How would you structure this parental leave?
December 13, 2018 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I both get a fair amount of parental leave (for Americans). Baby #1 will be due in Feb and looking for ideas on how to best take the leave. More deets inside.<

Here are the details:

- husband gets 16 weeks of leave
- husband gets 4 weeks of PTO, besides leave

- I get 20 weeks of leave
- I have 20 PTO days that must be used in the first quarter
- I will earn 15 days of additional PTO during 2018 that I can use at any point in the year (including before they are accrued)

Other fun facts:
- My parents live nearby and my mom is planning to take 3 weeks or so to help us adjust. My dad is full-time retired and also planning for a lot of baby time.
- The exact due date is Feb 16
- This is our first baby so we have no idea what we are doing.
- We have access to affordable(ish) daycare whenever we stop being on leave, so cost isn't the only consideration for us
- We are open to overlapping leave a bit and maybe taking a family vacation for month 5 or something

Any and all advice is welcome. Thanks!!
posted by neematoad to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I look back on the birth of my babies, I wish that I had taken longer leave and been gentler on myself during leave - meaning, I wish I had thought of that time as just for rest, recovery, and getting to know the baby, and not tried to be "productive" by trying to organize the house and whatever the fuck else I delusionally thought I was going to accomplish.

I also wish that I had had more support and didn't try to take care of as much by myself. I think that having support from your family is great and could make it easier for you.

I would suggest something like: person who gives birth takes off as much time as possible, starting from the birth or a couple weeks before the due date (if continuing to work that long is possible medically). Non-birthing partner takes off two weeks after the birth, then two-three days a week for as long as possible, then if there is still some leave left maybe does full time baby care after your leave is done.

A family vacation with a very young baby is not something I can imagine doing. Being at home with good support would feel better to me. YMMV, I like to hunker down and nest when overwhelmed, and adjusting to parenting overwhelmed me.
posted by medusa at 12:36 PM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

For birth-giving parent, I would reserve enough days of leave to be able to take your usual summer/holiday vacations, and reserve a decent chunk of days for sickness (yours and baby's) and for doc appointments (yours and baby's). Maybe two weeks total if you are a generally healthy person, three weeks if you tend to take more time off for illness? Then go ahead and plan to use up the remainder of your leave on your maternity.

Non-birth-giving parent can work 2-3 days a week, as suggested above, or can take 3-6 weeks off just after birth and then take another chunk later on (perhaps after your mom or dad goes back home or steps back from primary care duties).

Vacations can be lovely with babies, as long as you sharply adjust your idea of what you can accomplish on a vacation. Or it might mean hunkering at home for a while, enjoying your time together. Either way, go easy on yourself.
posted by Liesl at 12:54 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Looking back, if I had the time off that you had, I would plan on both of you spending the first 3-4 weeks off together. I was able to do something similar and it was a great bonding time - more for me and Ms. Procrastination than with the kid, but it is quite a change and deserves some attention.

For our kids, around 6 months was great. We were all on a normal schedule and the kids were not yet mobile. We referred to it as the "potted plant" phase. You could take them out and go do stuff and they were generally happy sitting in their carrier looking at the world or napping. Once they got mobile it got a lot harder. A vacation then might be a great idea - depending on your kid, it might get harder once they can move around more and you have to keep them safe all the time.

I'd do: both parents off for a few weeks. Mom off for ~20 weeks. Maybe a week or so of vacation at the end with both parents, then dad is off for a while until daycare time. I'd also make sure to save some time off. Kiddo will get sick pretty regularly once they start daycare and someone will need to be around to cover when they are too ill to be dropped off.

All this depends on your baby though. They really have their own personalities that will require adjustment on the fly.

Good luck!
posted by procrastination at 12:54 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

My partner took 6 weeks off when the baby was born. This was INCREDIBLE because it meant:
1) I only had to worry about making milk and recovering for the first 3 weeks (not a trivial task).
2) We both learned to be parents together, figuring out what worked for us a family unit.

This was magical.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 12:55 PM on December 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

I DO think a vacation is a good idea. I was on leave earlier this year and we took a week vacation when our baby was 2.5 months old. Going on vacation with a 5 month old will be even less stressful, just keep your plans easy and relaxed. It was nice to get away after being mostly housebound with a newborn, and traveling early on made it less intimidating to travel after that.

