A Millennial Dad Weighs In on the Current State of Parental Leave

I got this interesting message from a millennial dad, who would prefer that I not reveal his profession except to say that it’s one you would think would be family-friendly. He’s a father to a toddler and his wife is expected another baby soon. He writes:

Nice article (on Marisa Mayer’s planned parenting). Always quality writing. This topic is also especially frustrating for me, from a man’s perspective where the expectation (expressed from some slightly older colleagues) is that I take a short period of time off and my wife bears the brunt. Or that we just arrange child care.

Fuck that. We’re more than “child care” — we’re parents. I did originally plan to take less time off but our situation changed and now I’m taking the full 12 weeks of FMLA. When I told my boss that I was extending my time her response wasn’t, “Good for you,” it was, “What happened?” In a half joking way.

Now, I also had to come to terms with the idea of taking 12 weeks instead of my originally planned 7, but that happened pretty quick, with the added realization that I should never have felt pressure to take any LESS to begin with. I wish I had the quick wit to respond that “the 21st century happened.” What fucking year is it?? Families [mostly] have two working parents.

There was societal pressure to advance to this state of both men and women as working professionals (a good thing I’d say). And now there’s pressure to get back to work!! Damn it all.

He confirmed that his workplace offers no maternity or paternity leave at all; it expects that parents will rely on the Family Medical Leave Act. As you may recall, that legislation, which dates back to 1993, guarantees that workers at businesses with more than 50 employees who have been working for at least a year can take up to 12 weeks off. (There are actually some more quirks and loopholes, so feel free to check out the Act’s official page, linked above, if you’re curious.)

His “baby friendly” employer, my correspondent concluded, was only baby friendly in the abstract and not actually “worker friendly” where babies are concerned. Much like America in general.

Because this issue is having a moment, Cosmo has collected several narratives from new dads, including some who were able to take off a month and a half:

the idea of taking as much intentional time as I feasibly could really resonated with me. Taking six weeks of leave helped me be a more supportive partner and a more engaged dad, and gave me time to get acquainted with and truly enjoy our new daughter.

Another dad, who wasn’t able to take more than two weeks, recounts:

To think I might have had to abandon my wife and new daughter during that initial time of transition is deplorable, and I resent having to return to work as quickly as I did. … Honestly, we would likely not have made it if I did not take leave. …

A third dad concurs:

Giving myself those two weeks to figure out what the hell I was doing was essential — even after we’d done the birth classes and child-rearing workshops and everything, you still enter a period where you have to find your feet.

While my coworkers had been supportive of me taking leave, they weren’t as supportive while I was transitioning back to work. I asked for the same modified schedule that other parents in my office take advantage of, which includes one day a week working from home. But I was the first father in my office to ask for the adjusted schedule, and I met way more resistance than I anticipated. It worked out, but my boss’s response was disappointing and made me feel mistrusted, somehow.

But no matter what negotiations you have to do, I’d encourage dads to take as much leave as they can. Work will still be there after your leave, and you are a huge part of the process of a new baby coming into your life. I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with my wife and my son if I hadn’t prioritized being there as much as I could.

Where are you on this? If you have a kid, how much leave did you take? If you’re going to have one, how much do you plan to take? And how would you describe your employer’s response?

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