Daddies, enlighten us on paternity leave
September 13, 2012 7:22 PM   Subscribe

How long do you recommend for paternity leave, based on your experience?

My husband just asked his HR folks about paternity leave, since we are expecting our first child. They responded "up to the FMLA limit of 12 weeks". Now, we don't plan to take advantage of all 12 unpaid weeks, but we're not sure how to decide what to ask for. My husband says "what do you think? A week?" Um, I think not, but I'd like to hear it from people who know.

What do you recommend for the perfect paternity leave time (and why), assuming that I might be recovering from a C-section, and we have great family support nearby, we have money, and I have more than 12 weeks maternity leave?
posted by treehorn+bunny to Human Relations (68 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Now, we don't plan to take advantage of all 12 unpaid weeks

Why not? You say you have money, which is the only reason I can think of not to do this, so what's the downside? You don't have to take your leaves entirely concurrently -- it might be useful for him to take some of it after you go back to work. He also doesn't need to take it all at once -- he can take 2 weeks off right after the birth, and then a week a month for the rest of the year, or whatever.
posted by brainmouse at 7:25 PM on September 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

If you can afford it, take the whole 12. That kid's not going to be a baby forever, and you (I'm assuming the birth mom) won't know how beat you are until after the kid is born and you're all settled in again.
posted by zippy at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would take the full 12 weeks. You will need the support physically and emotionally and it will be a big adjustment for him as well. It isn't like you get to re-experience the first three months of your first-born again. The baby only sleeps and eats for the first little bit which actually gives you a lot of couple-time (counter-intuitively) and really builds your relationship.

Personally, my husband did not work after the birth of our first-born (he went to school when she was four months, I returned to PT work at six months), took a couple weeks off after the second before going back to work PT (coming home at lunch on days he worked), and basically did not return to work after the third. Our children are very close to him and he is a close and involved father.
posted by saucysault at 7:31 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Take as much time as you can. Ask your husband to get all his projects in order so he can comfortably take time off completely, and then maybe work a little from home if absolutely necessary, so you can both get settled into your new life.

My husband's company offered a fairly generous (compared to like, everyone else in the universe) paternity leave but he did not take care to make sure projects were able to move ahead without him and ended up not taking real advantage of what his company would have given him had he made better plans. I can't speak for how much he regrets that but I certainly did at the time. He worked at a startup in those years so that had some bearing on how necessary his presence was in the office but still, I would have liked more face to face time at home with him in those early weeks.
posted by padraigin at 7:34 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Two weeks seems doable, one month seems reasonable, but please don't discount the possibility of taking longer leave just because nobody else does it - it might still be the right thing for your family! Seconding the idea of taking some weeks' leave later on, maybe at 6 or 9 months when baby is a bit less dependent on constant boob access?
Aside from the questions you're already considering - who else can help, possible complications etc., I'd also take into account how well the two of you can stand being together 1 on 1 a lot of the time, under stress, and (sorry for being a bit blunt here) how much of a help your husband really is at home. In my case, I was ready for him to go back to work at 4-6 weeks.
posted by The Toad at 7:34 PM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: Er, perhaps I should add: we have money, but my husband still worries about money (I am the one who manages the finances so I know we could swing it if needed). If you said it's absolutely important for him to take 12 weeks and explain why, he might consider it, but if it's just "why work if you don't have to?" that won't be convincing. We are both type A personalities to some extent and even for me the idea of taking 12 weeks of from work sounds like a recipe for driving myself stir crazy - I'm just doing it because I've already been hit over the head by a million mom-friends about how I will want it when I get it.

Also, if we take the full 12 weeks, although it's allowed, it could encourage negative sentiments from colleagues (who would have to cover for him), who we want to be happy with him so he can get a future promotion.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:35 PM on September 13, 2012

For kid number 1, Mr Joh took 4 weeks off. I was recovering from an unexpected C-section, and we have no family locally for support. Four weeks was pretty nice, six weeks would have been even nicer, as that was about the point where I was able to drive myself around and lift the car seat in and out of the car and generally be independent. For kid number 2, he took 2 weeks off, and that was fine.