My partner took almost as much leave as I did, and it was great being together during that time - adjusting to the needs of a newborn is intense and amazing to witness. I would recommend as much time off together up front with a short transition into whatever care setup you are planning.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:57 PM on December 13, 2018

I'd recommend that your husband take a few weeks at the beginning so he can be home with you for that first month-ish. Everything will be a bit of a blur for you and time will lose all meaning for a little while. It'll be good for you to have him there. Then he goes back to work for a while then on leave again to overlap with you for that month of travel. This is essentially what my wife and I did when we had our kid a couple years ago.

We also did a trip with our baby when she was three and a half months old. We took off to Europe for nearly two months (Canadian, so we had one year of leave to work with) and it was one of the best decisions ever. We thought, "If we're going to just sit around with an immobile baby, might as well do it somewhere super charming!" Highly HIGHLY recommend.

Oh, and you'll have a lot of people saying something like "Tell me if there's anything I can do to help." The best reply will be "Thanks for the offer! Would you mind cooking us a meal?" The best gifts we got were the friends who made us pre-cooked meals that we just had to heat up. Cooking is not going to be something you'll want to spend a lot of time on and any help in that area will be a godsend.
posted by fso at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2018

Travel with an infant is substantially easier than a vacation with a toddler. We also took advantage of the "potted plant" phase, where the baby stayed where you put him. Traveling with a toddler involves running after them, trying to entertain them on planes or trains, tussles about unfamiliar food, so although infant travel involves an awful lot of stuff - portable crib, carrier, diaper bag, assorted other necessaries - it can be a pretty easy travel time. And they sleep much more than toddlers, so much less need to entertain them. Reserve this for the period after you and your husband both feel fairly competent at baby care, you've got feeding down, know your child's schedule, and so on. Maybe in early summer. If you can schedule returning to work as a few days per week for a month or two, you could parse it out for longer, and maybe work out some long weekends.

Congratulations on your new little one!
posted by citygirl at 1:10 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Aside from the few weeks you have for leave, if you want to think long-term, one of the best predictors of men's involvement as fathers down the line is whether, in the very early time, they have sole responsibility for the baby -- that is, they are the only one there with baby, frequently/for significant amounts of time. (sorry, no citation, but I remember learning it and I bet it's mentioned in When Couples Become Parents, though I don't think that's the original research that found it). Basically, if anyone else is around they often try to tell Dad do-it-this-way and try to take over if Dad isn't doing it the supposedly preferred way. Men back away. Leave Dad alone part of the time and let him figure it out. It's ok if he does it wrong, as long as he does it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

I can't remember all the numbers of weeks, but couple things we did that I thought were helpful:

Husband did spend some time full time with the baby while I worked (if I recall, this wasn't much because a spot opened in our daycare earlier than I expected)
When we started daycare, the baby went half days for a month and spend the other half with my husband
We did take a vacation together as a family at the end of my leave and the beginning of his. This was good!

If your affordable daycare is in a center, do plan on a good amount of sick leave during the first year+.

Allow for a bit of flexibility. You may actually really want to go back to work toward the end. Everyone feels differently, so don't beat yourself up if you're antsy and eager to get back. Also, when it's time to go back you might be ready but still be emotional or feel ready. Took me about a month to get back into the swing of things. I also nursed at lunchtime until I think about a full year old.

Congratulations and good luck!
posted by vunder at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2018

I'd have him take at least 8 weeks from birth (you can add on another week pre-birth if you want extra help or that last bit of pre-baby time. Then, toward the end of your leave, have about 2 weeks cross over and then have him with the baby solo for 6 weeks after you return to work.

The early time is great for bonding and for you both to learn together and do the care together. It's great for your Mom to be there, but having her help with cooking, cleaning, caring for you would be great while you and your husband concentrate on caring for the child. Both of you will gain confidence and experience with the direct care of your child.

The later time makes the transition back to work much easier for you and also gives your husband dedicated Dad time so that he's both got extra bonding time with your child and also can care for the child independently and confidently. My Dad friends who took part of their leave as solo time with the baby are far more engaged as hands-on Dads and also report that they wouldn't trade that one-on-one time bonding with their infant for anything. It's sad that this is not an option for so many men (and women), so if you have parental leave as a Dad, TAKE IT - it benefits the other men and women in your company for it to become an expectation that both parents max out their paternity leave benefits.

