Taking leave

I just completed my first week as Mr. Mom!  Grade: B-

Some background: Our son Ben was born three months ago, and since then Angela has been home with him and we’ve had a few family members come to help for a while. It has been going fine, but the plan all along has been for Angela to return to work and Ben to enter daycare. But we didn’t want to put him in at three months, so the idea of paternity leave entered the picture.

My idea of paternity leave came from growing up in late 20th century midwestern USA. Here’s how it works: dad takes off 1-2 weeks after the baby is born and then goes back to work. That’s it. That’s what people do.  I mention this because even digesting the concept of an extended paternal leave was a bit tough to get my head around.  My friends outside the US are probably shaking their heads in frustration by now.  You’ve maybe heard how residents of other countries get more vacation time than those in the US, well the comparison of parental leave (especially paid) is even more imbalanced.

Only four countries have no national law mandating paid time off for new parents: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.

OK, woe is me that I’m not from somewhere that would grant me a huge paid break.  I am, however, entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave thanks to FMLA.  All dads have had this right since 1993, but I honestly can’t remember any of my male colleagues taking an extended leave following the birth of a child.  (By “extended” I mean more than the perfunctory 1-2 weeks.)  It could be money, but it’s probably culture. The idea of doing so doesn’t even cross their minds since they don’t see anyone else doing it.  Even in some of the most leave-generous countries, dads are not taking much of the leave they’re entitled to.  Choosing to take leave may be a more difficult decision than one would think.

Angela and I discussed this early on, and I talked openly with my employer about it too, so they could plan accordingly.  I will be taking off at least the month of January to watch Ben, and I just completed the first week.  My initial impressions of full-time, all-day care without a live-in support crew:

  • Completely out of my comfort zone
  • Very time consuming (let go of the idea of getting “other” stuff done)
  • Frustrating at times
  • Often delightful

Though I may be all thumbs with certain baby things, and Ben doesn’t like the change and is protesting in various ways, even after a week I can say the experience is highly rewarding and shouldn’t be missed.  Ben has already picked up on the change in routine and we relate to each other a bit differently than at the start of the week.  I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming weeks.

I recently listened to David Brooks discuss the many thousands of letters he’s received from seniors recounting their lives, life lessons learned, what they’d have done differently. One of the top themes was from men who regretted not spending enough time with their families. Though the nature of one’s job (e.g. travel, late meetings) may be a dominant factor, I believe not spending some time with children during their first months is significant too.

Dads in the US have the right to take time off.  I think more of them would do so if they’d only consider it.

3 thoughts on “Taking leave”

  1. Jim – Loved reading your thoughts and think you are really brave! Enjoy the time with Ben, both of you will get a lot of rewards from spending this time together. It will certainly ease Angela back into work nicely knowing that Ben is at home with you. Look forward to reading more! Could be the next bestseller…. Adventures of Jim and Ben :) It’s disappointing that the US stilll hasn’t recognised that Stat Maternity leave should be longer. In Sweden Mum’s are entitled to for 1 years paid Maternity leave! Big hugs to the 3 of you xxx

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