Science Says Taking Paternity Leave Is Great for Your Relationship

As if we needed another reason to encourage paternity leave, turns out, it could save your marriage.

In the past, after the birth of a baby, one parent, usually the one who gave birth, takes a leave of absence from work to stay home and recover and care for the newborn, while the other parent may take a few days off then returns to work. The idea of paternity leave, where the father takes an extended leave to stay home with mother and baby, is relatively new (in heterosexual partnerships) but is definitely gaining ground.

In addition to helping Mom with feeding and other caregiving tasks, having Dad around gives Mom more opportunities to recover from birth without being the primary caregiver of a tiny newborn, which is hard work and doesn't leave much time for rest and recovery. It's not only good for the mom, though! By taking time off to care for baby, Dad builds his confidence as a parent, bonds with Baby, and even has a positive impact on kids when they aren't babies anymore.

A new study from researchers at Ball State University has given us even more reason to push for paternity leave—it can literally save your marriage.

The study found that couples were 25 percent less likely to end their relationship in the six years after the birth of a baby if the father took paternity leave. “Results suggest that increasing access to parental leave for fathers—and encouraging fathers to take this leave—may help to increase family stability," lead study author, Richard Petts, a Ball State sociology professor, said in a statement. “Overall, our study suggests that fathers’ leave-taking may help to promote more stable parental relationships in the U.S., identifying an additional benefit of fathers’ leave-taking for families."

couple laying down with baby in between giving kiss on cheek

Having Dad home, to build his confidence in caring for baby, help Mom while she recovers, and share the burden of caregiving might create a more equal co-parenting relationship. And it might ultimately reduce stress or resentment down the line that may stem from an imbalance in caregiving responsibility and the amount of emotional labor usually performed by the mother.

Pitts and his team found that two weeks or less of paternity leave is the sweet spot. "If taking leave provides fathers with time to learn to be an engaged parent, and parents’ time to establish equitable co-parenting relationships, it seems logical that more time on leave would be better for parents and help to strengthen parental relationships,” he said. “However, it is important to consider the cultural norms surrounding parental leave and the implications of taking more time off than is expected, or accepted, within a society.” Relationships where fathers took one to two weeks of leave were statistically less likely to end compared to those who took three or more weeks, which seemed to have no impact relationship stability at all.

The study proves what we already know—paternity leave is important, not just for the mom or baby or dad individually, but for families. So, dads? Take your leave, use your time! It's more important than you think.

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