Paternity Leave

What is the Value of Paternity Leave?

February 2, 2015

If you have eyes and/or ears and a television and/or a computer, you know that a hot topic as of late is paternity leave and how the US is falling behind the rest of the world in this category. People are proposing that businesses should implement guaranteed leave regardless of what the government requires, and some companies, like Intel, are following suit. As the article states,

In addition to helping finance new moms’ 13-week maternity leave, Intel made headlines this month when it promised an additional eight weeks of paid “bonding” time for all new parents, mothers and fathers alike.

You read that right- MOTHERS AND FATHERS ALIKE.

So I, like many of you, have been left wondering, what is the value of paternity leave? And now I have an answer.

There is no value to paternity leave.

It is absolutely invaluable, and what happens in this time at home with your newborn cannot be measured in terms of money.

I have been at home with Meghaan and our baby since the day she was born. In fact, I have technically been away from work since before Lela was even born.

I am a high school math teacher. You’re probably thinking “what a sexy profession”, and you are so correct. There is nothing more glamorous than standing in front of a group of freshmen at 7:30 in the morning and announcing, “good news, guys; today we are going to learn how to find the distance between an island and a yacht, assuming that the yacht is moving in a specific direction with constant velocity.”

EYES GO CROSSED, KIDS GET BACK TO THEIR PREVIOUS CONVERSATIONS, I WEEP QUIETLY IN THE CORNER

HOW CAN THEY NOT LIKE THIS? IT IS SO RELEVANT TO THE INTERESTS OF A TEENAGER!

OK, maybe teaching math isn’t sexy. But it is a blast. I get to be around 150 young men and women a day. And they are great kids, and I have never laughed so hard as I do when the kids are accidentally funny. They don’t know it, but they are damned funny.

They inspire me, and I have learned a lot about the teenage psyche, and I will use these lessons as I become the father of a teenager.

I left school early on the Friday before winter break because Meg was already in the hospital with my mother, and she was about to be induced.

I had joked that I wanted Lela to be born right when winter break started. The birthing gods apparently heard me. I was at the hospital before 2:00, the time that school normally ends. We had our baby less than 24 hours later.

Since then, I have not been back to work. I have not worked in six weeks and one day.

What did I do while at home?

Not much, really.

  • I took pictures.
  • I wrote for my blog.
  • I watched Jimmy Fallon every night.
  • I drank beer.
  • I relearned how to play guitar.

That’s about it. Oh, I guess there were a few other things.

  • I drove them anywhere they needed to go.
  • I cooked every meal Meghaan ate, other than those brought by friends and family (thanks guys!)
  • Her water was always full.
  • I changed about 200 diapers.
  • Meghaan showered a couple times, so I held my baby.
  • I bonded with my newborn daughter and my wife. 

Meghaan hasn’t explicitly told me this, but I will say it myself- I don’t know how she would have done this without me.

Parenting is not easy. Not with both parents, and especially not with only one parent. But that’s what happens far too often in our country. Most men are back to work in under two weeks, and the majority of fathers I have spoken with were back to work within five days of their child’s birth.

We are not putting value on how important this time is, to both the parents and the newborn.

My leave was not “paid”, mind you. It was covered by my sick leave, which means I will not miss my paycheck for January.

But this is still not paid leave. It was not paid for by my employer. It was covered by sick time that I have earned over the course of my 8-year career in the district. If I had taken more sick days over the years (I take very few, because planning for a sub is more work than just teaching with a cold), I would have been on my own. I would have to choose between my family and paying my bills.

That is not right. Nobody should have to make that decision. And in a surprisingly high number of developed nations, no family will ever have to.

Here is just one of dozens of charts and infographics that show how we match up with other countries in several categories, namely maternity and paternity leave. This particular image comes via Maya Dusenbery at Feministing.com, and comes along with the following quote:

The US is just one of three countries with no guaranteed paid maternity leave, and of 34 developed countries, one of two that doesn’t ensure men can take paternity leave. Only 11 percent of Americans in the private sector have access to some sort of paid family leave. Most other wealthy countries also have things like paid sick days–a benefit that 41 million people in this country lack–and affordable child care. Just imagine!

Read that a few more times, just to let it sink in.

Now take a look at this and see how it sits with you.

I don’t think I need to tell you what I think, but I will anyway because I can’t hold it back.

This is ridiculous and we should be ashamed.

What do we value as a country? I sincerely want to know. I do not know what we value as a nation. But through my experience as a teacher, I can tell you that a good portion of Americans do not value public education or the people who dedicate their sanity to keeping it afloat as others do their best to sink it.

And now I am acutely aware that we are not supporting new parents as they learn to work in the most valuable profession we have- parenting.

Without granting both mothers AND fathers paid leave, we are setting families up for a rougher road than they deserve. Let’s make this easy on parents, so that they can learn to be good parents.

Plus, if I was not at home with my baby girl, I would not have been able to have a diaper changing happy party, which left her squealing with joy and blowing milk bubbles from the corner of her mouth.

IMG_0483

 

What do you think? Did you get paid or unpaid maternity or paternity leave when you had your child, and if so, how did that impact you? If you did not have leave, do you wish that you did or is it something you wouldn’t have taken anyway? Comment below and let me know!

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13 Comments

  • Reply Josie February 2, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    My husband took 5 days of paid vacation for our first baby (spent the first three in the hospital), and 4 days with the next.
    I used my accrued sick and vacation time to be home with each of my babies. I applied for short term disability insurance *before* I got pregnant (coverage can be denied because pregnancy is a pre-existing condition for short term disability coverage, unlike for health insurance plans), or I would have had to go without a full paycheck for several weeks of each of my maternity leaves. I had to pay my own premium for that coverage, which kicked in about 2/3 of my paycheck after a two-week waiting period. Many people don’t have paid maternity leave (like I didn’t), don’t have much sick or vacation (I had a decent amount), and don’t have short term disability. Some people who work part time and/or for small organizations don’t even have job protected unpaid leave.
    I agree that parental leave is invaluable. Great post. You, Lela, and Meghaan are so lucky to have each other!

