In this post, I share my thoughts about parental leave and the importance of spending the fullest allowable time home (and advocate for others to embrace this as the norm).
Before I share my thoughts about parental leave, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the generous leave policies afforded us by our respective employers. Removing work as a stressor had a truly transformational impact. We are immensely grateful.
A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity, For Too Few
Bigger picture, what a shame it is that American parents must rely upon their employers’ generosity to grant that time! Too few parents enjoy such an opportunity to purely focus our undivided attention on navigating life as a growing family. And fathers especially! In fact, less than half of U.S. employers offer paternity leave; my experience is reserved for a fortunate few. No father should be deprived of that time. Too long have the needs of employers been prioritized above those of working families.
Every hour of that family time was invaluable - all of the snuggles, late-night feedings, weekday outings to breweries, vineyards, farmers markets and coffee shops, Eleanor’s first Nationals game, trips to Charlottesville and Florida, an unbroken streak of sleeping under the same roof, bath time, tummy time and story time, visits by parents, siblings and friends near and far, sitting up with Bailey during late night feedings, walks around our neighborhood and the National Mall with Eleanor and Lacey in tow, approximately one thousand diaper changes, dinners together after putting Eleanor down in the evenings - the memories are countless. And priceless. Our bond is all the stronger for it. Take every last hour available to you, even if too few (because there's never enough time) and never look back.
Goodbye Maternity Leave, Hello PARENTAL Leave
As a father with the rare fortune to take significant parental leave, we were able to much more equitably divvy up household responsibilities. This is the unglamourous, unphotographed side of parental leave! Side note: maintaining a generally balanced division of household and childcare duties is a cornerstone of our relationship. That dynamic may well have been totally undermined by the absence of dual paternity leave. Not to mention, the postpartum physical recovery for a new mother is no joke! One of the countless aspects glossed over in the movies.
Standalone maternity leave, whereby the father immediately returns to work, simply cannot remain the norm. Adopting universal parental leave is long overdue. If we want to even pretend to strive for gender equity, that needs to change, immediately. Furthermore, no parent, whether mother or father, should be forced to choose between that precious time and a paycheck. It is a shame that Bailey’s and my experience is not the universal norm. And not like "oh what a shame," but a genuine national embarrassment. To enjoy that "privilege" as the accepted norm, you needed to move to Canada, Europe, or any other developed country on the planet! That is not an exaggeration, the United States is the only developed country that offers no paid maternity or paternity leave to expecting parents. Instead, we leave it to the whim or generosity of employers whether to prioritize American families or profit margins.
Executives and politicians bemoaning worker shortages must re-orient and take action. Establish universal parental leave funded by a taxpayer pool mirroring Social Security payroll deductions. Social good comes with a cost, and that is a cause I would be happy to see our tax dollars paid towards; a worthy investment. And here's a thought, perhaps if we made life easier for new parents, there might be more of them! And consequently, we would not be confronting such dreadful demographic challenges as a nation (e.g., a rapidly aging population is gutting Social Security and pension systems).
Dads, Take the Leap (if you have the option), You Won't Regret It!
Additionally, even in situations where a generous paternity leave policy exists, the American work-first mentality dictates that fathers should rush back to work. There is an entrenched sense of “benefit shame” as men often lack precedent within their organizations for taking leave. Paternity leave is a novel concept for workplace superiors. Most of our bosses were, sadly, hurried back to work within days of their children’s arrivals. Personally, I wrestled with breaking from this norm and strongly considered taking abbreviated leave. It was not an automatic thing as that precedent did not yet exist for me.
Taking that leap and being the one to set such a precedent was uncomfortable – will my team think differently of me, will I be passed over for future opportunities, will others who took very little leave resent me? You know, worries that women alone have shouldered for generations! Existing policies protecting mothers from job-loss and retaliation for taking maternity leave are essential. However, the real solution to improving gender equity in the workplace is dual parental leave, thereby removing gender-associated leave norms from the equation altogether.
And now, when the next link in the chain follows in my footsteps, hopefully I set an example for those around me. Maybe for the next person it is viewed as an automatic policy, not a fraught decision. Regardless, I will vocally advocate for anyone reporting to me to take the fully allotted time. Looking back, I cannot imagine willingly forfeiting a second of this time home with Bailey and Eleanor. HUGE shoutout to our European neighbors who helped me realize this as I contemplated my decision prior to leave! Did I mention it is the norm in Europe?
Okay! Stepping off my soapbox, we are immeasurably grateful for the nearly three months we enjoyed together, uninterrupted. Welcoming Eleanor into our family has been the blessing of a lifetime, and I am thankful I could be there for it all. It will live in my memory as the happiest season of my life to date.
The sage advice so often uttered, yet too often unheeded, “On your deathbed, you will never regret spending too much time with family.” My advice to those fortunate enough to have the option to take leave, choose family. Trust me, work will still be there when you get back.