Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
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.
Young father having fun with his little baby via Shutterstock
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adjusting to parenthood, bonding, Daniel Murphy, new fathers, paid leave, paternity leave, shared baby duties | Categories:
Babies, Child Development, Must Read, News, The Parents Perspective
Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
The New York Mets are—and I say this with all the love and frustration of a lifelong fan—a woeful team that even the most optimistic among us expect to have a lousy year. So, of all the players on the team, why is second baseman Daniel Murphy taking heat from sports commentators? Because he missed the first two games of the new season, taking a paternity leave to be there for the birth of his son.
Yes, you read that right. Two games. To be at the birth of his son. And here’s what that oh-so-lengthy absence left some well-known sports-radio personalities saying, according to the New York Daily News:
“Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.”
And from another: “One day [off] I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”
For dads, how long to take off after baby’s birth can be a tough call. Despite the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave for men and women alike, not many fathers take more than a few days off when their little one arrives. There’s pressure from employers to contend with, and the self-imposed pressure (real or imagined) of wanting to be seen in the best light at work, not to mention cultural forces about men’s roles to content with. And, of course, unpaid leave is an economic pressure for nearly everyone and an impossibility for many—major-league ballplayers excluded.
To slam Murphy’s two-game leave as treasonous is absurd. Here’s what he had to say to ESPN about the brouhaha, referring to his wife and his desire to be there for her:
“It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife – she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off…. It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”
While he was away, I am sure Murphy was thinking of his team often and even missing them, just as he will be thinking of his newborn back home as he dedicates himself to his team for the remainder of the season. Finding the right work-life balance is no easier for a multimillionaire baseball player than it is for you and me, and we all feel torn between our commitments to our families, our jobs, and ourselves.
I struggled with these issues as well. Taking two weeks off when each of my daughters was born was a no-brainer. But now, as my wife heads back to work after her own five-month maternity leave, I am on the threshold of a longer paternity leave—five weeks, starting Monday. Making the decision to take the time off involved a lot of intense discussions with my wife and internal soul-searching about what is most important to me and how I want to spend and remember this time in my life. Stepping back, even for a few weeks, from a job that is busy and that means a lot to me, is scary, and it remains something that is never easy.
Far from criticizing Murphy’s leave, we should be celebrating it. The more of us who take time to be with our families, the better it is—for ourselves, our kids, and our wives or partners. And the more men who take paternity leave, the better it will be for all new fathers, because over time, it will become normal and expected, not something to criticize or even remark on. Especially seeing athletes do it, those most manly of professionals, will hopefully encourage others to do the same. Yes, there are occasionally things that are more important than supporting the team. Instead of criticizing, let’s look to a future in which taking time to be with our kids is the norm, not the exception, and in which a mere two days is laughably short.
See you in May. Until then, I’m off daddying.
Murphy and his wife named their newborn Noah. Try our Baby Name Finder to discover the perfect name for your newest addition!
Image: New York Mets Daniel Murphy and wife Victoria Tori Ahern attend the Aces, Inc. All Star party at Marquee on July 14, 2013 in New York City via Shutterstock.
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