Guide To Paternity Leave Flickr / Richard Leeming
Fatherly Forum

An Open Letter To The Guy About To Go On Paternity Leave

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

It’s my third paternity leave stint and as a working dad, I’m fully committed to taking advantage of this time and leveraging it to the full benefit of my wife and kids. Since I’ve been around the block 3 times over the past 4 years, I’d like to offer some tips for how to make the most of your paternity leave:

You’re Lucky  —  So Take Advantage Of It
If you are entitled to paid-time off following the birth of a child (i.e. paternity leave), consider yourself lucky. A staggering number of companies and organizations do not offer paid maternity or paternity leave — you essentially have to cobble together sick time, vacation time and unpaid time to care for your child. The good news is that several large and significant companies have elevated their parental leave policies just this year. In March 2016, Bank of America announced it would expand paid time off for new parents from 12 weeks to 16 weeks. Just a month later, Ernst & Young announced it would offer 16 fully-paid weeks for all new moms and dads.

Bank of America

Bank of America

But getting access to paternity leave is one thing, taking it is another. It’s scary and sad how many working dads get paternity leave yet short-change their family time. My advice — if you have it, take full advantage of it! Trust me, it will be hard, your co-workers may look down on you, and you will get tons of emails and meeting invites while you’re away. I still remember getting a work call from a former employer asking me to return to work early for a “critical project” a week after my first child was born. I did it and now I regret it. Work doesn’t matter right now. You only get this time once, and work will be waiting for you.

Thank The Powers That Be For Your Child
Together with your significant other (okay, let’s be honest, she did most of the work), you brought a child into this world. This is a little human being comprised of a perfect collection of trillions of cells that brilliantly organized themselves into masses creating tissues and organs. It’s a beautiful thing so you should pray, reflect, meditate or just do something to connect to something larger than yourself. For me, this means dropping off my oldest daughter to school in the morning then immediately going to a religious service several times a week. Thirty minutes of my day, which ground me and allow me to appreciate and soak in the magnificence of this thing we call life.

Take Care Of The Mundane Household Chores
Bear in mind that the first several weeks will be insane for your wife. She will barely have time to eat or shower. She will have a little human being that is nearly, if not completely, reliant on her. So you need to take care of the stuff that keeps the house running. Cook dinner, wash dishes, do laundry, wash baby bottles — just generally make yourself useful. Your wife will ask you for stuff — and your role is not to question, it is to execute. You are a machine and you can do this, not only during your paternity leave, but for the decades that follow!

father holding newborn child
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Do The “Manly” Stuff Too
If you’re handy, take this time do take care of crap around the house that you’ve been putting off for the last year. Here are some ideas: tighten loose screws, install baby-proofing stuff, clean out the gutters, clean the grime off your kitchen backsplash, do yard work, buy and assemble furniture, change air filters, clean out your dryer lent pipe. If you’re not handy, hire someone to take care of it for you. This will create an environment that is clean, safe and comfortable for your family and will allow you to forget about this stuff for a while.

If You Have Older Kids, Spend Quality Time With Them
When we had our first child this didn’t apply but when we had our second, our first-born was 2 years old and I made it a point to take her out of the house every day while I was on leave. It didn’t matter where we went —  grocery store, music class, playground, whatever. This created tremendous bonding time with my daughter while giving my wife alone time to bond with our newborn. My wife and I still credit my relationship with our first-born daughter back to the concentrated time we spent together during my paternity leave.

Fast forward 2 years and now we have a third. I’m spending the same one-on-one time with our second child (a middle child in her terrific 2s) and I know that one day, I’ll probably be sitting at their wedding thinking back at this precious time we had together and cry like an inconsolable baby. As an aside, it is amazing to walk around town on a random weekday and see how many moms are with their kids and how very few dads are with their kids. I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) and somehow I thought we were further along than we are. Below is a pic of a recent excursion to “toddler story time.” Please note the lack of dads in the audience.

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Work Out
Many new dads neglect their physical stature and well-being during their kids’ infant, toddler and adolescent years. This is a mistake. Your kids depend on you to be healthy and to have the physical strength and stamina to be their dad, to play with them and to outrun them when they get too far ahead. So eat right, work out, and stay in shape. Jogging, walking, biking and other forms of physical activity are encouraged. You will have to sneak this in during times that do not interfere with everything else going on or better yet, try to include any older siblings into your physical routine.

Take Some “Me Time ”
This is mentioned last for a reason. It should only be done after the stuff above is completed in a satisfactory manner (if you’re unsure, ask your wife). But the point here is to do stuff that energizes you and gives you the capacity to be the best father and best husband you can be. Let’s admit it, being a “modern dad” is tough and life is demanding without understanding (to quote Ace of Base). So go enjoy a round of golf, reading, writing, flying drones, or playing poker. Just don’t forget that it’s not about you, it’s about how the activity energizes you to be the best you that you can be.

Jimmy Joseph Tran is a writer and master of paternity leave.