I hope this share doesn’t fill my inbox full of hate mail and threats (although some can be quite entertaining once in awhile), but I have to speak about parental leave policies and what we have experienced. My wife, bless her employer, has a generous 12 week, 100% paid maternity policy. It is incredible and there is no vesting attached (you do have to work 9 months after taking the leave but no minimum tenure to qualify) so we are currently in the midst of her 2nd leave with this company. If she worked for my employer, she’d be fired the day she started showing a bump. Just kidding, but it would be a whole different experience. She’d get the 6 (?) weeks mandated FMLA leave, all PTO would be consumed, and I believe Short-Term disability would give her partial pay for the remaining. A blessing, to be sure, but not nearly what she currently receives.
Her employer also offers the same PTO for paternal leave as well. This is also something that was trending last year at Facebook headquarters and several other Silicon Valley type companies where competition for employees is fierce. I love the sentiment that that bonding time is essential for fathers too…but I still don’t quite get it. I don’t know if this makes me a traditionalist, a sexist, or an idiot (all 3 maybe?), but I had hard time envisioning what I would do if I had 12 weeks at home during my first daughter’s birth.
My daughter breast-fed exclusively during those 12 weeks my wife was on leave so I can’t imagine what exactly I would be able to do. I couldn’t feed her and all she did was eat and sleep. I suppose I could burp her? Check her breathing 78 times per hour like most new parents? Paint the nursery a different color each day? Build her an outdoor play set out of toothpicks? Write her a novel about her birth? I don’t know, but 12 weeks seems like a long time for a father to be home with the firstborn (assuming the mother is home full-time as well).
As it worked out, I received a whopping 4 days off for the birth of my first daughter. Having my daughter was the best moment in my entire life, it was transformative, life-changing, and the first experience I’ll ever think about when I’m on my death bed. Annnnndddd….I was ready to go back to work by the time the 4 days was up. Again, I don’t know if that makes me a traditionalist, a sexist, a bad father, or an idiot (or a hodgepodge of all), but I just felt incredibly helpless at home. I would hold my daughter on my chest for about 90 minutes 2-3 times per day, but she was feeding every 2.5 – 3 hours so there wasn’t much time for me to hop in and help the wife get some rest. And I know my wife and I are a team and we were sharing this journey together, but I also felt like a third wheel. Certainly not in a bad way, but I did pick up on this subtle feeling that my wife wanted significant bonding time with her first child. It’s not like she wanted to kick me out, but there was just some deep connection developing between the two of them that I couldn’t partake in. The main thing I was connecting with was stolen birth care center food and 17 lasagna casseroles prepared by family members for us after the birth.
Thus, I believe my wife and I were wholly prepared for me to return to work after just 6 days (4 of PTO, 2 for a weekend). Is such a short time right for your family? I won’t pretend to presume. But unless I started producing milk (can you milk me Greg?), I simply did not feel like I was contributing much. I can’t speak for my wife, but I think there was some relief on her end as well when I got back to work. Apparently, she was sick of watching me eat, hogging the Netflix selections, and snoring deeply through Eliza’s cries. So be it.
I will qualify this post with the following tidbits. First, things were much different for the birth of our second daughter. With the first one running around putting the TERRIBLE in terrible two’s, I think a longer stay at home might have been beneficial (although I did take 6 days instead of 4, so there). Second, daughter number two also had a rough patch in the NICU, which unsettled the whole situation and cast a wave of unease over the transition home. I think my wife would have actually tolerated me being home a little longer this time around…
I don’t know what to think about paternity policies after enduring the NICU nightmare for Everly (daughter #2). Maybe it’s changed my mind, or maybe I need to add a third data point to the sample size (FAT CHANCE). While I can see the incredible value that an extended stay with my newborn would allow, I do not believe that one-on-one time is the only path to developing a bond with a child. While I felt close to my daughters as they slept on my chest as newborns, I also felt a deeper connection to their existence when I returned to work and had something more to work towards, something more counting on me. I feel closer to my daughter when I make time to squeeze in a workout and do my best to protect my health for her sake. There’s dozens of things I’ve experienced since becoming a father that have brought me closer to my girls yet didn’t require long days together to develop. I’ll always cherish all the cuddles and cries and whatever time off I can scrape off year to year, but it won’t stop our relationships from growing even when I’m absent.