Having a baby is a life-changing experience for everyone in a family. Maternity leave is commonplace, both for the recovery of the mom after childbirth and to allow her to take care of her new baby before she returns to work. But what about dads? Shouldn’t they get a chance to bond with their new baby too?
Many dads have the right to take paternity leave, but it isn’t nearly as common as maternity leave is. But, for dads who have the option, paternity leaves can be great for the whole family. It takes the pressure off of moms who are still healing from the birthing process and who are instructed not to do many chores for the first few weeks afterward. And it gives dads a chance to be an active part of their child’s life from the first day.
Here are some things dads should consider when thinking about paternity leave.
Are You Eligible For Time Off?
Unfortunately, the U.S. is still behind the times compared to some other countries when offering moms and dads time off following childbirth. A federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), gives some protection for new parents who take leave. Ideally, it will keep their job safe for as long as 12 weeks after their baby’s birth or adoption.
But it doesn’t cover every employee. There are requirements you have to meet first, including working at a company with at least 50 employees who reside within 75 miles of your work building.
Some states have additional protection, boosting the power of the FMLA. You’ll need to check with your human resources department to verify you qualify for leave.
You Probably Won’t Get Paid
While paid maternity leave in the U.S. is hard to find, paid paternity leave is even harder to score.
Most of the companies that offer paternity leave won’t pay new dads for the time they take off – although many will be open to the idea of using vacation time to cover the absence and some companies may require that vacation time is used first.
So if you only get vacation time awarded annually, you might need to think long and hard about using your paternity leave if it means you’ll be left with no vacation time for the remainder of the year.
But a few companies do provide paid time off for dads following the birth of their child, with the time ranging from a couple of days to a few weeks.
If you’re not sure about your company’s policy, ask your human resources department or consult your employee’s handbook.
Understand the Payoff
It can be hard to take any unpaid time when you’re already strapped for cash because of hospital bills and all that cute baby gear you’ve been buying to get ready for your baby’s arrival. But if you can swing it, the money lost by taking paternity leave is well worth it in the long run.
Men who take a minimum of two weeks for paternity leave become and remain more involved in the care of their children in both the short-term and the long-term, according to studies.
But the sad truth is many households are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t handle the strain of missing all or a part of their checks while a dad is on paternity leave. If that’s the situation you’re in, try to save up some vacation days for after your baby is born so you’ll be able to take a few days off at least.
Prepare To Be Seen as a Less Dedicated Employee
As any working mom can tell you, taking time off after the birth of your baby can color how your co-workers and bosses view you and your dedication to your job. It’s an unfair truth – women and men who take longer leaves are sometimes viewed as being less dedicated.
While some people at your workplace might offer up some friendly teasing to men who take paternity leaves, there can be more severe consequences, including being passed over for promotions.
One way to still be viewed as a dedicated employee is to come up with a plan to pitch to your employer as to how your duties will be covered while you’re gone. Put it in writing and go over the plan with your bosses well in advance of the maternity leave.
By showing that you care how your workload will be managed while you’re gone, you can still be viewed favorably while you’re taking time off. And if you want to get on your employer’s good side and you don’t mind being contacted while you’re off, let them know you’ll be checking your emails frequently in case there are any questions or problems.
The Bottom Line
While taking paternity leave can be more challenging and has more of a stigma for fathers than it does for mothers, it’s an important time in your life. This is your first chance to bond with your new baby and help your partner, so make the most out of it.
This blog is part of Fathers Incorporated‘s Drive To Five campaign. The campaign design seeks to reduce father absence by engaging dads at the early stages of their child’s development, which makes them more likely to continue their involvement through all of the stages of their development. For more information visit www.drivetofive.org