Paternity leave. The phrase seems to have developed an aura of new-age political-correctness that offends core American values, like "life partner." Despite this — and its popularity in Scandinavia — it is essential for new fathers to have a little time off to bond with their kids and relieve their partners.
It goes without saying that a new mother needs as much time off from work after delivering a baby as possible. Aside from the emotional needs of bonding newborns to mothers, and a nursing baby's physical dependence on mom for sustenance, childbirth is a major health event. For some, it's surgery. Rest and recovery surface as top priorities.
On the other hand, paternity leave is anathema, at least among less enlightened employers than Contemporary Media, Inc., despite the seemingly misunderstood and underrated necessity for dads to have time off from work after their kids are born.
If you've run out of reasons to think the empire is crumbling, consider this. A survey published just before this Father's Day revealed that 59 percent of working dads would not take paternity leave if offered it. Their reasons include fear that it would hurt their career, feeling that clients and co-workers depend on them too much, and that they couldn't afford to take time off even at partial salary. A few reasoned that they wouldn't take very good care of the baby anyway, while some stated — in all brutal forthrightness — that they lacked the patience to spend lengthy periods of time with a baby.
A recent New York Times Magazine article stressed that these fears aren't unfounded — at least those about sacrificing career momentum in exchange for parenthood — given workplace attitudes toward family leave. Denials, sudden firings, and lawsuits have resulted from parents' acting on the necessity — and legal right — to care for their families after the birth of a child.
Families sit at the heart of the controversy on this "latest front in the job-discrimination battle" as the Times called it. As a member of a family who's just received a new arrival, I can attest to the human side of the story.
The couple expecting their first child typically spends so much time learning about pregnancy and preparing for childbirth that it's easy to overlook what happens afterwards. You couldn't reasonably expect a patient recovering from, say, gall bladder surgery to sleep far less than normal, while entertaining a variety of visitors, and giving away hundreds of calories per day. Yet that is essentially what we ask of new mothers. They need help to get through this.
When I asked my wife what she liked most about my time at home after the birth of our daughter, she said, "You made sure I drank enough water." It doesn't seem like much, but when she could hardly walk and had to care for our newborn, something like hydration might be overlooked. Neither mother nor child needs to get dehydrated on top of everything else.
Speaking of water, my wife also appreciated my caring for our newbie while she showered. It didn't hurt that I was available to wash dishes, run to the grocery store, and do laundry, either.
My child will not remember her first week on earth. I'll never forget it, though. The sweetest moments of it all came when she was just about five hours old. She was born at 11:20 on a Thursday night. My wife crashed after a few hours. The baby, on the other hand, was alert and interested in her new surroundings. I stayed up and held her, and between about four and five o'clock in the morning, we looked at each other. She didn't fuss or cry, but babbled and stared at me. It was glorious. And it would have been impossible if I'd had to go to work. And though my daughter won't remember her first week, she'll see me in all the pictures.
If you ever need more postpartum time off to give your wife a break and bond with your baby than your employer is willing to grant, present them the alternative. You can either stay home with the baby, or bring the baby to work. Let them decide.