Talk to me about paternity leave
February 28, 2013 7:18 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are expecting our first child in June. We're talking about me taking paternity leave. Talk to me about your experiences with this, pro or con.

My wife and I are expecting our first child (a girl!) in early June. The logistics of this are just starting to sink in. At the moment, the plan is for my wife to take her full allotment of FMLA to care for her, but that is as far as our plans have made it. We have discussed the idea of my taking a further three months of FMLA after her three months are up, but we are navigating in unfamiliar waters. I'm kind of freaking out about the idea, but I'm not convinced I have any reason to be, so I figured I'd ask y'all about it, and see if anyone here has had an experience taking paternity leave. (Part-time leave to transition into daycare would be OK too, but I don't think I have any reason to expect that my employer would go along with me working 2 days a week for a while, whereas they HAVE to go along with 3 months of full-time leave)

Some background on us:
  • I make more money than my wife does, but not vastly so (it's about a 60-40 split at the moment). We can survive 6 months of one salary by dipping into savings, unless a baby is WAY more expensive that we've budgeted for
  • Benefits are through my employer
  • We live in Boston (specifically Jamaica Plain), in a fairly walkable neighborhood that has a sizeable population of parents with young children
  • We're in a bit of an awkward spot, in that we're the first couple among my friends to have a baby, and the last among my wife's friends. There are probably hand-me-downs to be had, but we don't know anyone who will have a child within 2 years of age of ours for playdates
  • My job could in theory be done from home (code monkey), but no one at the office telecommutes, and I doubt they'd be willing to start with the guy who is obviously a full-time caregiver while "working" at home
  • I am really, really uncomfortable with the idea of putting a 3-month-old infant in daycare. There are plenty of places near us that will take them that young, but I would like to avoid doing so if at all possible
  • It is technically possible that my wife might finish up with her three months of leave, and then decide not to go back to work, but it would be vividly out-of-character for her. Let's call it a 5% chance.
I am amenable to the idea of taking a few months off (and am actually kind of excited that I would get to spend that much quality time with as-yet-unnamed-baby), but parts of the idea fill me with dread. Specifically:
  • Logistics, which I will sort out with HR if I decide to pull the trigger, but about which I am curious now. YANMHRP (you are not my HR person), but maybe you have some prior experience with a similar experience. What happens to the employer contribution to health insurance and 401(k) if I go on unpaid leave for 3 months? Do benefits usually get prorated to the amount of time during the year that I'm a salaried employee? What if I work out some sort of part-time thing for a while?
  • Work repurcussions. The inevitable gendered bullshit I am going to take from co-workers worries me not one bit, but it occurs to me that we are still in an era where this sort of thing Just Isn't Done, and I'm worried about backlash from management. Yes, FMLA technically shields me, but it is tough not to read articles like this and start worrying about long-term repurcussions.
  • Jumping into an unknown social circle. By the time the baby is three months old, I expect that my wife will have made some connections through the numerous mothers' groups in the area, and will probably have playdates and mom-and-baby yoga dates and goodness knows what else going on... at which point I will show up, introduce myself as Dad, and try to hurl myself bodily into a group that is 90+% female and already filled with established relationships. This seems like a recipe for disaster, which leads me to:
  • Loneliness/boredom. It's unfair of me to assume that this problem will be specific to me when my wife will face the same thing (on top of being generally more sleep-deprived and dealing with the physical post-partum symptoms, of course), but I'm having trouble avoiding the idea that it's going to be me and a 4-month-old infant, trapped in the house, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Is this a thing that happens? I'm the kind of person who is very badly equipped for large amounts of free time; day 3 or 4 of vacation is usually when I start climbing the walls. How do people fill their days without a 9-5 job?
This is kind of a broad-spectrum question, but I am looking specifically for people who have done this (or explicitly avoided doing this), and their general experiences with work, family, the new baby, and life as a temporary stay-at-home-dad in general. I almost made this anonymous, but I'd like to be able to talk with y'all a little bit about individual circumstances. And, um, if anyone at work is reading this, I am very definitely a different person with this name who lives in Boston.
posted by Mayor West to Work & Money (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I am a Dad. When our first child was born, I was an adjunct lecturer in the Cal State University System, and could get an entire quarter (10 weeks) paid family leave. So we decided to stay home with the baby together for the first 10 weeks of our daughter's life. During that time, and every day since, Mrs. Cuttle and I have referred to this as the Terrible Decision.