So I vote 6 weeks if he can swing it, and then use the other 6 at other points in the first year. 12 weeks is a long time to be off work, in the sense of it potentially (depending on person and job) being tricky to re-adjust when he gets back. I took 5 months maternity leave + FMLA and it was quite an adjustment.
posted by Joh at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mr. BlahLaLa stayed home for three months, and that was in the olden days before FMLA, so it was unpaid leave. Best thing we ever did. The first few weeks we were both a bit shell-shocked, running on adrenaline, and I was recovering from a c-section. But as the weeks went by, the adrenaline wore off, the sleep deprivation set in, and our helpful relatives went back to their regular lives. It was so great to have home there. Plus we just had a lot of fun, all three of us together.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing take the three months. Honestly.

I originally took two weeks off. Guess what, though? The first two weeks are not so bad. You really start running out of sleep and sanity from 1 month - 3 months. I took two weeks off, then went "Ohhhh", and immediately took another off.

Then I went back to work for a week and a half. Then I took another two weeks off. Then I worked from home 4 days a week for another 5 weeks. I would have taken three months if I could. I would have loved to take three months off. It would have been better for me, my partner, our mental health and wellbeing.

Honestly, take as much time off as you can. You might get lucky with one of those miracle babies that only wake once or twice a night from like two weeks. We did not have that baby, and it was so, so hard for us.
posted by smoke at 7:38 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the staggered leave is a great idea. Can he even go 3-4 days a week instead of 5 for a while to use it up? That way no one misses him too much at work, and for the first year he would have a whole day or two a week to do chores and dad stuff.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:40 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you said it's absolutely important for him to take 12 weeks and explain why, he might consider it, but if it's just "why work if you don't have to?" that won't be convincing.

Okay I'm game. I'm not trying to scare you here.

You may not be getting uninterrupted sleep of more than 90 minutes, for weeks or months. You may be only getting 4-5 hours sleep, in total, over a 24 hour period, for months. You will have a baby screaming for blocks potentially over an hour at a time, for months. You will have strangers and "helpful" family and friends judging you, and making you feel like you are doing it wrong. You will feel exhausted, judged, attacked, hopeless, helpless. You may get PPD (don't think it will never happen to you, you're not the type, that's what we thought, too, and boy were we wrong). You may struggle to breastfeed, and feel judged, frustrated for that. You might get mastitis (worst flu ever). If you have a caesarian you won't be able to drive for a period, and will have limited mobility.

You (and partner) will still need to: cook meals and eat them, clean the house, do washing, wear some kind of clothing (I'm not joking, this is more work than it sound with newborn). Pay bills. Get yourself and the baby presentable for friends. Host family members who will be staying with you. Buy baby things you have forgotten. Deal with any baby health issues that come up (something probably will come up). Check metafilter ;)

It is a very demanding time, and having someone who knows you, won't judge you, loves you, is flexible, committed to you etc is like, it's like manna from heaven. I could not have done it by myself, no way, and I know my partner feels the same.
posted by smoke at 7:46 PM on September 13, 2012 [18 favorites]

As long as possible. You only have a baby once.
posted by latkes at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or, you only have that baby once.
posted by latkes at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

(to clarify for other answered, FMLA is unpaid leave, but the employer covers some of your benefits and holds your job.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:54 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The first two weeks are actually fairly easy -- the baby sleeps a ton. It's the next 6-8 weeks that are frankly nightmarish, and when you'll need all hands on deck. I'd take the full 12.
posted by gerryblog at 7:55 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit: we will be hiring someone for house cleaning. We eat take out food a lot. And we both have jobs where we have sleepless nights not infrequently, so that is not new to us. We understand that a medical issue might cause longer leave to be needed - but FMLA could be extended later if needed, right? How would you answer this question assuming there was no specific extenuating circumstance other than having a newborn baby?

Not adding this to be argumentative but I want to make sure any counterpoints he might think of when he reads this are answered. As I mentioned, we're starting at "how about I take a week".
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:56 PM on September 13, 2012

12 weeks
posted by semacd at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been a mother for just three weeks, and am recovering from a c-section. My husband took one week off, worked from home the second week, and has been back at work this week. It would have been really good for him to have taken more time off (I'm having a hard time getting enough to eat; it's really hard to find the time to make a sandwich, no lie), but we need the moolah.

I like the staggered leave idea a lot; I say take three or four weeks right after the birth, and use the rest as you see fit. But... smoke makes a good point above, and as I say, I'm only three weeks in and don't know what the next two months will bring.

On preview: trust me, a week just isn't going to be enough. You will need more help than you can imagine, especially if you end up having a c-section.
posted by Specklet at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I took three weeks off. Given the option, I would have doubled that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:03 PM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: And we both have jobs where we have sleepless nights not infrequently, so that is not new to us.