Leave yourselves equal-ish PTO time for joint vacations and time home if 2 of the three of you get sick.
posted by quince at 1:19 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a dad I got 12 weeks of leave. I took a one-month block of time post-birth, then used the rest of my time by taking every Friday for an additional 40 weeks. My wife also works an odd schedule so I was on duty with wee baby Friday and Saturday.

I cannot overstate the value of the one month post-birth. I see so many dads that struggle not only to understand their new baby, but also to adapt to the routines and norms established by a mom who is home all day with a newborn while the father is away. My wife and I learned about our baby in tandem -- we could talk about the same challenges and enjoy the same wins in those first four weeks. It gave me confidence and gave my wife a welcome break.

The additional Friday / Saturday time has been so special. It is two consecutive days where it's just me and baby, and anyone else we can invite along. We go on adventures, we stay home and snuggle, we learn and laugh and have a great time -- all without mom. So huge for my confidence and my bonding with baby. Mom does have one day a week with baby alone so we try to balance, but just having one-on-one bonding time has been fantastic. Highly recommend.

But also this is tough regardless of the time you have to spend together, so don't forget to be nice to each other.
posted by undercoverhuwaaah at 2:06 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would plan on leaving work a week or so before your due date. I was super uncomfortable and exhausted at that point, and it would have been lovely to have a few days extra for resting and nesting.

I would save an extra 2-3 weeks of PTO time for both you and your husband. Baby's going to get sick now and then once daycare starts, and you'll have more days home with them than you might think.

Can your husband break up his leave by taking a couple months off when the baby is new and a couple more months at the tail end of your leave? Giving him a few weeks alone with the baby will be really good for his confidence as a parent. It will also make your return to work easier - you won't have to scramble with daycare drop-off and pick-up, and you might find it easier emotionally to leave the baby with him instead of with strangers.

A vacation around month 5 sounds fantastic. My baby is 6 months old, and for the last few weeks she's been in the sweet spot of sleeping better at night, a slightly more consistent nap schedule, and being interested in the world around her but not actually mobile yet. Perfect age for vacation!

So maybe week -1 is you by yourself, weeks 0-2 is you, your mom, and husband, weeks 3-7 is you and husband, weeks 8-18 is you, weeks 19-22 is you and husband on vacation, weeks 23-27 is husband. That's what I would do. and Congratulations!
posted by beandip at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2018

I will echo If only I had a penguin... about how important it is to have a big chunk of time where Dad is on leave and Mom is not, if you're interested in ultimately sharing parenting as equally as possible.

I really enjoyed having my husband home for the two weeks after the birth, and was sad when he went back to work in week 3, but I would not have structured it differently given that we tried to maximize the length of time he was doing solo paternity leave after I returned to work. My husband's perspective (which he gives to other about-to-be-dads in his office) is that 6 weeks is the minimum time of doing solo-baby-wrangling that he'd recommend, because if you're facing at least 6 weeks of daily baby care, you can't really keep the mindset of "I'm just babysitting this week until my wife gets home from work" - you have to really figure out how to be the primary parent and make parenting decisions with confidence.

I'd prioritize having your husband take 6-8 weeks at least (and 12 is better) of his leave immediately upon your return to work. Another 2-3 weeks right when the baby is born, to help support you as you recover. The remainder could be used to overlap and take vacation together. I probably wouldn't have your husband do the 2-3 days/week off while you're on leave, although I admit I didn't do that so maybe I don't quite appreciate the benefits.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:12 PM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

one of the best predictors of men's involvement as fathers down the line is whether, in the very early time, they have sole responsibility for the baby -- that is, they are the only one there with baby, frequently/for significant amounts of time.