The baby was fine, but our marital relationship deteriorated unnecessarily. I mean, staying home with baby together looks good on paper, but we found that the exhaustion, combined with spending all day together, was bad for our relationship. Much of the time together was not enjoyable, a lot of work, and we had no monotony breakers. At dinner, we had nothing to talk about, because our brains were punished into a nonfunctional agar, and we didn't even have the fallback of recounting the day's events. Because we were both there. For everything. We would just stare at each other, silently tallying the score of how many diapers each of us changed, and calculating who owes whom for what. Gross.

When our second child was born, it was unanimously agreed that I would go to work and Mrs. C would stay home for several weeks. We were all much happier with that arrangement, and even though our second child was much more difficult, our own relationship was better because we took the childrearing in shifts, and we got to miss each other. It's odd how big of a difference it makes to have two separate lives, rather than sharing a single one.

IANABabyScientist. YMMV.
posted by reverend cuttle at 7:38 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your health insurance must be maintained at the normal levels, that means your employer must continue to pay their normal portion and you must pay yours. Since you aren't being paid normally this will probably mean you sending them a check every month for your portion.

I can't speak to work repercussions as that depends heavily on your particular office politics and culture. I've worked places where that is a serious concern and I've worked places where everyone is like "Dude, why aren't you taking all your paternity leave?"

Did you know that you do not have to take all your leave in one shot? Could you think about maybe doing 4-6 weeks right after the baby is born, then maybe waiting until your wife goes back to work then taking the rest? That extends the time until your child has to go into day care and also allows your wife to "test-run" returning to work. A LOT of moms return to work for a month and then realize they really do want to stay at home - This is why I never believe that a woman is truly back until she is back for at least three months.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:41 AM on February 28, 2013

We have a 10 month old, so a lot of this is still fresh in my mind:

1) Don't underestimate how shitty those first six weeks will be. Your daughter will probably wake up every hour and a half to two hours or so to eat, which means that 4-5 hours of sleep you're getting will be broken up into 1-hour chunks. At one point, I fell dead asleep holding our screaming daughter in my arms. Doing any kind of serious work during this time is... inadvisable.

2) Like magnetsphere says, you can take "intermittent" leave (a week here, a week there). It's likely that all of your family (both sets of parents, siblings, grandparents, etc) will want to come and visit you to see the baby. Schedule your leave so that you're at work while Mom is helping with the baby, but you're at home when your wife is on her own.

3) There are lots of other options besides just "daycare". We do a nannyshare with another family, it's a wonderful arrangement: our daughter gets way more personal attention than she would in a daycare for significantly less cost.
posted by Oktober at 7:48 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congrats! We also live in Boston and have a ten week old. My husband, who is also code monkey type, had a lot of support to take about 3 weeks off when the baby came. It was really helpful to both be home for the first few weeks. As I'm preparing to go back to work soon, it would be wonderful if my husband could take a couple weeks to be at home with the baby. Maybe you could take the first couple weeks off and then take more time once your wife returns to work? (On preview, what magnetsphere suggests.)

Also, as a pretty social woman who has just spent the last few months at home with baby, I think you might be overestimating the relationships that your wife might build - I'm familiar with the JP parent scene and it seems that it takes a little longer to establish strong social connections (not in a bad a more, taking care of baby and house is more time/work than anticipated...getting out of the house takes a little practice). Good luck - it's awesome that you have options!
posted by boofidies at 7:49 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Will your wife have any support during her first few weeks other than you? It can be hard to care for a newborn by yourself if you are recovering from birth.If it's possible at your work I'd consider taking a week or two after the birth and then the rest of the time later.

At my last job, no one took more than a week for parental leave. At my current job, it's expected to take the whole time. I can't give advice on this one. I know at my former job I did get some of the 'mommy track' (e.g., denied big projects because they knew I was going on FMLA). But, I also decided to switch jobs because of the workload of my old job.

Daycare: We put our guy in daycare at 4 months (I was able to take off 3 months, my husband took him for the 4th).

Etc: If you decide taking all the FMLA isn't realistic with your employer another option would be to look into asking about more flexible working hours (e.g., 7:30-3:30pm once in a while?). Babies often go to bed fairly early, so if you can find some way to make some time in the morning or early evening to spend with him, and then that day your wife can know she can work late if she has to that day, that can be really helpful (My husband is a teacher and knowing that he can pick up the little guy a few days a week and I can stay later if need be is a major sanity saver, two people working full-time means you both need flexibility or one person needs to scale back).

Playdates: My husband was home by himself from weeks 12-16 with our little guy. He had grandma/grandpa stop by a few times, and a few friends, but most of the baby socialization happened after 4 months. We take a music class now (started at 6 months) and we both go when we can, but on occasion it's fine with everyone if just Dad goes, though it's more common for just Mom to show up.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by ejaned8 at 7:56 AM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: I'm having trouble avoiding the idea that it's going to be me and a 4-month-old infant, trapped in the house, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Is this a thing that happens?

