December 12, 2018

Gentlemen, If Your Firm Offers Paternity Leave, Take All Of It

Gents, let's discuss something important. Many of you will be dads one day and, if you're lucky, you'll face the decision of whether or not to take some paternity leave. Many of you are ambitious, ladder-climbing types and that's great. But when that first bundle of joy comes along, you will be tempted to shun paternity leave in order to return to the office because you don't want to risk putting your career in neutral.

I am here to tell you to shove that fear. Shove it hard. Shove it into a the bottom of a rusty dumpster filled with elephant dung and rotten buttermilk. If your employer offers paternity leave, take all of it. Every last day. You will not regret it. 

But I have no frame of reference here. I am not a dad. But EY's Todd Bedrick is, and his story is great:        

Five months after Todd Bedrick’s daughter was born, he took some time off from his job as an accountant. The company he works for, Ernst & Young, offered paid paternity leave, and he decided to take six weeks — the maximum amount — when his wife, Sarah, went back to teaching. He learned how to lull the fitful baby to sleep on his chest and then to sit very still for an hour to avoid waking her. He developed an elaborate system for freezing and thawing his wife’s pumped breast milk. And each day at lunchtime, he drove his daughter to the elementary school where Sarah teaches so she could nurse. When she came home at the end of the day, he handed over the baby and collapsed on the couch.
 
“The best part was just forming the bond with her,” said Mr. Bedrick, who lives in Portland, Ore., and went back to work in June. “Had I not had that time with her, I don’t think I’d feel as close to her as I do today.”

Now that I've tugged at your frigid heart strings, know this — Todd was worried about his work. Yes, his situation was similar to many of yours. He was moving to a larger team and as you know, the expectations on a new team can be different. Because Todd and his wife Sarah agreed prior to this move that he was going to take the time off, he got in front of the situation:  

“I just told them flat out, ‘I’d love to be a part of the team, but I just want to make sure you are aware in advance that I had that planned,’ ” he said. “It wasn’t a heated discussion; it just got approved.”
 
Even at Ernst & Young, which encourages parental leave, it is unusual for men to take the full six weeks, as Mr. Bedrick did. His main concern was that he not lose any of his work responsibilities. He said that on the advice of an Ernst & Young coach, he discussed that fear with two of the partners on his new team. He came back to his same assignments.
See? Nothing to be afraid of. Just talk to people. Most of them are human beings and will be able to empathize.
 
But the pressure to return to work quickly is real. We'd be foolish not to recognize it. The article discusses that, too:
Eighty-nine percent of all fathers took some time off after their baby’s birth, but almost two-thirds of them took one week or less, according to a study by two professors of social work, Lenna Nepomnyaschy of Rutgers and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia. Low-income and minority fathers are least likely to take leave, it found. And men often use sick or vacation days and cite work pressure and unwritten expectations as reasons for not taking longer leaves, according to a study published this year by the Boston College Center for Work & Family and sponsored by EY, the global parent company of Ernst & Young. 
You may remember us mentioning the BC/EY study back in June. In that post, Adrienne pulled this comment:
My wife and I had a baby in November, and multiple people asked me whether or not I got "paternity leave". I thought that was the funniest question ever. I think technically I could take FMLA, but I would never dream of even taking it. I can't imagine the reaction I would get.
 
I will say that some of that attitude is probably male perpetuated, however. On the same token, if a male coworker took FMLA for paternity leave I would definitely partake in a little joking at their expense.
This is the shit that has to stop. This attitude that men are supposed to work and that the mere thought of taking time off to learn how to care for a newborn child is "funny" or that you'd "never dream of even taking it." It's this same attitude that perpetuates "face time" in the profession, which if you forgot, does not mean you're a hard worker; it just means you're stupid. It's that line of thinking that keeps accounting in the stone age.
 
Oh, yeah. Did we discuss the actual child in this scenario? We didn't! That might be relevant. What about that little new human life? How does a dad's presence in those early stages affect him or her?  
No matter how much a couple plans to share the workload, the first few weeks of a baby’s life reshape everything. If the mother is breast-feeding, she already has primary responsibility for the child, and months of solo diaper-changing and baby-soothing duty during maternity leave set lifelong patterns.
 
“Part of the rationale for paternity leave is if men are able to be very involved early on in the care of their children, they’re going to be more involved ever after, and it will translate to more equal sharing and equal roles,” said Ms. Waldfogel, the professor of social work. Though men who want to be more involved fathers are probably more likely to take leave in the first place, she found that even after controlling for fathers’ commitment levels, those who took significant leaves were more likely to do hands-on child care later.
Ignore the fear of a "career limiting move." That job doesn't love you. Ignore the backwards thinking clowns that will judge you for taking time to learn how to care for a child. Those people are relics and are scared stiff of the responsibility. Ignore your stupid interior monologue that says you shouldn't have to change diapers, wear a Babybjorn or, gasp, buy a minivan.    
 
Do the right thing and take your paternity leave. All of it.
 

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