Earlier this week, it was announced that, for the first time, fathers working in the UAE's private sector will be entitled to parental leave. Under this law, private companies should give both male and female workers five days of paid parental leave, to be taken within six months of their child's birth.
It is a move that been praised by many for its multiple long-term benefits. Here, three hands-on UAE dads, who took each time off work to look after their newborns, share exactly why this is a step in the right direction.
'I quit my job to be the primary caregiver'
When Usman Sajid’s wife Shaheena gave birth four years ago, her caesarean delivery made her recovery time longer and restricted her movement in the days that followed. That led Sajid to take what he felt was a necessary step – to quit his full-time job in order to look after the baby.
“It wasn’t a quick decision,” says Sajid, who hails from Pakistan but was raised in the UK. “At that time, I wasn’t really enjoying my job, and I knew my wife loved hers. I didn’t want her to leave and we were in a position where it was financially feasible. So I decided to bite the bullet … and it was amazing.”
What followed were the hectic days all new parents can relate to, filled with sleepless nights, endless feeding and nappy changes. Since Shaheena needed additional bedrest, Sajid took on the primary caregiver role in the weeks that followed. His flexible schedule also allowed Shaheena to return to work full-time three months later, as Sajid stayed with their son.
“Musa would wake us up every morning – he was our alarm clock,” he jokes. “After Shaheena would go to work. I’d give him his milk, change nappies, have playtime. Sometimes, if the cricket was on, we would watch that together. Then there would be the afternoon nap, more diaper changes and feeds. And when Shaheena got home, there would be a baby handover of sorts.”
Sajid began working as a freelance photographer, which gave him more flexibility with his schedule. So, when the couple had their second baby, Mariam, now 16 months old, he again took on the role of primary caregiver. It was in December 2019 that Sajid decided to return to work full-time.
He says being at home in those initial years has paid off when it comes to bonding with his children. “You just need to be patient,” he says. “The same way that it becomes first nature to a mother, it can happen to a father, too. And the bond you build with your child is something no money can buy.”
That's why his advice to new dads is to “spend as much time as possible" with their children. “You learn a lot from your child – and you also you learn a lot about yourself.”
'Being a single dad is a full-time job'
Ali Ramadan’s two daughters were born and raised in the UAE. Now aged 12 and 7, the Lebanese national remembers the chaos that followed in the days after their birth.
“When a child is born, the mother is in hospital. It is the dad’s job to soothe her, run around, file all the necessary documents, look into any legalities, both national and international. I remember going to the embassy numerous times to sort out documentation.”
It isn’t just the immediate aftermath, though, when extra support might be needed. In Ramadan’s case, his wife developed an infection after one of the births which meant more hospital visits. The father subsequently decided to take several weeks off work after both his daughters were born.
“The hardest part, honestly, is welcoming a new baby into the home. It’s a big change. I’m lucky that my company gave me five days off at the time and I took an additional 14,” says Ramadan.
Ramadan and his wife divorced in January 2017, making him the primary caretaker for his two daughters. Now a single dad, he reiterates the importance of having extra time to spend with his children.
“Being a single father is a full-time job. You have to worry about everything – healthcare, education, lunchboxes, putting them to bed every night, having emotional conversations. Girls usually tend to share more with their mums and it has been harder for them to establish that trust and connection with me.”
Which is why it’s a blessing that many companies are giving parents flexible hours or the opportunity to work from home this year. Ramadan adds that the new paternity leave is a bonus that allows for more bonding time.
“It’s not an easy job. At the end of the day, you need to be patient and calm. Seeing that love in their eyes makes it all worthwhile.”
The days after childbirth 'are a whirlwind'
Paul Baker considers himself lucky since he and wife, Lauren, lived with her family during their first year of parenthood in Dubai. Even with grandparents close by to lend a hand, the South African citizen says the days after the birth “were a whirlwind”.
“Our son Jonathan, born in 2016, was perfectly healthy but wasn’t gaining enough weight due to a tongue-tie that wasn’t picked up in the hospital. I took control of all the admin, dealing with the hospital and negotiating for things which weren’t covered by our medical insurance at the time," he says.
“I don’t think people think about the administrative stress when having a baby. We had prepared so much during the prenatal phase and felt like we were underprepared for the jump to the postnatal period. Looking back, it is clear how much support mums and families need after childbirth,” says Baker.
For Baker, it was important to be there to support his wife every step of the way. That meant taking weeks of unpaid leave, which he says still didn't seem like enough.
“There is so much going on for the mums when the baby arrives, so many physical and emotional changes are occurring, and the fact that I could assist Lauren meant she didn’t need to remember everything."
Baker, who runs a parenting blog, also believes it's important for new fathers to be present at important pre and post-birth milestones, such as antenatal classes and check-ups.
"Not only does it help you to learn and understand what is happening to your wife and baby, but it allows you to be the person your wife can lean on in her most fragile moments,” he says.
Baker's advice to fellow new fathers in the UAE is prepare by finding out what paperwork needs to be done for medical insurance, at the consulate and at local ministries.
“Really just focus on being present with your baby and, even more importantly, with your wife. She has just done the most incredible act that needs to be applauded and I believe that she should be waited on hand and foot in order for her to settle into her new role.
"At the same time, find moments throughout the day and night where you can be with your child to bond and begin building a relationship with them. Change those nappies, feed them, burp them, read stories, sing songs and create moments.”