Yes. This is why God invented Baby & Me classes, parenting groups and playdates. Having a kid will give you entire worlds of new friends with whom you have nothing in common except children. You will be desperate enough to like these people enough to meet for coffee you desperately need and make playdates during which your infants do nothing but gurgle at one another while you and the parent talk with whole sentences.

I'm the kind of person who is very badly equipped for large amounts of free time; day 3 or 4 of vacation is usually when I start climbing the walls. How do people fill their days without a 9-5 job?

There will be no free time. An infant is a more than a full time job and you will fill your days when the baby is sleeping by sleeping yourself because you will be motherfucking, eye-buggingly, tear-inducingly exhausted. Both of you, regardless of who has the baby as their full-time job and who is leaving the house for their full-time job.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:05 AM on February 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

I took 3 months of paid parental leave when our second child was born (in Canada parental leave is funded by employers and government at 80% of the full time wage).

I could have taken a year, but I thought that it would affect my reputation at work. I worked as a manager for a government agency, but I must say male unionized employees would regularly take the entire time allowed.

Women I worked with at the agency would regularly take the whole year off.

It was of course a good decision on my part, much like an extended long weekend. It takes a year for your family to adjust to the new baby anyway, so there will be a change in the dynamic with your wife. There will be challenges, but you will overcome them at the end of a year. By staying at home you will definitely be helping things, I think.

It should be said that I am the sole earner in our house, so worrying about childcare when I went back to work was never an issue (but money, of course, always is).

I wish I had had the courage to go on leave for longer than 3 months. It was a toxic workplace and kind of a dumb job, and it was also during the start of the Great Recession in 2009. Three months after I returned to work, the bastards laid me off.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2013

I'm a dad, and I took time off when each of my two children was born.

Please do it. Please take paternity leave. It is very valuable --- life changing --- to have the experience of being the primary caregiver of your child.

Most fathers only have experience "helping out" with the kids. The mother is the primary caretaker. She does all the planning and most of the work. Dad helps out when mom asks, but he doesn't know what to do on his own.

When you stay home with your kids that changes. Yes, it is daunting to go through an entire day with a 4-month old. You get good times and bad. You put them down for their naps, and get them up. You deal with it when they don't nap. You get intimately familiar with their eating and pooping cycles. You develop a daily routine, going to the playground, to music classes, to coffee house. You learn how to take care of your kid, and how to be responsible for your kid.

This is a great positive experience in itself, but it also has many valuable follow-ons. You know your child better, obviously. But you also get to know your wife better. In my experience, and in reading moms-list discussions, women whose husbands took maternity leave are more satisfied long-term with their husbands contribution to the marriage and family. Think about that, and read it twice. By showing up fully for your kid, by learning how to take responsibility for managing your kid rather than just helping out mom, you relieve your wife of a tremendous burden. You become a much more equal partner.

This shift, initiated during the paternity leave, will change the course of your parenting as the children grow older. My eldest is currently in first grade, and it's clear to me that the months I took off when he was an infant are still having an impact on how I deal with his school, teachers, doctors appointments, whatever.

There's much more to be said, but I'll stop here. (I need to go back to work!) Maybe I'll write more later.

Oh -- one other thing: you and your wife should join the JP Moms e-mail list. Memail and I can send you the contact info. It's a great community resource.
posted by alms at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2013 [24 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is you wife is likely to return to work with limited leave time.

I'd consider doing one week here, one week there for your wife's leave and continuing to have flexibility for you to say home if/when your child is sick once you wife returns to work.

Check out the play groups by Isis Parenting the Pru.

Whatever you decide will be dependent on your full financial and benefits situation, of course. As for the sleeplessness while both parents are at home? My husband slept in another room so at least one of us had a good night's sleep and he was able to better care for us in the day.
posted by zizzle at 8:26 AM on February 28, 2013

The dads I've seen who have had significant stints as primary caregivers for their children seem to be (anecdote-alert) consistently more equal partners in childrearing with predictably stronger relationships with both their children and their partners - long term as far as I can tell.

In theory it should be possible to accomplish this without pat leave but in practice it seems to be the best way.

