My wife and I were planning for the birth of our second child in 2002. I wanted to take more than a week off for paternity leave. Because I worked for a large company, the law allowed 12 weeks — but I couldn’t take three months off without pay.
When my first child was born, I took only a week off to be with my wife and our baby girl. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was relatively new. It was the first national law in U.S. history that granted unpaid, job-protected leave to moms and dads to care for their newborn kids. But the law only allowed leave for moms and dads working in companies that had 50 or more employees. The company I worked for then was smaller.
Highly regarded employees can be cut loose at a moment’s notice. A dad is forever.
For our second child, I wanted to do things differently. My wife and I talked it over. We looked at the paid time off I’d accrued, and the balance in our savings account. I could afford to take three weeks off.
I might have been able to add a few more weeks — but I felt nervous about being away from work longer. I didn’t want my boss to think I wasn’t a devoted employee.
Now, I wouldn’t feel so anxious. My priorities and perspective have changed. I’ve worked in the corporate world long enough to see many highly regarded employees cut loose at a moment’s notice. Most company employees can be replaced. When it comes to families, dads aren’t a disposable asset. The positive impact a dad has at home will likely last a lot longer than the positive impact he can have at his workplace.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nine out of 10 dads take “maternity” leave. Only three out of 10 who take leave take more than 10 days.
Dads expecting a newborn who have access to paternity leave need to consider how they can use it to invest in the well-being of their growing family. Taking leave requires planning, and it may require negotiating and creative thinking. Paid leave for moms and dads is still rare in the U.S.
In addition to immediate financial concerns, questions about leave duration and job security may need to be discussed with the boss or with the human resources department. If leave isn’t part of the job’s benefit package, an employer may allow a new dad to flex hours or cut back on hours to allow longer stretches of time at home.
Dads who are self-employed may be able to create space for paternity leave with careful planning. That may require cutting unnecessary spending to put away some extra savings. If it’s not possible to step away from work completely, cutting back hours to spend more time at home might be an option.
If you’re weighing the pros and cons of taking paternity leave, consider these benefits, as reported in the June 2016 issue of the journal Healthcare.
You’ll Be a Better Parent
The longer period of leave that dads take for a new child, the more involved they are with their newborn child and spouse. They can talk to, hold, and bathe their child. And yes — they can change diapers. These dads also tend to live longer.
Dads who stay home with their wife and child can also offer support that may decrease the risk of Mom having postpartum depression. He can listen to her when she’s struggling with the duties of motherhood, take on household chores, and care for older children.
Your Child May Be Smarter
Children whose fathers are more involved after birth tend to have stronger brains than those whose fathers are busy at work. This translates to better performance in school.
Your Child May Be Healthier
Infants whose dads are more involved tend to have better health than those whose dads have little involvement. In addition to better physical health, these children also tended to have better long-term emotional and psychological health.
Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”