The Benefits of Paternity Leave

Some mornings, Marc and his son, Jaxson, would ride the local transit to Starbucks. Marc would order his favorite drink and read his paper, and the two would hang out. In between the sips and play time, Marc would feed his son and change his cloth diaper. Then they would make the trek back home, capping off the trip with a mid-morning nap that usually lasted past 1 p.m.

“Sometimes Jaxson’s mom would come home and asked what we did today or how did Jaxson like his lunch, I’d have to reply that we were just getting up from a nap,” says Marc. “Jaxson wasn’t the best at napping during the first 12 months.”

Then there were their fun weekly swim classes. Jaxson and the other children would play in the water while Marc and the follow parents would chat and watch their kids. “Jaxson loved and continues to enjoy being in the water,” the public servant from Ottawa, Canada says of his only child.

These moments are just some of the favorite memories Marc recalls about his time on paternity leave. The public servant from Ottawa, Canada calls the months between August 2004 and January 2005 a “magical time” he wouldn’t trade. Not only did they welcome their new son into the world, Marc and his wife also just bought their first home. “As a whole, it was an unforgettable experience. The opportunity to be part of the first year, to take an active role in the primary care and to share this wonderful gift was nothing short of spectacular,” he says.

For Marc, the decision to go on paternity leave was two-fold. Firstly, he was just plain jealous. He wanted to spend just as much time with their Jaxson as his wife was. He wanted to be part of the bonding experience.

“I believe there was a mutual understanding of the trials and tribulations of raising an infant child. There were hard days and there were days that were filled with nothing but sunshine and giggles,” says Marc. “Sharing this responsibility provided for shared accountability in how we integrated our parental roles into our daily lives.”

“Parental leave provided countless opportunities to share experience and recount wonderful stories of ‘firsts’,” he adds.

Secondly, it was financially smart for the couple, who are currently separated. With Canada’s Employment Insurance and the government’s salary top up, Marc was paid nearly 95 percent of his salary, where as his wife, who worked in the private sector, had less generous parental leave benefits.

In a piece for the New York Times, economics reporter Catherine Rampell argues the benefits of paid paternity leave as a way to stimulate the economy and recast “social norms.” As women struggle to strike a work-life balance, paid paternity leave provides an opportunity for new fathers to not only “lean in” at home, but to clear a path for women to “lean in” at work—that is, continue on a career trajectory often stunted by less accommodating policies (i.e. paid maternity leave and flexible work hours.)

“It’s hard to quantify exactly how much human capital is being wasted, but one clue lies in a study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford,” writes Rampell. “It estimates that 15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers. Even more efficient allocation of women’s talents would, presumably, drive further growth, which will become even more critical in the years ahead.”

It’s a theory not without evidence. According to Rampell, a study by Cornell graduate student Ankita Patnaik based on Quebec’s new paid paternity-leave quota found that fathers exposed to the reform spent more time on domestic work and child care than those who weren’t, while mothers spent “considerably more time” advancing their careers and “contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.”

Still, paid paternity leave isn’t without stigma, as Rampell notes. Even for Marc, who—despite not having to fight to take leave—was uncertain about how he would be perceived.

“At the time I was a senior advisor and relatively new to my career,” Marc says. “This was more likely to my own gender bias, but I was still apprehensive. I asked my manager and she was quite honest and supportive in the idea.”

“I recall her saying that one doesn’t always have these opportunities and I should take advantage of the generous benefits. She also suggested that there [were] still many years in which to establish a career,” he adds.

For Rampell, companies offering paid paternity leave is a step in “unleashing the full potential of the second sex,” which will in turn boost both their business and the U.S. economy. And this benefit for fathers, one Marc finds necessary, should be met with education, open encouragement, and support.

“Simply put, it’s an easy way to build loyalty and trust. We have often read that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and the workplace shouldn’t be excluded from the village,” says Marc. “We need to shift the focus away from work-life balance and to work-life integration. We need to find a way to allow parents, mothers and fathers, to continue to support their careers and at the same time raise a family.”

But fathers should just “do” paternity leave, he says. They should live it. “Take advantage of this gift and discover a whole new world of excitement, education, and enlightenment.”

Annamarya Scaccia 

(This article is exclusive to annamaryas.com)

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