The Best Gift for a New Dad? Paid Paternity Leave!
A new drill? A “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug? A novelty T-shirt? Nah. The absolute best Father’s Day gift for new dads doesn’t fit in a box or go on sale every June…it’s paid paternity leave. And the “reviews” for this top gift are off the charts! A staggering 100% of dads who took paternity leave say they’re happy they did—and would do it again, according to a 2021 report. The snag? This “present”—coveted by most Americans—is still harder to come by than a pair of limited edition Nikes.
Right now, the United States is one of only six countries in the world without a national paid parental leave policy. That leaves only 19% of American workers with access to paid family leave through their employers. And even where paternity leave is available, dads are leery about taking it. In fact, 62% of fathers surveyed admitted that there’s an unspoken rule that dads shouldn’t take full paternity leave. Here, seven reasons why you should totally take it if available—and fight for it where it’s not.
Note: Some of the evidence described in this article is based on research that looked at families with two parents of the opposite sex. We realize that families come in many different configurations, some of which might not be represented by these studies. Ultimately, we believe all families could benefit from paid leave, including those with single or same-sex parents at the helm and those who welcomed babies via adoption or surrogacy!
Paternity leave boosts bonding.
Research shows that when infants experience strong attachments from the get-go, they’re better poised to mature to be happy, independent, and resilient grown-ups. And, quite simply, paternity leave can lead to stronger attachments…that last. A 2019 report found that even nine years later, children whose fathers took at least two weeks of paternity leave reported feeling closer to their fathers than children whose dads didn’t take leave. Plus, dads are truly craving this early bonding time: A 2021 survey found that 80% of dads wish they had more time to bond with their child when they were born.
Paternity leave helps keep babies healthy.
When dads take family leave, they’re saving lives. In fact, it’s estimated that offering American fathers 12 weeks of job-protected paid family leave would result in nearly 600 fewer infant and baby deaths each year. Part of the reason is that when parents are able to be at home with their newborns and infants, they’re more apt to bring their baby to well-child medical visits and to have their child vaccinated on time, compared to parents who weren’t able to take leave.
Paternity leave buoys relationships.
According to a 2018 report, in households with two parents of the opposite sex, paternity leave chips away at the massive domestic workload mothers traditionally shoulder, which relieves stress and improves relationships. Indeed, taking a mere two weeks or less of paternity leave has been shown to reduce a couple’s chance of divorce. And the pair’s odds of a split remain significantly lower for as many as six years afterward, finds a 2020 report in the Journal of Social Policy. PS: The report also notes that lessening moms’ stress is especially important since they’re more likely to initiate a split than dads when they feel their relationship is unfairly balanced.
Paternity leave can improve sleep.
Want your baby to sleep better? Take your paternity leave! Research out of Israel has found that increased involvement of fathers in infant caregiving responsibilities may contribute to improvements in baby’s sleep during the first six months postpartum. (Remember: Paternity leave is all about involvement!) Researchers note that sharing caregiving leads to better sleep and fewer night-wakes in moms, too. It’s thought that equity in baby care reduces stress, marital disagreements, and creates a calming atmosphere, which likely has a positive impact on everyone’s sleep. Plus, dads are often excellent baby soothers, making that bedtime and middle-of-the-night involvement key to better sleep for all.
Paternity leave improves new moms’ health.
In the weeks following a baby’s arrival, mothers who gave birth are very much still physically and mentally recovering…and they’re trying to do that all while in the throes of figuring out their new role as Mom. It’s tough. But a 2019 study found that when new fathers in mom-dad households take paid leave after the birth of their children, new mothers experience a 14% decrease in postpartum health complications and improved mental health. In fact, researchers note that there’s a 26% reduction in the likelihood of a new mom taking anti-anxiety meds in the first six months postpartum when their partner has taken parental leave.
Paternity leave combats the pay gap.
When fathers take their leave, they just may be lining their family’s pockets with more money down the line. A study of approximately 9,000 families with a mom-dad configuration found that mothers’ incomes rose about 7% for each month that a father spent on paternity leave. And another study—this one in the Journal of Marriage and Family—concluded that paternity leave reduces the gender wage gap within households with opposite-sex parents by upping moms’ wages in the short term and helping to increase total household financial well-being in the long term. Win, win!
Paternity leave improves parenting.
Are there amazing dads out there who were never able to take paternity leave? Absolutely. That doesn’t change the fact that research shows paternity leave helps set the stage for improved parental abilities and involvement. After all, paternity leave draws dads into the daily realities of childcare, so they have the opportunity to better develop their parenting skills and build up their sense of responsibility, according to a report in the journal Gender & Society. This means dads tend to emerge from paternity leave feeling way more equipped to be an active parent rather than simply a “helper.” And all of that Dad Confidence remains: Research shows that taking time off following the birth of a child is positively associated with the quality of a dad’s co-parenting over the first five years after birth and significantly influences the time fathers dedicate to childcare over the years, too.
How To Get Paternity Leave
Today, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires eligible employers to provide certain workers unpaid family leave. Meanwhile, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia all offer some kind of paid family leave. (Delaware and Maryland’s paid leave is coming soon.) If you don’t live in DC or one of the above states, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck! Google, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and Patagonia are among the growing number of companies with great paternity leave policies. Ask your HR department what your workplace offers. And to learn more about what your state’s family leave laws are, visit the National Office of State Legislatures’ site. Finally, email your senator and urge them to pass national paid family and medical leave!
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.