    • Reply David February 2, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      That’s amazing. A pregnancy is considered to be a “pre-existing condition” in certain industries.

      A pre-existing condition.

      Are people really using a pregnancy to preclude you from receiving the income you need to live?

      I’m glad you and your husband had even that much time. And Meghaan and I are so happy that we had over 6 weeks together. She’s a kick-ass mother and I’m…well, I’m a good supporter 🙂

      I’m glad you liked this. It’s something that means so much to me. If we can come together and agree to support the education, health, and families of everyone in America, our nation will thrive. Until then, we will continue to struggle.

  • Reply Kristen February 3, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Really great blog David, congrats to you and Meghaan! I live in the UK (I know Meghaan from college through my sister Kim) and the situation here is changing for the better. My husband had the standard 2 weeks paternity leave at reduced pay
    which he took as holiday instead, to get full pay (very common over here, as for many that partial paid 2 weeks just isn’t enough). What governments also don’t realise is that without the support of a partner post-pregnancy, things like recovering from a c-section or dealing with post-partum depression become infinately harder (I faced both). The UK system offers easy free support for these problems (for example, nurses came to my house to weigh and check the baby, remove stitches etc, and put me into great support groups for depression asap. But it was so much harder on my own. Does the political system in the US understand that the loss can also be felt in the health of the mother? Overall I probably cost the UK taxpayer more (as all healthcare is free) through not having Tom at home longer, than if public money were used to help employers top up paternity leave. Anyway, congrats again!

    • Reply David February 3, 2015 at 5:42 am

      Hi Kristen! Thanks for reading, and for commenting. It sounds like the UK has taken large steps in the right direction, and you’re so right about the actual cost of learning to become a parent. The postpartum depression issue is HUGE, and to think that something as simple as having the partner at home can alleviate that. But in America, parenthood has somehow become a political issue and half the country refuses to support new parents through paid time off, health care, etc. I’m glad you guys are getting it right. Cheers 🙂

  • Reply cruisingchris February 3, 2015 at 11:25 am

    As an employee at Intel, I am glad you mentioned that they are leading the pack in this change. I agree that this change is long overdue. America needs to catch up with basic family benefits. Glad to see you and Meghaan doing so well. Congrats.

    • Reply David February 3, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks Chris. Intel has done something that will hopefully pave the way for other companies, and eventually our entire country. And Intel will benefit when top talent comes to and stays at their company.

  • Reply Michael Kwan (@michaelkwan) February 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I’m self-employed and work from home as a freelance writer. This effectively meant two things for me.
    1. I didn’t take any “paternity leave,” as I effectively returned to the office to run my business the day we came home from the hospital.
    2. I have been home this entire time (save a short business trip), so I’ve taken on my fair share of diaper changes, laundry loads, meals cooked, and so on. And yes, I have very much bonded with my baby daughter. I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

    Productivity as a home-based entrepreneur and new dad is a curious thing…
    http://btr.michaelkwan.com/2014/09/26/productivity-new-work-home-dad/

    • Reply David February 4, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks for the comment. So did you reduce the amount of time spent working while you were in the early weeks, or did you stick to a similar schedule as before the child?

  • Reply I Don't Have Good Students - The Unprepared Father February 5, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    […] avoided January by taking paternity leave. I really couldn’t have planned it any better. We had our daughter right at the start of […]

  • Reply DadGoesRound February 7, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    I am constantly astounded at what a crappy deal you folks in the US get when it comes to parental leave. In Canada we get a combined 52 weeks of parental leave subsidized by our employment insurance (EI) program through the federal government. We pay into EI on every paycheque and then can draw on it for those times we are actually unemployed (up to 12 months) and for parental leave. Many employers then provide top-ups to bring income closer to your usual pay since the EI system only pays a max of 55% up to $450 or something like that per week. I had the benefit of working for the provincial government when my first two were born and was able to take 2 months the first time and 7 months the second. For our third I had to cobble together vacation time since my employer doesn’t top up and it wasn’t financially possible for me to be off without the top up. I spread out my vacation and worked half days for a couple of months. It worked out ok, but would have been better to be off completely.

    Giving employees the opportunity to take leave makes them better parents and as a result more productive employees when they come back. I can’t figure out how people do their jobs with a brand new baby at home. The sleep deprivation alone makes me pretty dysfunctional as a human let alone attempting to be useful at work.

    I’m glad to see some movement happening on this front in the US.

    • Reply David February 7, 2015 at 11:22 pm

      Thank you so much for the perspective. Ignoring the needs of parents, new or old, is bad policy. Sadly, that’s the American standard. I hope this changes.

    • Reply One more on the way! July 17, 2015 at 4:17 am

      Many of the charts only show the maternity leave portion of the policy in Canada (16 weeks), not paternity leave, totaling 52 weeks as you mentioned. Recently have moved to the US and am astounded at the policy here, or rather the lack thereof, as well as the lack of motivation to change it!

      • Reply David July 17, 2015 at 8:24 am

        It’s amazing. Some companies are working to change it but we need the entire culture to shift and see the value in supporting parents. People seem unwilling to do so, yet they’re quite willing to criticize the parents and children if they aren’t the model family. I hope that by the time Lela is grown, this won’t even be an issue.

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