Are You Getting the Quick Finish of the Paternity-Depart Stick?

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Family vacation guidelines vary widely and can be confusing. Which allowances are required by the state? Do fathers even know how much free time they are entitled to? Why don’t fathers spend all of their time when the benefits to their families are so great? In this guest post, Sima Bernstein, EdD, who has dealt in depth with the problem, explains why it is in her words “a shame not to use parental leave!” – especially for fathers.

When I gave birth to my first child in the 1980s and had to go back to work after twelve weeks of (partially) paid vacation, I was demoralized and outraged. At night I was kept awake by anxious questions: How could I be expected to leave my newborn with someone I barely knew? How should I afford childcare for my meager salary in an prohibitively expensive city? And why was my employer – a company with a family-friendly reputation – so inflexible when it came to part-time work? I felt that both my workplace and the system had failed. This despite a vacation with relatively generous benefits at that time.

If I had been deprived of less sleep, I might have realized that if someone had been given the short end of “parental leave” it was my husband. But the man I married is a stoic non-complainant. So he made the most of what he had and took full advantage of his allotted paternity leave – all around the clock! And then he went on. On the other hand, more than 20 years later, I can still reconstruct my anger fairly clearly.

Fast forward to 2019, when the situation on maternity / paternity leave improves significantly, albeit far from perfect. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 88 percent of workers in the private sector are offered some form of unpaid family leave (which includes maternity and paternity leave, among others). 16 percent had paid vacation benefits. As a rule, however, far more women than men apply for these parental leave benefits. For example, a study of fathers’ paid vacation in California found that only 30 percent of all paid family vacation entitlements in California were submitted by men.

Not taking parental leave is a shame!

Any underutilization of a policy that allows parents to care for a new baby (especially one that is relatively well paid like California’s) should – aptly – be called a crying shame. Studies of what happens after parents take vacation underscore a long list of positive results. For babies, this includes lower infant mortality rates and better health.

For mothers, the good news includes fewer depressive symptoms, faster return to work, and greater likelihood of returning to the job they had before the birth. Fathers were more likely to have paternity leave engaged to their children and to be more involved in childcare and housekeeping. The children of these fathers were also more likely to perceive a greater parent-child closeness.

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Given all of these benefits, why not make enough use of the leaves? For one thing, they may just not know what they’re entitled to. Studies have repeatedly reported poor holiday policy awareness. (See, for example, reports from California and New Jersey.) Both federal unpaid leave (FMLA) and state-sponsored paid leave have some restrictions. But fathers-to-be shouldn’t write off the opportunity to request leave without doing research. It is worth taking a few minutes to research the benefits available. See the National Partnership for Women and Families for information on government coverage for paid leave.

Problems that only occur in fathers

There can also be some potentially negative side effects of parenting sheets for fathers who are inexperienced by mothers. For example, a study in Spain found that fathers who took leave waited longer for the next child than fathers who did not. The study “Does paternity leave reduce fertility?” Also found that after the introduction of two-week paternity leave in Spain, men reported wanting fewer children than women (a reversal from politics).

However, there were no similar reports in the US. However, American studies have found that men who can take paternity leave take short (less than two weeks) leave. This is likely because many of these sheets are unpaid or only partially paid and fathers simply cannot afford the lost wages.

Stress can also play a role with abbreviated leaves. Some fathers have also reported limiting the amount of time they take off the phone due to pressures in the workplace – such as work volumes and deadlines. And a recent thought-provoking study suggests that men who apply for family leave may face stigma. In this Rutgers University study, “Punishing Men Requesting Family Leave,” students were presented with (fictional) transcripts of male employees and human resources staff. The fathers who asked for leave were characterized as poorer workers and more feminine than those who did not.

That handful of studies aside, almost all of the news is good news. The vast majority of research suggests that everyone benefits when fathers take advantage of paternity leave. So if you’re a new dad on paternity leave benefits, take full advantage of them – which hopefully lasts over 24 hours. To use the jargon your prospective third grader may use: Make like a tree – and LEAVE!

Copyright @ 2019 by Sima Bernstein

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