Yesterday, I gave a shout out to John Oliver’s take on paid parental leave. Today – here’s mine:
When I was first pregnant and the wife and I were thinking about how to handle our respective parental leaves, we discussed staggering our time off so we could maximize the period Baby O was home with a mom. Certainly that is the choice many families make if both parents can take any time off. And there was something nice in the idea of each of us having alone time with O.
But pretty quickly an idea took hold that we would just do our leave together. Almost – save for one family – no one we knew had made this choice. But as we started to think more about this new period of bringing O into the world, we realized we wanted to have the time to gel as a family, all getting to know each other and our dynamics as a three-some. Taking 16 weeks off together (which is ultimately what we had) would be an opportunity we would probably never have again in our lives.
The cost of this choice was not insubstantial – roughly the cost of 3-4 additional months of childcare than if we had staggered the time. But we decided this was a time not to be taken for granted.
Let me pause here and make a very important point: the fact that this was even an option for us puts us in a tiny percentage of American families. Only TWELVE percent of workers in America have access to any paid leave. The vast majority of dads (two-thirds) take less than one week off work when they have a baby. That I got 16 weeks paid time puts me in the minority as is – that we both got that is almost unheard of. Of course, it should not be. This should be the norm as it is in many other countries.
Beyond the obvious impact on birthing parents, this has a real impact on the non-childbearing parents. As this article points out:
“Part of the rationale for paternity leave is if men are able to be very involved early on in the care of their children, they’re going to be more involved ever after, and it will translate to more equal sharing and equal roles,” said Ms. Waldfogel, the professor of social work. Though men who want to be more involved fathers are probably more likely to take leave in the first place, she found that even after controlling for fathers’ commitment levels, those who took significant leaves were more likely to do hands-on child care later.
In her study with Ms. Nepomnyaschy, which analyzed 10,000 children in the United States, they found that fathers who took two or more weeks of leave were significantly more likely to do tasks like diapering, feeding, dressing and bathing later on. Fathers who took less than two weeks, however, were often no more likely to be involved than those who took none at all.”
This played out in our experience. Being together for the first 16 weeks of our son’s life meant that not only did we gel as a family of three, the wife and I gelled as a parental unit. The cost of our leave together is in the thousands – but here are 10 priceless benefits we got as a result:
- We both know our son equally well – we know his hunger signs, his tired signs, his schedule and how to soothe him.
- Relatedly, our son knows us equally well and trusts us both to meet his needs.
- We gelled as a family unit of 3.
- We had so much fun. So. much. fun.
- We were well rested and thus happier and better parents.
- We were relaxed and thus happier and better parents.
- We gut-check our instincts and decisions with each other and thus had less self-doubt and were more confident as moms.
- We felt connected to each other so our relationship has not suffered.
- We learned to do things as a family beyond just take care of our baby.
- We fit in a lot of family visits while we were off so our son got to know his extended family early and it was not disruptive to our lives to host so many visitors.
In short, it was the greatest experience of our lives. I know how lucky we are to be able to have had it – but i wish it wasn’t such a luxury.