Updated: Jun 9
Most Californian dads are entitled to quite a lot of paternity leave, up to twelve weeks when they work for employers with 5 or more employees. In fact, I don't think California is getting enough credit for leading the world on paternity leave. Other than Scandinavia, it's way ahead of most European countries. In most European countries, dads only get a couple of days.
I do want to draw out a distinction. In many European countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, there is a subsidized system of postpartum caretakers. In the US, that does not exist.
Mothers here also live much farther from their families than in Europe, further reducing help. But this is all really besides the point. The point is that the nuclear family needs time to bond after the baby comes into the house.
Another reason we need you to take your leave is to level the playing field. Upon presented with the choice of hiring an equally qualified man or woman, the employer may think “the woman will need to take maternity leave, so let's hire the man who won't." What if it was simply assumed the man would take the same amount of time too. Imagine what this would do for women.
But here's where it gets personal for me. If men would invest as much time with the baby as the moms, mothers would not be as impacted. I experienced this first-hand. My relationship with my husband was fairly equal until we had a baby.
Suddenly, I found myself alone with a baby all day counting down the minutes until my husband returned home from work. "When did I become such a stereotype?" I thought to myself.
The biggest problem is that fathers are simply not taking their leave even when they're entitled to it. Society just does not support them the same way they do mothers. There's still a stigma.
But paternity leave is not really for the dad. It's so mom doesn't have to do it alone and doesn't go coo-coo crazy (I present myself as Exhibit A). It's also so the baby learns that papa is as legit of a caretaker as mama.
When our son was born, my husband was entitled to twelve weeks of paternity leave. He did not take it all. Can you believe it? Here I am, the biggest advocate for parents' rights and we could not even make it work in our own family. There was a crisis at the school district where he worked and he was needed.
So he went back to work. But here’s the thing. I needed him more! I was at home alone with a brand new baby, unable to get up the stairs or make myself food. He went back early because he was so worried about his job, a job he needed to protect his family. And I understand that now. It's not his fault. He just wasn't empowered by his employer to take his full leave. Which is ironic because he worked as the HR Director.
I understand this now. Now that I'm sitting here typing in my office in a clean suit and a pretty solid night sleep. At the time, when he left me with a screaming baby and no food in the fridge, I did not understand that. When you are exhausted and depleted by taking care of a newborn alone you do not listen to reason. I just needed him there. So I was pissed.
He felt so conflicted between work and home that he was extremely stressed. And because the demands of work were so high I did not even ask him to do any night duty. So the baby became completely dependent on me at night. I was doing full day shift and a full night shift.
Our family was fragmenting, with my husband gone all day and all night, and the baby and I bonding alone.
This was a huge learning moment for us. The biggest lesson is that we will never let this happen again. This moment actually prompted him to find a more family-friendly, less demanding job. This past year, my husband has actually taken on more of the childcare than I do. I've learned with time that these things go up and down. That's life. Peaks and valleys.
That's how work is. It just comes and goes. But babies? Babies only come into the world once.
Dads, take your leave. Imagine what you'll tell your baby in twenty years when he or she asks you where you were. Yes, this is a guilt trip. It's an intentional one. I feel strongly about this and if you feel something stir inside you, you probably know I'm right. "Yes but... yes but... yes but..." I get it.
Our jobs and society is not very friendly towards paternity leave. But we need to start somewhere. All you need to do is tell your employer you're taking your full paternity leave. Your boss may laugh. Your boss my mumble. Your boss may yell. He or she will get over it.
If he or she doesn't, don't forget your leave is protected and you should not suffer any adverse consequences because you took paternity leave. You need to not be afraid and take this risk.
Your baby and babymama will be grateful for the rest of their lives.
Did you enjoy this article? Please share your own experiences with paternity leave.