Paternity Leave: Why New Dads Should Take It

By Julia Whittaker, Sept. 14th 2018
Did you know Dad has the same post-natal leave rights as Mom? Most American dads don't get to take more than a few days off work after baby is born. Here's how to make it happen and why it's important for your family. 

There's a great piece of legislation out there called The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and I bet you never heard of it. What this lovely bill does for you is entitling dads to the same amount of time off as moms during the first year after Baby has made an appearance. 

This means that dads can take up to 12 weeks off work, same as moms, at any point in the first 12 months after the birth. Do people do it? No. Should they do it? Yes.

Most dads only take a few days off after the baby is born, either because they are not aware of their rights as a new parent or because they think they can't afford the virtually unpaid time off (to check out how other countries do this, check out Sweden's parental leave benefits). 
Why you should take as much parental leave as you can 

I'll get to the financial part in a moment, but first I want to explore a couple of reasons why dads should really, really be pushing to take parental leave. 

Bonding - While Mama will naturally develop a strong bond with Baby during pregnancy and labor (many funny-sounding chemicals are at work here), Dad needs to work a bit harder to get to the same result. Studies show that close contact with the baby's cries triggers changes in a new father's brain and 'turns on' abilities to forge social bonding at a new level. 

Development - Spending time with Dad helps babies too: it's proven that children who interact more with their father at an early stage develop a wider vocabulary by age 3 than those who mostly played with Mom when they were younger. 

Your marriage - Thankfully the world is full of dads who do take time off work to look after their offspring, alas not so much in the U.S.. Most father who did this can attest that sharing in the caring of the little ones gives a feeling of equal partnership with their wives or girlfriends. And it's good for you girls too: having your partner at home in those crucial weeks doesn't only take some pressure off you, it also stimulates hormonal levels and helps with breast milk production (National Academy of Studies). 

The money part 

Sad truth: women make less money than man. At least 20% less according to a U.S. Census report from 2017. 

It's no surprise then that many families see the option of the highest paid parent not working for 3 months as a complete writeoff. However, not all hope is lost. 

Companies are changing - More and more employers are shifting to an attitude of equality towards maternal and paternal leave, and will pay up to 70% of your salary while you're off caring for your little one.

State regulations are coming to the rescue too. Massachussets is one of 6 states where 12 weeks of paid leave to care for sick family members or newborns are mandatory. Check to find out more about your state law.

Negotiate it! - Us Americans are all about business, let's not deny it. Negotiating paid leave with your employer is definitely an option, and it can be aided greatly by doing it collectively. Many cases of fathers' groups have been know to drive positive negotiations with companies on this topic. 

Besides, as work-life balance becomes more and more important for staff productivity and retention, being able to spend time with the fam can be argued to be one of the top perks for people in the workplace. 

Stagger it and look at the savings - There is no reason why Dad should take 12 weeks off work in one go. If you think your bank account might resemble the tundra more than a blooming garden after 3 months of him being cuddling the pup, think about taking one or two weeks off here and there instead. 

Don't forget you can make pretty big savings too by alternating who's at home. Childcare costs can amount to almost $3,000 per month. You're telling me saving nearly 9 grand doesn't sound good? 

Let's do it! Now what? 

You have finally come to your senses and decided that yes, Dad should take time off work and yes, you'll make it happen. What should you look out for now? 

Golden rule: don't be overbearing - Allow your partner to enjoy their time with the baby, and try not to pick on them costantly because they are doing things wrong. What you think is wrong is probably just different. Not everyone shakes a milk bottle the same way, or use exactly two wipes every time. Let Dad get his own experience. 

Spend time together - The temptation to have family, friends, dogs and your third degree cousing twice removed come visit you and the baby while the whole family is at home is strong. Think twice before you do it, as those precious weeks alone with your newborn won't come back, ever. Use this time to re-learn how to be a functioning couple, share responsibilities and strengthen your relationship. That's the best gift you can give your child. 

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