Thiiiiiis. The way we structured our 8 week leaves was that I took mine all in one go, but he split his into 2 4-week blocks. He stayed home for 4 weeks right after the birth, then went back to work for 4 weeks. Then I went back to work after my 4 weeks was up, and he stayed home for an additional 4 weeks. This was perhaps the best parenting decision we have made to date (kid is 6 now). It is so important for dads to get solo, no training wheels, not on easy-mode baby parenting experience. Not that dads can't become pro level baby technicians without that experience, but it's way more likely if you can set something like this up.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:33 PM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

We had something similar and did this: I took off the first chunk of time and husband took off the first week with me, then husband spaced out his time off, at home 3 days with baby and working 2 days a week (baby was with grandparents those 2 days). That left us a lot of time until we needed to find daycare, which was great. We actually then transitioned into a nanny share for 3 days a week (grandparents still taking the other 2 days). This got us until the kiddo was close to 18 months until starting day care, which was really great. Worked for both kids.
posted by LKWorking at 2:58 PM on December 13, 2018

You might not want your mom and husband both home right away. I think folks are right that it would be great for you all to have some time at home together. Maybe it could work to have your mom come after he goes back to work.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Vacation with a baby depends on the baby. I wouldn't plan on what and where until you know what kind of baby you are going to have. But, I've known super chill people that brought their 5 month old to Costa Rica and still managed to do a lot of hiking. With either of my kids that would have been a pipe dream.

As the dad... there were moments when I can safely say that during the first two weeks it was not always great to have my mother in law around... FOR MY WIFE. It sounds good on paper - but there is a new dynamic that is about to be created and you and he both need to be the ones in charge. Getting advice from your parents on your terms is a good thing - starting out with them embedded within your marriage - even when on good terms with them can result in a quickly strained relationship.

You are about to be a parent. It may or may not come naturally, but - your (collective) parents did that 20 or 30 years ago or whatever. They may have some wisdom, but part of that was gained after they threw your grandparents out of their house. Their patience and stamina for all things baby is totally different. They did diapers... its a learned thing. Its a muscle memory thing. I'm pretty sure I'm ready to pin down any child and put a diaper on them should the need arise - and my youngest hasn't been in diapers in 6 years.

If your parents want to help you? have them pick up your laundry twice a week for the first 3 weeks - although realistically - split the laundry with your husband for the first three and then have your parents come to pick up your laundry for the next 3... Have them drop off dinners. Have them hire you a cleaning service... Like... have them over - but even with the best intentions - have a plan to get your parents out of the house... not to be mean, but... the first chunk of change is easier with just you and your partner as primary and your parents being brought in for 1-2 hours at a time - *max*. Once the baby is fully baby and isn't babby, and while you and your husband are still on speaking terms - THEN you want to bring in your parents. The insanity and stockholm syndrome take some time to kick in.

With that said, you do want them to check in on you - as I said, an hour or two at a time - max. You want them to tell you if they see a change in your behavior (for the worse) You want to know whether you have PPD as soon as possible from someone that knows you well enough that you'll listen... AND you might not want to listen to your husband...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2018

You may want your folks to not come for a bit. You three need a bit of time to figure things out for yourselves.
posted by k8t at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

+1 to leaving the husband alone with the baby. People, and especially women, are so, so reluctant to let men handle babies. I even know a guy who had a literal stranger at the park try to take his baby out of his hands because he was not burping it to her satisfaction. Babies are actually pretty robust against parental incompetence, and are very, very likely to survive a few "mistakes".
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:41 PM on December 13, 2018

Whatever you do, I encourage you to start your leave about 2 weeks before the due date. You'll want the rest, you'll be a giant bowling ball and everything will feel terrible, and who knows, baby may be early. Husband should start leave starting on day you give birth. If he starts early you will drive each other nuts.

Personally I would max out the leave for mom at the start, but save those 15 days for about...7-9 months in, when baby gets mobile, starts to get colds and gets you sick. Welcome to parenthood.
posted by Toddles at 11:08 PM on December 13, 2018

Agree with all of the advice above. Leave a week or so ahead of time, have dad stay home for 3-4 weeks after birth (or more if you have a C-section), maybe have your mom be there part of that intimidating day when you're first on your own without your husband, ease your return to work knowing it's him taking over, and save at least some time for post-return-to-work illness and vacation. There's a temptation to want to frontload all the leave, but older babies are also fun, so save some time for winter holidays.

