The Case for Paid Paternity Leave
Most of us have come to an agreement that maternity leave is a need, not a want.
Between months of prep and hours of labor and weeks of recovery, a woman needs a break during the postpartum era. Not just because she has a medical need, but also to bond and build a relationship with her newborn baby. However, while maternity leave is often an understood proposition, the idea of paternity leave can be a harder sell. While it takes two to tango, many people feel that a father does not need or want time off to bond with his new child, and that attitude needs to change.
Paternity leave is important because it can help shift responsibility to a more equitable medium in a family. Being around to help out with the baby is one thing, but making an early stand that you’re going to be there 100% for the work that goes into parenting is part of why paternity leave is important. Giving dad time to transition into fatherhood, learn all about the new routines and help have some ownership over changes in the home makes for a healthier family down the road.
Taking some time off may help balance things early on for the long term but it can also help financially. This may seem a little far-fetched, but if you stagger your paternity leave and maternity leave you may save precious dollars on childcare by having a parent home to take care of the little one while the other works. Women often have trouble re-entering the workplace after having a baby even if they have maternity leave because it’s almost never long enough and daycare for the smallest of children is much more expensive than for older ones. Giving mom a chance to get firmly rooted back at work while saving on childcare by having dad at home for a bit until the baby is over the hump of the extra charges for newborn care not only saves money at the moment, but it can help mom fully transition back into her career setting her on a path of professional development that may come with eventual promotions and raises. It can be hard to look forward that far, but setbacks for women during the first year after the baby is born can affect their career path and earning potential for a lot longer than you’d think.
Babies and children are healthier when both parents participate in parenting and building the attachment between child and father is a great way to encourage that relationship to last and grow as children age. We no longer live in a world where it’s cool to be a dad who brags about having never changed a diaper. While you’ll eventually go back to work it’s helpful to build a habit of parenting on your own terms. Coming home from work tired and being confronted with a colicky baby in need of a feed, change and cuddle can be jarring for anyone, and can even unintentionally breed resentment. Getting a handle on your new responsibilities in a more relaxed situation can help you cope with the stresses of raising a newborn early so that when you go back to work you’re already a pro.
Even if your company doesn’t have a set paternity leave policy you may be able to take leave under other provisions for the illness or medical needs of a close family member. Asking early and making sure you fill out all your paperwork right is key. Most companies and laws have a timeline built in for when to request and how long it takes to get the process completed so find out what that is and make sure to stick to it. 30 days notice may be required, for example, so prepare yourself before that and make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Have a discussion with your partner about if you want to take leave together, if you need to stagger it, what will happen to your health benefits and other financial considerations before it’s time to decide. Let your workplace know so you can start working towards being ready when it’s time to take leave by moving projects around and finding people to help cover your load while you’re gone. Make sure to know your legal rights and to stick to the rules so you don’t lose out.
Have a backup plan in case anything goes wrong. If your partner has a stressful delivery you may need to take off earlier, or you may decide that you like being a stay at home dad and not want to go back to work. Make sure you know the benefits and drawbacks for each decision you make ahead of time so you’re not surprised by excess costs at the moment.
If you aren’t due paternity leave and have no legal protections where you are regarding the illness of a close relative or the birth of a child, start looking early on into the pregnancy for other options such as flex time or whether some limited telecommuting is possible. If not, there are still other options like using some of your vacation time for a week or two off to tend to your new child or even picking up a side job during the pregnancy to save up money to help fund a small amount of paternity leave on your own, or finding a job with more flexibility for parents which can really be helpful just in general for a dad who is involved.
In the end you’ll have to decide what’s good for your family, how to support your partner’s career and how to keep yours on the right track post-baby, but keep in mind that your family should always come first and that what’s good in the moment may not be the best in the long term. Weighing your options and getting creative are the best ways to ensure you get what you want out of life in all areas but especially in family life and parenting.