I know you're a doctor; a lot of my friends are doctors. I'm tellin' you now what you're going to experience is just on a totally different level to doctor shifts. There will be no catch-up period. It's not going to be a matter of up all night, and sleeping during the day; or five days of horror and then having a fourteen hour sleep on day 6. You will be going, hard, for months. I would be surprised if you get more than 4 hours uninterrupted sleep for months. That figure could be as low as 2 or 3 hours if you're breastfeeding and your husband is back at work.

Check out the consensus above; no one is wishing they took less time off. It's gonna be seriously tough - and whilst it's great to think positive, going in with an "I can take it" mentality can be risky from a mental health point of view. Takeaway is great; cleaner is great; you will still be exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally. Every single thing you can do to ease the load will be wanted. Also, if you're ambitiously going to try any time for exercise in those first three months (you, or husband), you'll want both hands on deck.

Having a baby is all the extenuating circumstance you need. It's super extenuating, even if everything is going "fine". Fine is like... like very rough.
posted by smoke at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2012 [17 favorites]

My baby turned two months old yesterday, and smoke speaks the truth. There's a lot of work to be done with a newborn baby and recovering mother, even if the baby is "easy" and especially if he is not. I think the six weeks straight + six weeks spread out (maybe off a day or two a week) would be good.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your husband should take between 2 and 4 weeks when the baby is born. He should then take the remaining time --- 8 to 10 weeks --- when you return to work.

It is incredibly valuable --- life changing --- for a father to have the experience of being a primary caregiver for his child. It will forever change your family dynamic. He will be a much better parenting partner for you. He will bond with the child and know how to take responsibility for the child in a way that he just wouldn't otherwise.

I speak from personal experience as a dad who did this, and also from following discussions on mom's e-mail lists. A common complaint among mom's is that "the father helps out when I ask, but left to his own devices he doesn't really know what to do with the kid." That complaint always came from women whose husband's never took paternal leave to spend some time as their child's caregiver. The women whose husband's did take that told the opposite story; they didn't have the complaints about the level of responsibility their husband's took for their kids, and the level of involvement they had in the kids lives.

This is anecdotal, sure. But I also went through it myself. It may not be what you have planned, but I'd really encourage you to consider it. It sounds like you can afford it. You only live once, and being a parent of a baby is a rare and very special experience. Your husband should get as much of it as he can. It will also do great things for your marriage and family life long term.
posted by alms at 8:15 PM on September 13, 2012 [31 favorites]

I have never seen an American in a responsible business position take more than a week unless there were serious complications.
posted by MattD at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A word of caution on taking the full 12 weeks - considerable likelihood it will cause problems for him upon return to work. I have seen this in my career, especially startups .

12 weeks of paternity leave is not viewed as normally and favorably as maternity leave. Resentment and judgment does take place, and it may have a lasting impact on his workplace dynamic.

If he is a Type A personality, then presumably he performs a Type A work at the office - All the more there will be complications due to his prolonged absence.

Tread carefully.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as you can get away with.
posted by Artw at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Since you asked in a follow-up comment, here is a counterpoint or two. I am the father and sole bread-winner for my family (wife and two young children).

I took a few days off for my first child, then maybe a week for my second. It was fine. I never considered taking any more time than that. Of course, my time is billable, so it is very easy to think of each day away from work as X thousand dollars that the firm will never see.

I do not know what your husband's job is, where he works, or what it is like. However, taking 12 weeks off from work may not be the politically wisest thing for your husband. Frankly, he is the only one that can make this assessment. Things like how long he has been there, what his performance reviews have been like, and so on would be some factors to consider.

Before anyone screams about how it is not lawful for an employee to be fired for using FMLA time (which is true - IAALBNYL), an employee can certainly be legally fired while on FMLA if the company can show the termination would have happened away. What are his reviews like? Or, let's say you live in a small community and he gets seen having a few beers at a bar by a co-worker while on FMLA leave. There are cases showing termination as legal under such circumstances, even if your husband could truly say that he was just taking a break. Termination during FMLA leave is unlikely, I think, because employers would be nervous about the liability. Where this could more likely come into play is management thinking, "what kind of team player is this guy?" later on down the road when it is time to consider promotions, raises, and the like. How many of them will think to themselves, "I took a few days off for my kids. Why did this guy need a few months?" This would still be unlawful, but *much* harder for your husband to prove.

