From Here to Paternity (Leave)

As I write this, the executive editor of parents.com is taking five weeks off to care for his kids and ease his wife’s transition back to work (a decision he admitted he grappled with). This comes on the heels of New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy receiving heavy criticism from sports commentators earlier this month for taking full advantage of his three-day paternity leave (yes, you read that right) to be with his wife following the birth of their first child. And just a few months after The Atlantic made the case that paternity leave is actually more beneficial for women, since it boosts men’s participation in household tasks and baby care and thus improves moms’ quality of life and economic opportunities.

That may be true. But it also misses the point. Yes, dads staying home in the early days after a baby’s arrival can ease the burden on new moms. But the real reason it’s worth the potential sacrifices—financial and, potentially, in worker perception—is that it makes new fathers feel more connected to the idea of being a parent and all it represents. When my son was born, my company only offered a week of paid leave, and I foolishly thought that would be sufficient time to spend at home with my wife and child. I was wrong. Although I did my best to share the duties, I can’t lie: It was a huge challenge trying to handle 3 a.m. feedings and still be able to function in the office the next morning. My wife ended up handling far more of the caregiving load, and, in retrospect, I know it was a difficult and at times isolating period for her that I could have made better.

I resolved not to make the same mistake the second time around. Granted, as an editor at Parents I had an easier time making the request than I might have in some places. Even so, I found the fortitude to ask for six weeks leave, and my request was granted. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It enabled me to share in the feeding and changing and cleaning more willingly and evenly (even if it never quite got to the 50-50 ideal). It eased our adjustment to the increased demands of raising two kids at once. It helped me connect with my beautiful newborn daughter in a special way that, years later, I believe has still made a difference in our relationship. Equally important, it allowed us to make for a smooth transition to big sibling for my son, who had enjoyed a five-year run as an only child.

It saddens me that more fathers don’t get to enjoy a similar opportunity. Only three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—offer paid family and medical leave. A mere fifteen percent of U.S. firms provide some paid leave for new fathers. And while a Boston College study revealed that 85 percent of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child, for the vast majority it amounts to a week or less. Of those who took time, 92 percent of respondents found being at home with their new baby to be a positive experience, and more than three-quarters said they would liked to have taken longer.

I’m sure Daniel Murphy would agree. Perhaps he’ll have better luck timing the birth of his second child to baseball’s off-season. Or maybe, more hopefully, it will become broadly acceptable for dads to take a longer leave without feeling judged negatively by their bosses, colleagues, the media, or anyone else. California has seen a rise in bonding leaves among new dads, from 18.7 percent to 31.3 percent during the past seven years. Even so, that means two out of three new dads is missing out on a magical, and irretrievable, experience.

Playing With Baby: Baby Toys
Playing With Baby: Baby Toys
Playing With Baby: Baby Toys

Young father having fun with his little baby via Shutterstock

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