Here's where I'm adding new opinions on leave:
- Can you phase back in your time, or is it all or nothing? I went back half time for a month when baby was 5.5 months old and 80 percent time until month 9. Stretching it out like that made it a little easier to deal with missing the baby (the return to work -- much as I liked having adult time and intellectual work -- also made me sad). I'm pregnant now and planning to try to stretch out my PTO and savings by working 20 percent time from home starting in month 2 or 3, 50 percent in the office in maybe month 5 or 6, and so on.
- One of my goals is to have the new kiddo start daycare as late as possible, ideally after a year (but probably more like 10 months). With our last baby we had a nanny who gave the kind of one-on-one attention we gave as parents (or better, honestly -- she was so good at communicating with the tiny ones), but that was an expensive approach that we can't afford while #1 is also in daycare. This time, we've started to discuss whether it would work to have my husband and I both work 80 percent time with off-kilter schedules (we're discussing ideas like "Hmm -- 6 am - noon and then noon - 6 pm? But then what about the commute? Okay, maybe pack the 30 hours into 3 long days...?") Between your parents and your leave schedules, it seems like you guys could pull off something similar.

The other thing to know is that being home alone is super duper boring, isolating, and mind-numbing, once you get out of survival mode. So you want to be all over things like new parents' support groups, library story time, classes (baby/parent singalong), community centers or kids gyms where people gather with their babies, mama-baby yoga, stroller workouts in the park, etc. You can even just figure out which local parks are full of parents and nannies (hint: the ones with/near restrooms) and become a regular -- take a picnic blanket, lunch, and a stroller (baby can sleep in the stroller), set up in the shade, and get to know the other regulars. It is far easier to research this without a baby on your lap, and some classes have waiting lists, so it's worth doing now. Also, figure out if any of your neighbors are expecting babies in the same timeframe because the greatest thing in the world is being able to hang out with another adult and similar-age baby in a warm house on short notice.

You could also work out something where one of your parents drops by, say, from 9-10:30 (between Nap 1 and Nap 2) three days a week to give you some adult company and make it easy for you to get a shower, or from 4:30-6 (after you're exhausted but before your husband gets home and at an hour when babies are often cranky) to let you have a break from the baby and/or help make dinner.
posted by slidell at 4:59 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Vacation: We took two vacations, one when our little one was 2.5 months and another at 5 months. The first vacation was a 12 hour flight away and the second vacation was a 5 hour flight away.

Hard, but totally manageable, if you have a supportive partner.

Why do it? Vacations are nice. Secondly, in our first few months, we were so scared of what we could or could not do (taking baby out omg so many nappies so many things to remember), that doing something tough but achievable meant that we reset our baseline. We have a baby and we can do (80% of) everything! This is a great feeling.

What beyondpink said: traveling early on made it less intimidating to travel after that.

Also, now that we have a toddler, and a baby in some ways is much easier to travel with because:
1) If they are very young, they can sleep in the bassinet in the plane
2) No rigid night time routines (jet lag affects them less)
3) No taking care of a running toddler
4) You can eat food and not have a toddler yell at you because they are bored
5) You don't have to worry about food hygiene because all they are taking is milk (and if you are breastfeeding, it's even easier)
6) Carrying a lighter person is better than carrying a heavier person

I miss the days where our little one slept in the pram while we ate long lunch... definitely doesn't happen anymore!
posted by moiraine at 7:22 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

How great that you both get so much time (comparatively at least; I'm sure Scandinavians would still be appalled, but I digress)! I would advocate for having your husband and you overlap for the first month, when it's definitely a huge adjustment. To be totally honest, weeks 6-8 were the hardest for us (seems to be when witching hour crying tends to be worst). So I could see one of two things being good: 1. if you have a baby who, like ours, will go through a purple crying/witching hour thing where s/he cries for hours inconsolably in the first 2 months of life, it might be good to have him around for the entirety of that. 2. If you get lucky and skip out on that fun, maybe he can go back to work after a month and take the rest later. (I will also add that at week 9, she just stopped doing that and became a chill, easy baby, so do not despair if you have some purple crying - it is unlikely to be the rest of your life, even if it meets definition for colic. But you're definitely lucky if you don't get to experience this particular joy.)

Really depending on the flexibility of your work, if you could each split up your parental leave, it might be fun to spend different months with him/her because every month is different in the beginning, and it would also break up the monotony of being with baby day in and day out, which can get boring after a while. But starting and stopping work more than once is a lot, so it may not be possible for both or either of you.
posted by namesarehard at 1:34 PM on December 15, 2018

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