6 Dads Describe What Taking Paternity Leave Is Really Like
When Netflix and other major tech companies began offering dads up to a year of paid paternity leave this summer, it reinforced the idea that taking time off to welcome a new child into the family isn't just for moms. But most companies' policies don't yet reflect the importance of paternity leave, so even when dads do have leave available, it's often unpaid or very brief. Though many men in this country still don't take paternity leave, either by choice or because they don't have the option, Cosmopolitan.com talked to six dads who did take leave to find out what that experience was like.
Matthew, freelance film and television editor, 39
Early in my wife's pregnancy, I learned about the paid family leave that California offers. [California allows many parents to take up to six weeks of paid family leave for eligible workers, at up to 55 percent of their weekly earnings.] I jumped at that chance. I hated the idea of my wife being completely on her own in caring for our first child.
I gladly would have been the stay-at-home parent, had it not made more sense logistically for me to be the one to return to work after leave. I looked fondly on that role because of growing up in the 1980s — there were all these sitcoms with fathers who stayed at home, like Growing Pains and Who's the Boss? Those shows made being an involved dad seem cool and important. When I am working, my hours are unpredictable, and often long. I knew I wouldn't always be able to go to every single soccer practice or Little League game once my kids were older, and so the idea of taking as much intentional time as I feasibly could really resonated with me. Taking six weeks of leave helped me be a more supportive partner and a more engaged dad, and gave me time to get acquainted with and truly enjoy our new daughter.
Patrick, outreach coordinator, 39
I took two weeks of paid paternity leave when my wife and I adopted a 7-year-old, and while my work was supportive, I think some people couldn't get their heads around the fact that even though we were not bringing home a newborn baby, we were still entering a period of huge transition and upheaval as a family.
When you bring home a newborn, you have the challenge of figuring out what and when the baby eats, setting up daily and nightly routines, and so on. With an older child, we had those same challenges but were grappling with the fact that our child had spent her whole life doing things one way and had to now adjust to doing them differently.
To think I might have had to abandon my wife and new daughter during that initial time of transition is deplorable, and I resent having to return to work as quickly as I did. While I could've added on sick days or vacation days to extend my leave, I wanted to keep those days to take if my daughter was sick and for potential family vacations.
Honestly, we would likely not have made it if I did not take leave. We recently finalized our adoption of Kloe, and to think about how far we've come in 14 months as a threesome blows my mind. Without those two weeks of time all together, setting up routines, getting to know one another, and learning what we all could expect of each other, I think the placement could have failed. I can't imagine missing out on the memories and joy we've shared in the year since.
Stuart, university employee, 33
My wife and I spent a lot of time discussing what to do about paternity leave. The university would give me two weeks fully paid, and then everything beyond that would have been unpaid, via the Family Medical Leave Act. Unpaid leave isn't really an option financially when your wife is planning to take FMLA too. Our son was born three weeks early and had some health problems at birth, and so it wound up being a really good thing that I could stay home.
Because it was our first baby, and because we didn't have family or friends that could drop everything to help, I really saw myself as being the primary resource and support for my wife. Giving myself those two weeks to figure out what the hell I was doing was essential — even after we'd done the birth classes and child-rearing workshops and everything, you still enter a period where you have to find your feet.
While my coworkers had been supportive of me taking leave, they weren't as supportive while I was transitioning back to work. I asked for the same modified schedule that other parents in my office take advantage of, which includes one day a week working from home. But I was the first father in my office to ask for the adjusted schedule, and I met way more resistance than I anticipated. It worked out, but my boss's response was disappointing and made me feel mistrusted, somehow.
But no matter what negotiations you have to do, I'd encourage dads to take as much leave as they can. Work will still be there after your leave, and you are a huge part of the process of a new baby coming into your life. I wouldn't have the relationship I have with my wife and my son if I hadn't prioritized being there as much as I could.
Kyle, web developer, 35
Originally, I wasn't going to take paternity leave. I planned to take a combination of sick and vacation days, but thought I'd be back to work after a week or so. However, my wife had an extremely complicated delivery, which resulted in three full nights in the hospital and a pretty banged-up baby. We'd all been through so much that I couldn't imagine going back to work right away, if for no other reason than that my wife's physical recovery was going to take some time.
Fortunately, my HR department is great, and walked me through the process of getting Family Medical Leave Act leave set up as soon as possible. The idea of taking unpaid time off made me really nervous, especially after our hospital stay, which we hadn't even seen bills for yet. But I couldn't see another option. It was hard to break out of that anxiety for the first week or so — I was worried about money, and honestly still a little traumatized by what we'd been through during delivery. I wound up going back to work after about five weeks, both because my wife was feeling better and because our financial situation really couldn't sustain a longer leave.
I'm so glad work was able to accommodate my need for the extra time away, although I wish we'd had a partially paid option or something too. That said, when we have a second child, I'm not 100 percent sure I'd definitely want to take leave. If there were complications, absolutely. But since unpaid leave would be my only option again, I think I'd prioritize providing financially over physically being there all day, every day.
Wes, pastor, 31
I've taken six weeks of paid paternity leave for each of my three children, and it has tremendously benefited both myself and my whole family. I was able to be there for my wife, give her breaks when she needed them, and help with both the transition and her physical recovery. It's also helped me get to know my children — not just the new baby, but the older kids as well — and to support them as the hierarchy of the family shifts as we welcome a new baby.
Most importantly, I've been there to help my family grow into a new "normal" together. If I had not been able to take leave, I would have felt like I was living two different lives, and in some respects, I wouldn't have been able to find my own place as my family expanded. I don't think I would have been as good of a father if I hadn't taken leave.
I've learned that taking a "successful" leave means I need to completely check out. No reading email, no returning calls, no checking in with colleagues. When our second child was born, I checked email multiple times per day. It got to the point where my wife told me to turn my phone off. It was hard, but it was the best thing that she could have told me to do.
Eoin, software engineer, 31
Twitter offers dads up to 10 weeks of paid paternity leave, and it was important for me to take time away from work to support my wife, bond with our baby, and come to terms with fatherhood.
Our son had some weight gain issues and a lactose allergy, both of which were stressful to cope with as new parents. Even though my colleagues were absolutely supportive of my choice to take leave, I wound up only taking six weeks of the 10 available to me. We'd heard from friends that six weeks was the point at which things settled down a bit for a new baby and a new mom, and I was set to take on a new leadership role and start a new project around the six-week mark too. But if we have another child, I definitely want to take the full 10 weeks, both to spend more time with my child and to set an example for other people on my team, at my company, and in my industry. I believe it's important to support robust parental leave policies, and part of that is people actually using it so that is normalized.