, 38, who lives in North Bondi, is one of a growing number of men who, by choosing to take a long period of parental leave, is more likely to engage regularly in early child-caring tasks such as feeding, bathing and reading bedtime stories, according to a study.
father, Luke Harris saidIt's hard to describe how good it was. It helped me get an understanding of how much is involved in bringing up a little baby.
You understand what your wife's going through. It's much harder than work - and you have to be far more prepared, much more planned and much more flexible too, all at the same time.'
''Once you learn how to change a baby's nappy and swaddle her and put her to bed, it becomes a lot more enjoyable,'' said Mr Harris, who added that he would have liked to take more time off work.
''After two weeks of doing it, you learn it a tiny bit, but a full month would make it a lot easier. It makes you feel more confident and as soon as you're a lot more confident with those kind of things, it helps your relationship with the baby, too.''
The international study, which will be presented in Melbourne next month, will also reveal that the children of fathers who take long leave after their birth are more likely to perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school at the ages of four and five.
Its Australian author, Jennifer Baxter, a senior researcher with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the results revealed a strong relationship between fathers' taking leave after the birth and their subsequent involvement in children's lives.
"Father's leave is linked to more involvement in childcare activities such as helping a baby to eat, changing nappies, getting up in the night, bathing and reading to a child, compared to fathers who took no leave,'' Dr Baxter said. "There was some evidence of children having better cognitive outcomes when fathers were more involved early on in their lives.''
Dr Baxter said the results lent ''support to the importance of promoting policies that encourage and promote fathers' involvement with children".
For Mr Harris, the study is only too welcome. ''It's fantastic to hear. You don't think the baby is taking anything from you in those first few weeks. It's just beautiful to spend time with your baby.''