Paternity Leave Through the Eyes of Three Working Dads
Even though companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Etsy have expanded paid parental leave over the past few years, less than one in five businesses offer it — and the United States remains the only developed nation with no paid maternity leave system.
According to a Boston College Center for Work and Family study, even if leave is offered, 42 percent of dads return to work after one week and 81 percent return to the office after two weeks.
Why? Concern over falling behind at work, fear of being judged by coworkers or leadership and worry that their choice doesn’t really “matter,” just to name a few.
However, research indicates that taking leave after the birth of a child is good for fathers at work and home: children benefit from spending time with both parents in early days, and from a business standpoint, it helps retains high-quality, loyal employees while addressing the gender pay gap as a whole.
Here’s why three dads took paternity leave, how it impacted their careers and families, and what they learned from the experience.
Jason Weis, Partner at a Virginia Law Firm
Jason Weis, a partner at a law firm in Fairfax, Va., took two weeks paid leave with his first child and one week paid leave with his second child.
“When I took time off in 2010, there was no firm policy for paternity leave. The partners were split about whether paternity leave was even a legitimate thing; some gave me dirty looks for asking about it, while others encouraged me to take the time with my family to capture the memories."
"I was fortunate in that I was a high-originating (valuable) associate attorney at the time, so I was probably cut a bit more slack. My responsibilities were largely covered by my paralegal and other sympathetic associates, who I paid back later."
Weis: Perspective and Priorities
"I took two weeks paid with my first child, and one week with my second child because we were better as a family unit and I had trial dates I could not move."
"I checked in via email most days, because I am a divorce litigator and emergencies come up that clients believe only I can handle."
"I tried to have some perspective and prioritize, but, in truth, my career is also important to my family because I am the primary breadwinner."
Weis: Confronting Expectations
"I’m certain some partners viewed it as a weakness and taking the time put me behind in billable hours as compared to other associates."
"I don’t regret taking time off, but it made the months that followed more difficult, because my job was already demanding and I was doing my regular load, doing additional work to catch-up to my peers, and dealing with a young child at home."
"But I was present for the birth of my children and available to support my wife and children, albeit for only a short time."
Weis: Leading for the Future
"Now, as a partner in the firm, I'm part of the committee that authorizes young associates, typically millennials, to take paternity leave."
"It’s been interesting. Our younger associate attorneys are not resistant to paternity leave — quite the opposite. We’re seeing them with a clear expectation that paternity leave is the norm.”
Brandon Bolhous, Site Operations Manager
Brandon Bolhous, operations manager for a multinational corporation in Illinois, took four days off with his first child a few years before, but then took four weeks paid leave with his second child.
“With my first kid, I did take four days off, but given the size of the company and my role at the time, taking off more than that amount of time would have been a big challenge."
"With the birth of our second child, I took four weeks of paid parental leave. The time I was able to spend with my oldest son, and the amount of day-to-day tasks I could take on for my wife really helped with the transition to two kids."
Bolhous: Another Pair of Hands and Eyes
"Nothing really prepared us for the task of two under 2, so having an extra set of hands and eyes made the long nights a little more tolerable and the long days more engaging for our oldest. Without the time off, we all would have been zombies after the first week."
"I cross-trained peers and front-line employees to cover various tasks. This really benefited the team because it required them to learn beyond their current roles, and set them up for advancement if they chose to pursue opportunities."
Bolhous: Keeping Up at Work
"I did conduct weekly check-ins with my employees to cover any questions they had and to maintain some level of connection with the day-to-day operations (par for the course in this industry). I was concerned about falling behind at work, but after my weekly check-ins, I was left reassured that things were running well."
"My supervisor also requested that I disable email notifications on my phone, which was a relief. I had planned to do so, but having my supervisor request it really solidified my confidence in my company’s support. Of course I worried some, and may even have skimmed through some emails, but what else can I do at 2:30 a.m. with a baby who needs to constantly be held?"
Bolhous: Division of Time
"If and when we have our next child, my wife and I will look closely at how we spend those four weeks of time off."
"Maybe I'll take the first week off to help get all of us acclimated and on some sort of schedule, then break up the remaining three weeks when family or friends aren't coming by to help."
"Regardless, the four weeks off really helped our family.”
Blake Snow, Journalist and Author
Blake Snow, content advisor and journalist, took one day unpaid with his first two children and one week unpaid with his third, fourth and fifth child. He is the author of "Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting."
“With the first two children, I only took off the day of the birth. I work for myself, so it was basically unpaid. I was too busy seeking fame and fortune to understand the importance of what was happening. I took slightly more interest with the first child since it was a new experience, but I remember very little about my second child's newborn month, if not the first couple of years."
"As a father, I feel bad about that, but I've mostly mended my ways — so that negative start actually made me a better father today."
Snow: Lessons Learned
"With the later three, I took a full week each time and am glad I did."
"I worked a little overtime beforehand to make sure I had everything in order and then turned on an autoresponder during my absence."
"I was off the grid, minus an email or two that helped advance the more important projects I was working on at the time."
Snow: Finding Understanding
"Most business emergencies are invented —the only real emergencies involve risk of serious harm, life, and in a business sense, tens of thousands of dollars."
"I didn't experience any of that during my paternity leave, and 99 percent of people are very understanding, if not congratulatory with new babies."
"We all used to be one, after all!"
Snow: Not an Option for Everyone
"I can't imagine what women go through when sacrificing their bodies for the future of humanity, one baby at a time."
"The least we can do as husbands and spouses is to make that sacrifice as easy as possible and to work as a team to bring little ones into this beautiful world."
"I realize taking paternity leave is a privilege, not an entitlement, and my heart goes out to those who are unable to do so.”