How Long Should Paternity Leave Be?

When Theodore Ross’s son was born, he received two weeks of paternity leave. Was it enough? In an editorial for Al Jazeera America, Ross says no:

I got to hold the youngster, of course, took my turns rocking him to sleep, made a big show of changing diapers so everyone knew that I was a modern sort of dude and expected to be involved. I was ignored, for the most part, or condescended to or corrected by our mothers, whose infant care experience ended in the 1970s. And then, soon enough — exactly two weeks, in fact — I returned to the office, leaving my careerist, high-earning wife to the three-month child care boot camp we call maternity leave. During that time, she went completely bonkers from isolation, love, responsibility and lack of sleep. But when it ended and she returned to her job, she had been permanently transformed. Gone was the person she had once been, replaced by a skilled, fully functional parent.

When my wife returned to work, it was to a night-shift job. She remained home with our child during the day, and I took charge of him in the evening. It was then that I finally got my chance to be involved and take some responsibility for the baby, which was great and good and wonderful — until the realization set in that I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do. I’d been home for only two weeks. There had been no boot camp for me, no fatherhood trial by fire, and all my wife had left me was a couple of bottles of defrosted breast milk, one of those play mats with BPA-safe whale-shaped rattles attached to it, and the mandate to just take care of it. That, and the utter certainty that when Mom — an old pro by now — got home she would enumerate the ways in which I had done everything wrong, or at least not precisely the way she wanted it done. And how could it be otherwise? I was at that point a parenting incompetent, a novice, a newbie, one who had no chance to catch up to the blessed, all-knowing mother, brimming with tricks, lessons and naptime subterfuges acquired during her crucible at home.

Ross points out that ours is still the only industrialized country in the the world that does not guarantee mothers with some kind of paid leave after childbirth. He also points out that a 2012 study of tenure-track professors “found that only 12% of fathers took paid parental leave when it was offered, compared with 69% of mothers,” which suggests that men (at least in academia) would be more likely to choose to focus on their careers over having that time at home. Would more time at home made Ross a better parent? “Developing the necessary skills, rapport and confidence won’t be achieved through paternity leave alone, but it’s a start,” Ross says.

Photo: Charlotte