The 12-week FMLA limit is not a dare. I recommend that your husband use the time prudently. He is the one who knows his workplace and his standing there, which he should factor into this decision.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:26 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had three kids and three c -sections and my husband stayed home for two weeks each time and it was fine. Two weeks out I had no problem driving and fixing food and changing diapers and the rest of the time I was sitting there and breast feeding. Or sleeping. Now, I didn't go grocery shopping alone with the most recent one for about a year, because she liked to scream, but I can do that when he gets home. I mostly took showers when he got home and the baby was asleep, but there were a lot of showers singing at a baby in a bouncy seat on the bathmat. Of course, it would have been nice if he had taken off longer from work, but I really don't think I'd have gotten more sleep or been less frazzled. (YMMV, two of my kids completely refused to take a bottle ever and insisted on using my chin as a security blanket. Like, they could NOT go to sleep without rubbing the teeny mole on my chin. My husband could not only not breastfeed, he has an inadequate chin or something.)
posted by artychoke at 8:42 PM on September 13, 2012

Minimum, in my opinion, 3 weeks at the start. I had a c-section. It rocked me. We had no other help around for the first two weeks (other than awesome meals from friends twice a week and my sister-in-law looking in and making sure I had nipple cream which was also fab). I also recommend time with just the two of you. Unless you have a special person or people who you know will be awesome. helpful and really adept at disappearing when you need alone time. The first two weeks are just a blur of nesting and home and baby gazing and HOLY CRAP, IT'S A BABY! Right about three weeks, I felt like I could maybe put my own two feet under me. It isn't much but it was, for me, a turning point. That's when my mom came out and when my husband went back to work.

I really, really wish he had pushed to take more time off but he didn't. There's a lot of pressure, external and also internal for guys to just keep forging ahead. If your husband can go back three days a week for awhile, that would probably be a good balance if you two feel like he needs to keep his toe in.
posted by amanda at 8:42 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband took 6 weeks off with our first and it was great. He only could take a week off with our second and I really wished it had been longer.
posted by KathrynT at 9:29 PM on September 13, 2012

My husband took one day off of work. One day. It was all he could get. He went back to work while I was still in the hospital. He could not do otherwise.

He worked over 60 hours a week and as a consequence barely got to spend time with our kid at all for the first year of his life. He missed the first smile, the first laugh, the first step, the first wave, the first word (which was "Daddy," said into a toy phone. Because that's where our son heard Daddy's voice most of the time, you see! In the phone.)

Meanwhile I was a nervous lonely sleep deprived socially deprived occasionally unshowered wreck dealing with a high-needs (but adorable), sleep-averse (but adorable, but, OMG HE WAS TRYING TO KILL ME WITH THE SLEEP DEPRIVATION SERIOUSLY I THINK IT STOLE 10 YEARS FROM MY LIFESPAN) baby almost entirely by myself, while still trying to work part time at my old job.

It was not fun. Neither one of us were happy. It did not get better until I quit my crappy job and started working from home, and my husband got a better job that gave him more time with his family.

If your husband doesn't care (yet) about being there for the baby (which he WILL, by the way, when he's missing all those things my husband missed), he should at least worry about being there for you. One week is not enough time for you to recover from childbirth. Even in a totally healthy and normal non-c-section childbirth scenario recovery takes AT LEAST four weeks.

I can understand him not wanting to take the full 12 weeks off for career reasons; we have awful parental leave in the U.S. and a terribly anti-family work culture.

But a baby will upend your whole life overnight in ways you can't imagine until the baby is here, and you should both be prepared for that. This time is so much more precious than money. I hope he can take what he's entitled to.
posted by BlueJae at 9:35 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your husband, I believe, can take that 12 weeks of FMLA in any increments he chooses during the first year of your child's life. I would suggest 4-6 weeks at first and then the other weeks later when baby is doing things more engaging than sleeping, nursing, crying, dirty diapers...
posted by teamnap at 10:11 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another datapoint: for my firstborn I was able to stay home for four weeks. I am really glad I was able to take that much time off for a number of reasons, but for me personally 12 weeks would have been too long to be away. (No complicating factors like a C-section, so my wife was able to drive/lift the baby/etc. when I went back to work.)

For the birth of my second I was able to take all of two and a half days (thanks, new job!) I wish I could have figured out how to take at least two weeks. In retrospect, what on earth was going on during that time at work that was really that important? (Probably nothing - I certainly don't remember what I did during that time.)
posted by harkin banks at 10:54 PM on September 13, 2012

My husband took two weeks off and that was fine. I had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery though, so I was walking around a few hours after giving birth. Since there are many things you can't do after a c-section for two weeks, I would say planning for 2-3 weeks off would be prudent.

