Amid all the talk about women “leaning in” (learn more about it HERE) and achieving their career goals, the other part of the message hasn’t got nearly as much publicity – many modern men feel left out of their family life!
The paternity leave is something that I’m very emotional about and something that I have had a very close experience with.
As a society, we’ve made massive progress in providing women with access to parental leave after the birth of a child, but there’s still much work to be done for fathers. Children’s Chances, the most comprehensive study to date on global laws and policies that affect children and families, found that out of 193 countries surveyed, 180 provide some form of paid leave for mothers and 81 guarantee similar rights to fathers. The United States is not one of them.
For the last 10 years, my career had always been my #1 priority. My wife’s pregnancy did wonders with me. 7.5 weeks ago, when MJ was in labor and we were driving to the hospital, I couldn’t have imagined anything work related that would have caused me not to be there for MJ and for our (then unborn) baby-girl.
At the time, I was excited and passionate about our new life and being an involved father. With that being said, I had many doubts and fears, like:
- Will I be good enough dad?
- How do these new responsibilities affect us as a couple?
- How do our finances play out?
- Challenges at work with co-workers and boss with me taking time off.
Although I had quite a few doubts, I wanted to believe that eventually we will figure them out.
And we did. I did something a lot of men in the United States only dream of – I stayed home with my wife and our baby! I’d arranged a full month of leave after her birth. It definitely wasn’t welcomed, but in the end agreed upon.
By the time our daughter arrived, I was a changed man – all I could think about was how I wouldn’t want to miss a beat: her doctor’s visits, her first smile, her first bath, even changing her diaper. I wanted to be a part of it.
Staying home the first four weeks of our baby’s life was the best thing I could have imagined.
Were these four weeks a breeze? Absolutely not!
Would I do it again if I was in the same situation? In a heartbeat!
In fact, I don’t think one month leave was nearly enough to get the full benefit from it. When most western countries have two week paternity leave, I feel that the real parenting starts after that.
Reasons I believe in fathers staying home with their families as long as they can
It‘s good for the father
One of the benefits of taking the paternity leave is getting the time off from work for a couple of weeks. The birth of a child is the beginning of a lifelong learning experience for both parents. Paternity leave is important as it gives men the time to build confidence and competence in their new role as dad.
After these first four weeks, there’s literally nothing I cannot do when it comes to taking care of our baby-girl and I wouldn’t change this feeling for anything.
It’s good for the new mommy
If she had a difficult birth dad’s help may be an absolute necessity. Even if she didn’t, her hands are full with the new baby, and she needs all the help she can get with everything else around the house. So, don’t be surprised if you end up running (what may seem meaningless) errands all day long.
The University of Oregon sociologist Scott Coltrane has noted that when men share house chores, women feel more appreciated and are less likely to become depressed.
It’s good for the baby
Paternity leave is not just good for dads, but also for kids. A new academic study finds that men who stay home after birth are more likely to be involved in childcare activities later on, and that their kids do better on cognitive ability tests.
If paternity leave causes dads to be more involved later on in life, there are a whole lot of reasons to make this initial investment of time. Check out my earlier post about the benefits of being an involved father.
It‘s good for the husband-wife relationship
Have I already mentioned that this has been life-changing experience? Let’s just say that our relationship’s dynamics have changed and I can see this becoming troublesome to some couples. For now (and hopefully temporarily) both of us have taken second place in each other lives, and we’re both OK with it.
I feel like sharing the care of our newborn has brought some renewed closeness and appreciation for one another. Paternity leave has helped me get my mind right about my new role as a dad.
Now, being back at work, I know how much energy goes into being a full-time parent. I also understand what a bad day or night means. Having been through my own share of them myself, I can appreciate her efforts more than I could without having stayed home.
It‘s good for the father-baby relationship
The first few weeks of a child’s life should be an intense bonding experience for the dad and the baby.
This may sound weird to non-parents, but during this first month I spent hours with our little one on my bare chest – skin to skin. I wanted her to hear my heart beat, my voice, associate my scent with feelings of security, etc.
Having a newborn is definitely stressful at times, but it’s amazing how much she’s able to give back already – there have been many times when I come home after a weekend away and cuddle up beside her and feel relieved from all the tensions.
My take on paternity leave
For me, having to go back to work was very difficult – I felt that these four weeks hadn’t been enough.
I still remember one morning couple of weeks ago. My wife got up early to take a shower. I lay on our bed cuddling our baby, I felt completely at peace. I couldn’t help but stare in awe at her tiny face, her fingers, and her toes. When MJ returned to the bedroom I announced: “I think we should keep her!”
While this sounds harsh, it’s just my weird sense of humor. What I really meant was: “I’m in love with her!” These four weeks at home with our little girl made me soft, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
I’m not sharing all of this to show myself as the ideal dad. In fact, I don’t aspire to be one. I just want to be there for my wife and my baby – for our family!
I believe that there’s more to manhood than bringing home a paycheck. My advice to new fathers is to get as much time off, as possible and make the most of it! Don’t waste these days sitting on the couch watching TV; spend time with your baby and with her mother and enjoy the little moments that inspire a lifetime’s bond between you.
Bonus material! I promised you bonus material every time and today is no exception!
When we advocate for leave for moms, it totally makes sense to be advocating for dads too! Raising children isn’t just the job of the mom anymore. Studies show that the happiest households are those with dads who spend time with kids and do chores. Taking time off is crucial for the whole family!
What’s your experience with paternity leave and/or the first weeks with the baby?