When friends and family members learned my wife and I were expecting our first child, they shared lots of advice. Perhaps the most common advice offered was that our lives would be changed forever. To be honest, every time someone shared that, I internally said, “Well, d’uh!”
As we began to share the exciting news with our employers, I then realized I should not have been so flippant.
There was one thing of which I was certain when I learned I was becoming a father: I would be involved and present for my wife and child. For me, spending extended time home with my family after my child’s birth was mandatory. So, I wanted to take parental leave from my job.
Having this time to help my wife and bond with my child was critical. Although my employers supported my desire for parental leave, they didn’t offer paid leave. So, I took an unpaid leave of absence. It wasn’t as much time as I would have liked, but I took it. I’m thankful for that experience, but to this day, I am disappointed there wasn’t a paid paternal leave policy in place at my former job.
Most people in our country cannot afford to lose three months of salary, so why do so many employers offer such a hollow policy? Only three states — California, Rhode Island and New Jersey — have paid family leave plans. However, 18 other states are considering leave plans. This needs to change and quickly.
Paid parental leave gains momentum
So, I commend The Gates Foundation and their parental leave policy.
I commend EBay for revamping their policy, too.
And Netflix might deserve a standing ovation for their unprecedented 12 month leave policy!
I have to thank my hometown mayor, New York’s Bill De Blasio, for signing an order in January that gives 20,000 city employees paid parental leave. Mayor De Blasio said, “For too long, new parents have faced the impossible choice between bonding with their child and paying their bills.”
I was tremendously excited to hear earlier this year that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was taking two months of parental leave. Unfortunately, I saw Facebook posts from far too many dads who claimed that this doesn’t matter. Look, it matters, even though he is famous. Consider this: Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner have changed the dialogue about being transgender. Magic Johnson continues to change the dialogue about HIV and AIDS. Sheryl Sandberg has so many of us “leaning in” on gender equity. So, maybe Mark Zuckerberg can help change the dialogue about parental leave, especially for fathers.
Our society still does not consistently believe in fathers being hands-on parents, as a recent YouGov/Huffington Post survey reminds us: “For men, Americans see things differently: 21 percent of respondents said that most men would prefer to take no leave and half said men would want less than 12 weeks leave. Fourteen percent said that they would think less highly of a man who took 12 weeks of paternity leave after the birth of his child.”
So, until parental leave is the norm, I am celebrating when fathers take parental leave or when companies revamp their leave policies to include fathers or when government institutes positive change.
What can you do? I am simply asking fellow fathers to support the need for parental leave. So, share posts, retweet, and hit social media hard to make it clear you support this cause. Reach out to your local politicians and find out if they support a parental leave policy. If they don’t, tell them why they should. To new dads, if you are blessed to work for a place that provides substantive parental leave, take the leave! Treasure the time with your newborn. Support your spouse or partner. Take it from me, it will mean the world to your family. And tell people about that employer!
A version of this first appeared on The Brown Gothamite.
Editor’s Note: The author is a consultant for The Center for Parental Leave Leadership, the first consulting and coaching company “devoted exclusively to helping our nation’s companies improve their parental leave policy and practice,” according to its website.