Also, another thing you might not have considered: the labor and delivery itself might cut into that time a bit. I'm an outlier for sure, but my labor lasted 4 days, so my husband had already used several days of leave before our baby was even born. 2-3 weeks planned leave gives you a little wiggle room.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:58 PM on September 13, 2012

Oh! And agreeing with posters above who advise saving a chunk of time to potentially be at home with the baby when you go back to work. I have some friends who staggered their leaves to delay day care and it worked really well for them.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:01 PM on September 13, 2012

I wrote a big long thing about how you don't know what you're in for yet and all that ... but none of us know what you are in for. Every baby is different.

I think its wise to balance the rational pragmatic view (1 week and then back to work, why not?) with the possibility that priorities will change and to cater for things not going to plan. Why not 2 weeks and save the rest for a bit later on?

Best of luck!
posted by Admira at 11:14 PM on September 13, 2012

12 weeks or 12 months? 12 weeks doesn't sound like a lot. Take all of it.
posted by devnull at 12:59 AM on September 14, 2012

Best answer: If what we're trying to do is minimise the leave, I would say that if you have close family very nearby, and you do not have a c-section, two weeks is the minimum and four weeks is the ideal.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

It strikes me that if you are worried about going stir-crazy during your 12 weeks off, that is likely to be mitigated significantly by having your husband around for the whole while. You're more likely to get sleep sometimes, you will have another adult human to have adult human conversations with, and so forth. Get him to take the time off, for your sanity alone. If he asks why, that's why.
posted by Acheman at 2:49 AM on September 14, 2012

I took six weeks off for my first two kids because that's what my employer offered as paid leave. We found that to be a good length. After six weeks, my wife had recovered from her c-sections and we were over some of the initial panic and shock. After six weeks of spending most of our time together we were both ready for me to return to work.
posted by Area Man at 3:01 AM on September 14, 2012

Plan on what alms said; adjust to what actually happens (longer recovery, colicky baby, ppd, etc.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:30 AM on September 14, 2012

I've done the paternity leave thing three times now, each time around 12 weeks off. I live in Norway, so I don't have to put up with bullshit US workplace politics, but I can comment on the leaves themselves: If the birth goes well and the baby is a reasonably good sleeper, less than a week after birth is totally OK. If it's at all possible, try to arrange that dad can be primary caregiver for the baby for as longs as possible when you go back to work. It's awesome, and bonding, and totally worth it.
posted by Harald74 at 4:37 AM on September 14, 2012

Best answer: Here's the thing. You will need the time LATER. If he takes 12 weeks, he will be getting huge pressure to not take any PTO when he returns. This will be hard.

I took 3 weeks paid leave off from my firm (unexpected C-Section). And then took a day off for the next 6 months. It was much nicer than having 100% off then 100% on because I managed to be paid the entire time and be there during the week for longer.

It worked very well for us.
posted by French Fry at 6:20 AM on September 14, 2012

My husband took a week with our first (he was billable at the time, like Tanizaki, and law firms are THE WORST about respecting the spirit of FMLA ... they may follow the law, but they totally penalize people for taking it in other ways) and frankly that was about perfect. The two of us at home TOGETHER going stir crazy is MUCH WORSE than one of us stuck at home and the other getting to go out and bring home NEW STORIES from the day. After a week of tired, overwhelmed, emotional, and stir crazy, we were on each others' last nerve and neither of us could WAIT for him to get back to work.

Instead he worked a fairly flexible and somewhat reduced schedule for the next 12 weeks or so, took vacation days here and there to make three-day or four-day weekends, worked from home a lot, worked strange hours that coincided with the baby's sleep (or my need for sleep). I had a rotating parade of family members who came to visit and help, or good friends who dropped by with food, socializing, and chore help My husband also worked about 7 minutes from home so could come home fast if I needed him.

We did essentially the same with our second.

