The time before and after a baby is born and brought home is crazy and exciting. Many working mothers decide to take medical leave during this time to recover themselves and to care for and to bond with their new baby. Thankfully, this time off is protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it is not just protected for mothers. Companies that are large enough to adhere to the FMLA guidelines are also required to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time to eligible fathers. This is called “paternity leave” or “parental leave.”
While men do not have to recover physically postpartum the way women do, time off after a baby is born is very important for them, too. The U.S. Department of Labor cites that paternity or parental leave can promote parent-child bonding, improve outcomes for children, and even increase gender equity at home and in the workplace. It can be very beneficial to the entire family, especially if the mother and father take separate leave times.
If a mother and father both take parental leave, it can help greatly, both with sharing family and financial responsibilities. As one parent returns to work after his or her leave time, the other parent can help to nurture and bond with the child. This helps the family dynamic, puts less strain on finances because they do not need to pay for additional child care, and helps to put parents’ minds at ease as they transition back to work since they will be leaving their new baby with someone they know, love, and trust.
For the father staying home, paternity leave is time with his baby that he will always cherish, and it can set the stage for the future. If the mother is the only one addressing the needs of the child early on, studies suggest that the child will only go to the mother for comfort in the future. But if the father is involved early on, it can help the baby to find comfort with both parents as he or she grows up.
While paternity leave may not work for everyone, if it does work, it can be a huge benefit for everyone in the family. If a father is considering paternity leave, he should check with his human resources department or benefits office at work to see what options are available. He should be ready to hear though that official paternity leave options are not available if the company has fewer than 50 employees. These smaller companies are not required to follow FMLA guidelines, and the concept of paternity leave is fairly new in the working world so official paternity leave policies may not be in place. Other time-off options should be available which can be used as paternity leave, though. Either way, an interested father should talk to his HR or benefits office because bringing up the topic can bring about change. If a lot of fathers are requesting paternity or parental leave, policies may be put in place to accommodate them!