You need to prepare yourself for paternity leave whether you’ve had a kid before or if this is your first. If you haven’t had a kid, you’re probably looking at the coming days, weeks, or months (Months? You lucky jerk!) through a veiled glow of amber light, in which you and your partner cuddle the baby in a softly swaying wheat field while smiling at each other in slow motion. Which is … not going to happen.
If you’ve had a kid before, on the other hand, the protective part of your brain that blots out trauma is likely hiding those strange days from you. You probably don’t remember waking up exhausted at all hours to feed a fragile, new, needy life in front a Netflix show that was probably inappropriate for infant development. That cold sweat? That’s the memory coming back, buddy.
Either way, know (or remember) this: it’s not time off; it’s a whirlwind of readjustment interrupted by waves of joy and bouts of sheer terror. Here are some things you can do to make sure your paternity leave is more Endless Summer than Jaws.
Prepare To Make Like A Tree
You’ll need to get your financial ducks in order, unless you are employed by one of the fantastically rare 14-percent of U.S companies that offers paid paternity leave … In which case, congratulations on being a freakin’ wizard!
Prepare yourself by getting a handle on the leave you’re entitled to. Also consider what you can cobble together through company policies around vacation and PTO. Finally, consider how long you can stay out (without moving your family into a refrigerator box under an overpass). Here are some tasks:
- Talk to Gina (or whoever) in HR and find out how your company can support you while you’re out. It’ll most likely be a mix of vacation time and sick leave, because of course it is.
- Now talk to another dad in your company who has taken paternity leave to find out how it really works. He’s the guy with baby pictures on the desk … where he is currently sleeping.
- Consider short term disability insurance. This will vary from state to state, but will usually offer a payout of a percentage of your salary when caring for a family member.
- Brush up on the Family Medical Leave Act and understand your rights, like being able to return to your company (though not necessarily back to the same position. Yes, seriously.).
- Throw savings into equation, or start a savings plan to create a buffer. It may turn out that you’re entitled to take more leave than your company will pay for. Make sure you can bond in relative comfort by having living expenses and bills covered for any extra time.
- Give plenty of notice, instead of surprising everyone with your sudden need to go support your wife and bond with your kid. Particularly if you are uncaring jerk the rest of the time. It could seem suspicious.
Make Like A Tree
With an understanding of your finances in order, it’s actually time to get your leave on, and you shall be a good man, in tradition with the family plan. Happily, The New York Times asked readers for tips to help you get prepared-ish, chief among them these gems:
- Keep yourself as unplugged as possible can. It’s not really leave if you’re filing TPS reports with one hand while diaper changing with another. Plus, you really need both hands for that.
- Work with your partner to understand the basics of diapering and bathing and holding and keeping a new human being alive, so you’re on the same page with each other.
- Determine your childcare game plan before either of you go back. The alternative is a very awkward breakfast conversation that ends with a bassinet in your cubicle.
- Don’t vacuum. Just take that one at face value. It’s gonna be the easiest one for you to follow, anyway.
Beyond all that, enjoy the flood of casseroles, hold your baby as often as you can and try to let your partner sleep when there’s a chance. Finally, when the terror strikes, just turn on an inappropriate Netflix show and feed your kid. Stranger Things probably isn’t going to scar them for life … probably.