I encourage you to deal with whatever you have to deal with at work in order to make it happen. These are your most significant relationships for probably the rest of your life.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Jumping into an unknown social circle.
at which point I will show up, introduce myself as Dad, and try to hurl myself bodily into a group that is 90+% female and already filled with established relationships. This seems like a recipe for disaster, which leads me to:

As a SAHD who took over full time at roughly the 8 week mark, I can tell you (from both my experience and community experience), that it's not quite as bad as you envision.
To get it out of the way first, being the only male in baby classes is a bit weird. You will get sidelong glances, quite a few people will assume you're gay and you'll run into the occasional bit of discrimination.
However, you need to remember that almost everyone there is going through the exact same thing you are. They're feeling overwhelmed, maybe a little isolated, and are trying to figure out who to talk to as well.

My advice is just to be friendly and approachable. Participate in the class, don't bundle up your kid and run out as soon as the class is over and you'll soon make friends. After all, you can always bond over poop.
Caution: Especially in the early months, you may learn more than you ever needed to know about other women's ... business. It'll end somewhere around the 1 year mark)

but I'm having trouble avoiding the idea that it's going to be me and a 4-month-old infant, trapped in the house, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Is this a thing that happens?

Absolutely, it happens.
Fortunately, the solution is simple. Go out.
Go out for everything.
Have a letter, mail it at the post office, not the mailbox.
Go to the library far away, not the one around the block.
Go to the hardware store for hardware, the grocery store for groceries, the bakery for baked goods rather than going to big box.
Join a dozen baby classes/play groups, etc.

The urge is always to stay in because it seems like a hassle to go out with the baby, and you're sort of nervous and a little tired.
But, it is _so_ much easier to do things with an immobile baby than with a toddler or preschooler. Take advantage of it.
And as a bonus, every kid I know whose parents included them in life rather than keeping them bundled up inside slept better and was less fussy.

. How do people fill their days without a 9-5 job?

posted by madajb at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I look paternity leave; in my community (academic research science) it's not unusual, and there is really not a lot of gendered BS around it. If anything, I think it's probably easier on men, since people aren't trained to conclude on the meagerest evidence that men aren't really committed to their jobs once they reproduce.

I am really, really uncomfortable with the idea of putting a 3-month-old infant in daycare.

Intuitions about Abstract Kid are often really different from the feelings you end up having about Real Kid. So just be aware that your comfort level with daycare could change a lot, subsequent to your kid's arrival.

I'm the kind of person who is very badly equipped for large amounts of free time

Not gonna be a problem when you're taking care of an infant, dude!
posted by escabeche at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband also was a codemonkey when Li'l Epps was born. His work allowed him to take the first two months off with me, and then after I returned to part-time work for him to have one day off every week for about twenty weeks. I feel that having that Daddy day every week made a huge difference both in our relationship and theirs; I've always been able to trust him with the kid with no instructions or hovering from me. I'm not the baby expert -- we share that. Even with a six year old and working full-time now, he's more a part of our daughter's life than a lot of dads and we're still equally parenting. (And for us, both of us taking off the first two months helped a lot in terms of sleep and sharing the burden. He also felt when he went back to work a month before me, that he was the one who had it easy during the day. That meant a lot.)

For your concern about jumping into mom groups with the baby, I'll say that most parent things I did had exactly one dad. It occasionally feels a little weird (when bemoaning various healing from birth or breast milk problems) but we got over it and most people try to include the stay-at-home dads in things. You might want to find a dad specific group as well though, to bond over dad things (and so that you're not the sole dad).
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2013

I too, took FML for our daughter, and it was an incredibly positive experience. I later left my job (my wife earned more than I did, plus had a better work schedule) and have been a stay at home dad for a year and a half.

I recommend taking the leave, and working out the best schedule for both you and your wife, whether you alternate blocks of time, or take the full leave one after the other.

The best advice I can give, is to make your default schedule to sleep whenever your child sleeps. Just keeping up with laundry and dishes and such means you won't be able to do this all the time, but trying to use all the time productively will leave you worn out fairly quickly. Even at nearly two years old, child care can be quite draining.

We are taking a financial hit for doing this, but the satisfaction of watching her develop day by day, and the emotional bond that I have with her, makes this the right choice for us. By the end of the leave, you and your wife will probably have an idea of what arrangement might work best for you.

Good luck, and enjoy this special time.
posted by 1367 at 9:27 AM on February 28, 2013

I was the non-birth mom. What I did was this:

My partner the birth mom and I took the first month off together. She took the next two, then I took the two after that. At 5 months, we paired up with another family from our childbirth class (so very close in age) and each committed to 2 or 3 half days per week caring for both kids. Like having part-time twins. One of the moms hired a sitter for her days, the rest of us flexed our schedules. We had a double stroller we took back and forth - we lived about a 15 min walk apart.