If you are hard-chargers at work, not homebodies, enjoy your jobs (even if they're stressful), etc., you may be very unhappy taking 12 weeks. I have female friends who took only 6 or 8 weeks because they were so eager to get back to work. I also have lots of friends who took every instant they could get, left their jobs completely, etc. Either one is okay. It's a personal decision, you won't necessarily want the full 12 weeks, and sometimes a shorter leave can earn you some goodwill to work a "slower" schedule for a while.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife had a cesarean. I took three weeks off. We had my sister-in-law living with us, but I don't remember her being much help. Three weeks (of me) seemed to be enough for my wife, although it would have been good to be home more.
posted by troywestfield at 6:28 AM on September 14, 2012

Best answer: I was very used to sleep deprivation and we have a cleaning lady and we did take out and were given a lot of meals. There's just a lot more to deal with when you really think about it and only have minutes per day to use the bathroom, get dressed, and brush your teeth. YBMV, for sure, but I've found most babies present some challenges. For 5 months my daughter insisted on being held at all times (except, thank the bejeezus, nighttime sleep), so the chores (tons of laundry, shopping, putting away groceries, meals and meal cleanup, taking out the trash and bringing in the barrels, diapers, showers, dealing with bottles, pumping, bathing baby, straightening up, thank you notes, breaking down packaging materials from gifts, paying bills, doing taxes, opening mail, shredding confidential documents, etc.) were challenging to pull off.

My husband was given 10 weeks of leave this year (6 parental leave + 4 regular leave). He planned to take 2 weeks at first and stay home alone with the baby for several weeks when I went back to work. He ended up taking 3 weeks at first (I was in the hospital for 5 days total, and then needed a bit more help than expected after the birth, and then he just found he couldn't stand to leave any earlier) but he hasn't been able to take the rest of his leave because (1) he got slammed at work exactly when he would have started the second phase of his paternity leave and it won't abate for several months and (2) the daycare we got into required that we start paying a month before I returned to work, so we would have paid for 2-3 months of daycare while we were home with her. I think 6 weeks initially and then 6 weeks later is ideal, but you have to protect that later 6 weeks or it very well might not happen.

I'd try hard to take the full 12 weeks somehow. These first few months of your baby's life are precious days. I took 6 months and was surprised to find I wished I had taken more time. She's only 6-months once. I am a manager and it wasn't easy to take that long, but everyone managed. The men in my office seem to be taking 2-12 weeks on average these days and I think most people respect and admire them for making that choice and don't hold it against them even though they have high-powered jobs. It is becoming a norm in my office. (After some strong women paved the way, most women in my office take 5-6 months.) We need to start taking a stand on the value of parental leave in the US!

Besides the fact that these are precious, fleeting days that I believe should be cherished, there is the fatigue and possible immobility others have described. And the emotional side of things - you may be overwhelmed, overjoyed, bored, surprisingly anxious, etc. If you can tackle the numerous challenges of parenting a newborn as a team, you'll be happier. My husband and I repeatedly laughed out loud at the absurdity of many silly situations, and it was so fun and good for our marriage to be in that together.

My OB was strict about my c-section recovery, so I couldn't drive for 6 weeks, or carry the baby in the carseat or the stroller for 6 weeks. That was really restrictive. I couldn't lift her from certain angles for a week or two either, so I needed help. And I couldn't do stairs much for a few weeks, let alone holding my daughter. I know people who busted c-section stitches and it really didn't seem worth the risk.

YMMV. We are type A and thought we'd be stir crazy during parental leave but both wanted more time. Sure, you can pull it off with less time, but this is your one life! Carpe diem! Why work so hard for professional success if you can't find a way to be home with your newborn during such a wonderful, special, stressful, life-changing time?

(Sorry for the speechifying. I guess I have become passionate about parental leave!)
posted by semacd at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

People have been weighing in on the parental side which I am unqualified for, so I will weigh in from the other side--the coworkers of your husband.

I am not a parent and I am deeply steeped in the American get back to work bs attitude, so feel free to ignore me.

As the coworker of your husband, I'd be a little irritated if he took more than 3 or 4 weeks for an uneventful delivery (if you had a c section or other complications arose, I'd be more forgiving).
From the non-enlightened, non-parent perspective, you help out and you get into a routine and then there might not be that much you can help with (if you aren't doing the feedings or the cleaning), so I'd expect you as a man and as the non-primary caregiver to be back within a month.

Otherwise, I'd probably be resentful of all the "fun free time" (ps. I know this is not true) that you got to have while I was covering for you.

So, from the other side of the spectrum, I say 3 weeks barring any complications.
posted by rmless at 8:48 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was home for two weeks and I wish I would have taken twelve.
posted by Silvertree at 9:01 AM on September 14, 2012

My wife and I are both academics, so we had a bit more freedom of planning than the vast majority of Americans. With that said, I heartily endorse the "take 3-4 weeks after the birth, then as needed" plan. We put together a plan that involved me taking my time a couple of days a week for a semester, and she did the same, so that we both had 2 weeks or so right after the birth, but then MWF she was home with our daughter, and T-Thur I was home with her. Having that time, alone, with my newborn, is something that I wouldn't trade for anything on the was when we got to learn each other, and bond, and figure this whole parent thing out.

