Paternal Leave: Why You Should Take It, If Offered (and Push For It, If Not)

Parental Leave

Traditionally, parental leave was seen as a “mother’s issue”, but that is not the case anymore. Paternal leave is becoming increasingly more common, and it’s a good thing for everyone. Here are some reasons why new parents should take advantage of paternity leave. Additionally, while this article focuses primarily on fathers in heterosexual relationships, it’s paramount to acknowledge that there are many types of families, and they would all benefit from having more family leave.

Better relationships with spouse and children

Paternal leave can have powerful and positive effects on families. Paternal leave allows fathers a bigger part of their children's lives from the very beginning. Studies have shown that dads having a more active role in parenting leads to better behavioral, social, and psychological outcomes for children. Paternity leave has also been shown to strengthen romantic partnerships, and even correlates with lower divorce rates. When both parents are able to take time off, they learn together how to navigate the new responsibilities of parenthood, together. This builds trust and understanding and sets up a strong foundation for their relationship as partners and co-parents.

Improved gender equality in the workplace

It’s well-known that women, on average, earn less than men and that this wage gap is especially large for women of color. A contributing factor is that women are disproportionately driven out of the workforce due to the caregiving expected from them. This also contributes to hiring bias. Employers may subconsciously choose a man over a woman expecting that the man will have fewer responsibilities at home, and therefore have better availability for work. Normalizing paternal leave helps to level the playing field at work. Additionally, research shows that with every additional month of parental leave taken by the father, the mother’s earnings increase by about 7%. And mothers whose spouses take paternal leave tend to return to work more quickly.

Help fight the stigma that caregiving is a woman's responsibility

The idea that keeping house is a woman’s responsibility is obviously problematic and outdated. Caregiving is valuable and rewarding for people of all genders. In fact, qualities that are often strengthened during caregiving like empathy and patience are also qualities of great leaders at work. Studies have shown that dads who take paternity leave continue to have a greater role in housework and childcare long after they return to work, which not only contributes to better equality and satisfaction at home but leads to them being more well-rounded individuals.

Better work-life balance

Half of fathers say that they have missed out on important milestones and events in their children’s life because of work conflicts. Dads who take paternity leave often report better job satisfaction. Better job satisfaction allows them to be more productive at work and home. They also frequently report the time they spend at home is very fulfilling. While on leave, they don’t have to worry about missing out on important parenting moments. Paternity leave gives them the time they need to establish routines and get used to parenting, so it’s not quite as overwhelming once they go back to work.

What prevents fathers from taking it?

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of paternal leave, it’s important to talk about why not everyone takes it. Some of the main reasons are economic pressures and stigma.

Economic Factors

In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows up to 12 weeks of job-protected (but unpaid) leave for specific family and medical reasons. Of course, with no source of income, it can be a challenge for parents to take much time off. Some parents even report fear of losing their jobs due to taking too much time off. That is why Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) is crucial. Many people are working to expand paid family leave and allow both mothers and fathers to take time off to raise their families without penalty. Celebrities like Chance the Rapper, Anne Hathaway, and John Legend are even joining the fight.

Social Stigma

The old-fashioned idea that men are supposed to be the sole breadwinners of the family may be outdated, but it still leads many men to feel as though they shouldn’t take time off for family. What’s more, just 26% of managers encourage men to take leave. But choosing to take paternal leave, even if it is not already encouraged, is a huge step fathers can take in breaking the stigma. 73% of fathers believe there is little support for fathers in the workplace, and 72% of men said they would have taken longer parental leave if they had seen their co-workers do so. Being brave enough to push for paternal leave at companies where it’s not already offered will help employers understand that it’s something employees value, and this is a huge step toward changing the culture. Plus, because companies that offer paternal leave generally have happier and more productive employees, it is beneficial to the companies as well.

Taking paternal leave improves dads’ relationships with their children and spouse, leads to a better work-life balance, enables better gender quality at home and in the workplaces, and even benefits companies by creating happier and more productive employees. However, it is not universally accessible and there is still a stigma surrounding it. If paternity leave is offered at your company, you should take it. If it’s not, we greatly encourage you to push for it.

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