Health insurance was through my work, and I paid the premiums by check while I was out. I did some remote work, but it was only possible if I wasn't responsible for the kid(s) at the time.

This was some time ago, so things may have changed. We didn't do too many baby-and-me things, but we did plenty of random activities with the other family.

We went on this way until the kids were 18 months, then started them in a co-op toddler program.

Other things we had: Godparents, who we'd known for a while and were planning to have kids later. They brought us dinner once a week and hung out. We had parental visits from both sides too.

I highly recommend taking as much time as you can manage, and being fully present while you're doing it.
posted by expialidocious at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My brother-in-law did this (in College Park, Maryland) and his experience was that full-time dads get lionized for doing the same things everyone takes for granted from full-time mums.

I also think that because paternity leaves are SO the norm in academic culture now that you will be surprised by how little resistance you get, Boston being such a college town.

Doooooo eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. My brother-in-law says it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

And congratulations on the bb!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2013

My husband took paternity leave from a fortune 500 company. He was the first man in his department/area to do it - most people didn't even know it was availalbe (and he could have taken an entire YEAR). He took it after I went back to work. It was wonderful. Don't get me wrong, it was hard. But it was wonderful.

He got around the boredom thing by trying to leave the house once a day - the library story hour; a trip to the local museum; the park; to visit a friend; to buy milk. Babies under one are pretty portable if you are willing to go with it.

Take as long as you can. If it is too much financially or mentally you can always go back early.

This should be something everyone can and does do.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:28 AM on February 28, 2013

I cannot answer all of your questions, but I can say this. I only took two weeks when my daughter was born and it was not enough. Not by a long shot. Take as much time as you can.
posted by Silvertree at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2013

With both of our kids, my husband and I staggered our leave-he took some right after baby was born, and then took a couple months when I went back to work, so one of us was home for close to six months. This generally worked well-and I can't emphasize enough how important it is for dads to get big chunks of child caring time without mom hanging around. However, both of our kids had a much, much harder time transitioning to daycare than my oldest, who started at three months. Much. Much. It could just be different genetics or personalities, but I also think 6 months is a tougher time for kiddos to adjust to new people than 3 months is. YBMV, of course.

I'll also say that I think I got a little shafted by this deal. Babies are exponentially more fun and easier after three months-so I got stuck with the three hardest months, days when work would've been a much easier way to spend my time-and just when the little pills were becoming delightful people, I went to work and he stayed home and probably wondered what I'd been bitching about all that time.
posted by purenitrous at 9:19 PM on February 28, 2013

Congratulations! My son was born almost a year ago, and I took three weeks of paternity leave. If you can take more then do: spreading it out a bit later might be helpful, but the first few weeks were the most intense for us and I'm very glad I took them off. I now work part-time: three days a week in the office, two days at home during which I'm expected to do one day's worth of work plus be contactable if anything breaks. It's very, very hard to fit everything in, but it's also incredibly rewarding: actually being there when he started crawling or cut his first tooth or started blowing bubbles in the bath, instead if being trapped in the office, was really lovely.

I can't really address the benefits thing since I'n in the UK, but it's definitely worth talking to HR about your options. I found it didn't do any harm to ask - a lot of it came down to how happy my manager was that we could do things this way without affecting the business.

The whole being-a-Dad-when-carers-are-female-by-default thing is weird but not a big deal in the grand scale of things. Some people treat it as an an amazing thing, and have this "OMG he changed a nappy! Give that man a medal!" sort of attitude (when in fact I think I've changed more than my partner has) which would be nice except that it seems to go along with not taking you seriously as a parent either, which kind of sucks. I try and keep it in perspective as one of the very few times in life I'm actually at a gender-stereotype disadvantage. Going to classes or playgroups or whatever where one might expect 90% established relationships was no big deal in the end: people are always coming and going and leaving and joining because their kids are too young/too old/on a different and conflicting nap schedule, or whatever. Nobody cared, it was all a bit chaotic, because raising a small child is an inherently chaotic process.

I found that baby swimming classes seemed to have a higher proportion of dads involved than anything else I've done.

By and large I found it pretty straightforward to get on with other parents, though: you're all going through the same things and there's plenty to talk about. Oh, also: walking down the street carrying a baby in a sling is, by a huge margin, by far the most effective method I've ever known for getting attractive young women to randomly walk up to me and start a conversation.

In the unlikely event of finding yourself with free time on your hands, you will probably spend it getting some beautiful, delicious, glorious sleep.
posted by doop at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2013

« Older Diplomatic speak for "No, I don't want to be...   |   Similar music to the Heat soundtrack? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.