Is Paternity Leave Right for Your Family?
Having a kid can be brutal! The sleepless nights, constant feedings, changings, spit-ups & wailing sessions create enough stress to bring down even the most committed parents from time to time. This is even more true when the majority of childcare responsibilities fall on one parent. Fortunately, the pervading attitude towards parental leave has begun to shift, opening up opportunities for a better balance of parenting tasks.
Part of this shift has resulted in the expansion of paternity leave. While FMLA opened the door back in 1993, recent changes have seen additional company benefits including paid and extended paternity leave. I am currently taking my second paternity leave, this time for 4 months, and I can tell you the payoff for my family is immense.
Why Dads Should Take Paternity Leave
The benefits of paternity leave show up throughout the whole family. Dads are able to provide assistance to recovering moms, be present to help siblings adjust to their new roles, and of course bond with their new child. Yes, it is possible to accomplish these things and still work 45 hours a week, but doing so inevitably results in more stress and worse results.
On the bonding front, I can speak from personal experience that without the hormonal changes, pregnancy, and labor itself, the connection a dad has with his newborn takes time to develop. To be clear, it isn’t that dads don’t care as much as moms. They just haven’t really felt the powerful change in their lives until the baby is actually born. Paternity leave allows both the time and attention for that process to unfold in a natural way.
Why Most Dads Don’t Take Paternity Leave
Despite the growing options for taking paternity leave, many dads are still choosing work over staying home. Before we condemn them as being bad family men, it is important to understand why this is the case. From my research and personal experience these are the 5 big reasons why dads are forgoing paternity leave:
- Perceived Immediate Job Risk
- Perceived Negative Career Impacts
- Feeling it is Unnecessary
- Monetary Concerns / Feeling of Responsibility as a Provider
- Overall Perception from Coworkers
No matter how many companies expand their paternity leave policies, the fact is – Dads won’t take paternity leave seriously until these fears are addressed. The good news is, these fears are mostly misconceptions and are both overblown and outweighed by the amazingly powerful family benefits. On top of that, many of these perceptions are just flat out wrong and here’s why:
Job Risk – As it turns out, replacing employees is quite time consuming and expensive. From posting, to interviewing, selecting, and negotiating, the process isn’t something managers take lightly. On top of all that, anyone they hire is a complete unknown. Compare that to the guaranteed quality they already have once dad returns. It’s a no-brainer.
Negative Career Impacts – This too is a fear largely exaggerated in our minds. From my own experience I can say that being away from the office can actually be a BENEFIT to your career. It highlights the amount of value you provide and how much your institutional knowledge of processes is worth on a daily basis. Absence makes the heart grow fonder… even in corporate America.
Is paternity leave really required? – In a word, No. That being said, outside of food & water, not much is. Few of us live any other areas of our lives according to the minimum acceptable level or effort. Why would we put the people we care most about in the world on the back-burner? We are working for our families after all.
Financial Concerns – While some companies and states offer paid paternity leave, FMLA does not require that employees continue to receive pay. While this is certainly a concern for some of us, it is a temporary shortfall that can be covered by saving and cost cutting. If the numbers still don’t add up, many companies offer flexible working arrangements and there are always those vacation days in a worst case scenario.
Perception – Rome wasn’t build in a day, and it will take time to change everyone’s attitude towards paternity leave. On the bright side, the shift is already occurring with the majority of millennials supporting not just paternity leave, but paid paternity leave. There will be some negative comments and jokes, but those are a small price to pay for the immense family benefits.
Paternity Leave is a Family Decision
Ultimately paternity leave isn’t a decision that dads make in the insular vacuum of their work lives. It is a family decision and it deserves a family discussion. Understanding that dads may be insecure about discussing leave and may feel some of the fears listed above, it is important to talk it out.
No matter what you & your family decide, having the discussion is an important way of reducing the likelihood of any resentment or extra stress. You will all have your hands full as it is!
JT Smith is the creator of Paternity Leave Pioneer, a website encouraging Dads to prioritize their families’ right from the start. Paternity Leave Pioneer shares advice on negotiating, taking, & optimizing paternity leave, as well as addressing some of the biggest fears and concerns.