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Paternity Leave 101: What You Need To Know

If you’re reading this, you’ve either reached your breaking point with those baby bump updates your wife signed you up for, or you’re part of a new generation that’s changing what it means to be a dad. First, glad to have you. Feel free to unsubscribe from those other emails unless you’re dying to know when your baby is the size of a kumquat. Secondly, a big part of that change is attitudes towards paternity leave, from your perspective and, more importantly, your employer’s. Before you dive into the stream of news and research around the topic, review this brief explanation of how to plan for the best paternity leave possible, and what you can do to improve your company’s policy. If your company has no policy, read this at your desk while pretending to work, then take a coffee break.

What Paternity Leave Looks Like

Lest you be foolish enough to assume family leave is some sort of vacation, here’s a letter to you from a guy who knows better that’s been co-signed by pretty much every mother who’s ever taken maternity leave. If nothing else, know this: it’s not time off; it’s a whirlwind of readjustment interrupted by waves of joy and the occasional bout of sheer terror. 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.

Flickr / Geoff Stearns

How To Improve Your Company’s Policy
In the best-case scenario, your employee policy entitles you to additional family leave. Actually, in the best-best-case scenario, it’s paid. A recent report from Boston College’s Center For Work & Family suggests the opposite is actually much more likely: the U.S. is second-worst in the world at family leave (although, yeah, take that, Papua New Guinea!). Fortunately, 89 percent of American workers agree with you that paternity leave is important, and employers are starting to step up. In addition to your Netflixes and Facebooks and Googles, which have leave policies that are downright Scandinavian, here are 47 other companies with decent leave where you might actually be able to get a job. If your company is still in the dark ages, the Boston College has some excellent tips on how you might enlighten the bosses. Or, you know, you can always sue the bastards — it worked for this guy.

If your company offers it, take your leave! That’s literally the subtitle of the report, exclamation point included. Taking any and all leave allotted to you — and encouraging your office bros to do the same — is the most effective way you personally can help normalize society’s ideas of fathers as child care providers. Research backs up the idea that male workers are more likely to take leave after seeing their coworkers do so. The research is out of Norway (of course) but since when were we willing to let Norway be better than us at anything, aside from curling and nordic skiing?