Whatever you decide, make sure that time is available for dad and baby to be together without you. You need a break, and they need time.
posted by griffey at 10:18 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I took 3 weeks off right after birth. Both my wife's mother and my mother were at home so there was a ton of support for my wife and to be honest there wasn't a whole lot for me to do at home besides driving to various doctors offices. My mother-in-law left after 2 months and my wife says she wished I had taken the time off then so that I could partially fill in the support gap left my my mother-in-law.

If I could take more time off I would have but taking that much time off was hard enough and even then I was dropping by the office every other day to check up on things.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2012

Certainly more than a week. Here's why: that first week is basically still pregnancy/labor recovery time. At one week is when shit really hits the fan. There is MILK all of a sudden. Your nipples will probably choose around this time to completely throw in the towel. You will probably slam right up against baby blues at one week. It will be time to poop again at one week. Adrenaline will wear off and sleep deprivation will really set in.

My husband went back to work at one week and it was a nightmare for me. And, no, I didn't clean or cook either. Even take-out... You will go get it, get home, and realize it's time to start the feed/diaper/hold/sleep cycle again, because it's ALWAYS time for that cycle again, and by the time you get to that meal you're eating it for dinner, not lunch.
posted by that's how you get ants at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a counterpoint to some of the comments above, my coworkers were 100% supportive when I took my parental leave. Every workplace as different. It is growing more common for dads to take extended leaves and many people are very happy to support that trend while personally supporting their coworker.

It sounds like you're leaning towards a shorter leave, but I'd encourage you not to assume his coworkers will be upset by a longer one. They might think it's great.
posted by alms at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

AS I shared above I took 3 weeks from my firm.

But I do want to touch on the professional impact. My boss (the president, founding partner) flat out mocked me about my decision in front of clients, telling a story about taking a sales meeting an hour after his son was born. back in his day that's how it was done, son.

I just calmly told him that it wasn't his day anymore. It is my day and I'm going to do what's best for my family. What worked for him was not going to work for me, no matter what. I might be pussy but I'm gonna be a good father.

That's when he offered to make my leave paid instead of unpaid. So even old school brandy and cigars types can surprise you if you stick to your guns.

I still left the firm as soon as I had the cash to prop my own business, but still
posted by French Fry at 1:40 PM on September 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

My boss (the president, founding partner) flat out mocked me about my decision in front of clients, telling a story about taking a sales meeting an hour after his son was born. back in his day that's how it was done, son.

I heard some of this from older, male partners when I announced I was going to take the 6 paid weeks my employer offered. Some of those guys are on their 2nd and 3rd wives, so they didn't seem like great role models with regard to family life. Fortunately, my career hasn't suffered. I think more men in the U.S. need to take paternity leave when it is available so that we can remove any stigma.
posted by Area Man at 1:52 PM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wish men would take the leave to which they are entitled and sue the shit out of companies that in any way make that difficult or stealthily ruin a mans job because of it. The law is there for a reason. Use it whatever way works for you. If someone says "that's the way it was back in the day", I wish men would stand their ground and say "and now it doesn't have to be that way. I can see my baby and help her mom, and I'm going to do that. Work will go on." that doesn't mean you should just be unavailable for the biggest project of the year or walk out on April 14 if you do taxes, but seriously, that bullshit attitude, which can be just as bad among women, is suck utter bulkshit.

People if you are getting screwed, call a plaintiffs lawyer. They will help you. And this coming from a defense attorney who almost always thinks the employee is wrong.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I took 3 weeks. If I could have taken more I would have; going back to work was very, very hard. Our son is now six months old (snoozing gently on my chest as I type this), I'm working from home two days a week, and it still feels like I've got almost no time in which to do anything. I was no stranger to sleep dep, having spent years in an industry where 80-100hr weeks are common. Childraising is way, way more intense simply because you will get no downtime. You can't just take a few days off to recover; you can't even take a weekend off to recover. Finding yourself with two minutes free to use the bathroom can seem like a blessing.

Taking more time off throughout the year might be a good plan, though; we definitely found that (as per this book) our son had very obvious fussy periods at certain points of his life, where he required a lot more energy and sanity to look after. Having time off work to deal with this would have been fabulous.
posted by doop at 3:19 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I personally have never witnessed any of my male co-workers taking more than two weeks off. I've always worked in places where the option for more time was available to them but I think for a lot of them it would've caused quite a disruption with work if they took a whole 12 weeks off.
So if he has the type of job where other people can manage his workload then I guess he should take off the most amount possible (broken up time off sounds more reasonable)
posted by KogeLiz at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2012

Let me put it this way : the prime minister of great Britain took 2 weeks.
posted by bq at 7:12 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As a follow-up, I wanted to thank all those who took time to respond, your opinions are much appreciated.

We are still working on our plans, but to gather further information, I called the administrative assistant at my husband's workplace who helps put together the schedule and asked her how long his co-workers usually take for paternity leave. "None of them have ever taken a paternity leave," she told me. "We just give them the day off when the baby is born."

posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2012

That is bizarre.
posted by bq at 3:24 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow. That's quite a lot of organisational pressure I'd imagine. Best of luck with whatever you decide to do, and (I'm sure you will but) remember that your needs are important as well of the baby's.

One thing we initially struggled with, my partner and I, was really prioritising her needs over and above the baby's. It was our experience that the medical environment was almost 100% orientated around the baby, and if the mother was superficially or physically okay, she didn't matter and little consideration was taken regarding what would work for her; it was always do 100% the best thing for the baby, even if the 95% best thing involved was less difficulty for mum.

Whilst somewhat understandable in a medical environment, we found this was largely replicated in broader society. Whatever you choose to do, please never forget that your needs are valid and important; a baby does not obviate them in any way.
posted by smoke at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not bizarre, but as I referred earlier 'par for the course' for many companies in the USA.

An important point... I would encourage you to be careful in following well-intended advice suggesting your husband still go ahead and take the 3/6/12 weeks that are legally his. He certainly has the right to, and can. But only he knows what's best, not even you. This is his decision first.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:39 PM on September 19, 2012

Taking off 'one day' seems bizarre to me, and I have worked in some very traditional environments. Geez, sometimes labor alone lasts more than a day. I simply don't find that credible.
posted by bq at 6:14 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a mindset in many corporate cultures, that a man's role during labor is not to be taking several days off from work to "commiserate" with his wife. He in fact, should be a man and continue to work and earn as his contribution to her. Or, if he must take off, he should be in the pub with his buddies awaiting the news from the hospital. I am only conveying what's behind a lot of what you see.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:20 AM on September 24, 2012

treehorn+bunny. I don't know if this situation has been resolved, but I will add when I went on "leave" I actually was burning my vacation time. Sorry if that was unclear.

Coming from a traditional corporate background, it is easier to "be on vacation" than "be on baby something... I don't even know what he's doing...grumble grumble"
posted by French Fry at 8:44 AM on November 15, 2012

Another follow-up, now that this thread has been resurrected! I work in a mostly-male office, where the average age has risen to the point where several of my co-workers recently became fathers. So far, all of them have taken 2 weeks off. My company is pretty progressive in the sense that we have generous benefits, tries to be flexible with people's life events etc. But we also are expected to work long hours, and its a team in a crunch situation, so taking two weeks off means someone else has to take part of your workload on. Everyone has been happy to accommodate the new parents. I also think there's an element of "no-one dares be the first one to do it", but once someone does it, everyone is relieved and follows suit.
posted by Joh at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2012

One possible explanation for why parents might not appear to have taken family leave according to their HR files: At my last job, employees didn't fill out FMLA paperwork until they'd exhausted their vacation and sick days first -- you'd get paid for vacation and sick days at your regular salary, then the disability insurance would kick in and you'd be paid a reduced amount for any additional time worked. So a parent that stayed home for a week or two might not register on the FMLA radar.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: From what I've found out, they use vacation time, if they choose to take any time at all (apparently a good number of them truly do not even take vacation, this is what the 'younger generation' do). Unfortunately, vacation time must be booked in advance and on a set schedule. We have booked 2 weeks of vacation at approximately my due date and are praying for the best....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:46 PM on November 19, 2012

Has your husband specifically asked whether they can flexible with the timing of his vacation given the reason he's taking it? I know that others (e.g. Kruger5) aren't surprised by this, but it's really shocking to me and goes well beyond anything I've heard of happening to people having babies, and I know people who work all sorts of places.
posted by alms at 6:56 PM on November 24, 2012

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