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Should Dads Take Paternity Leave?

By paulabernstein |

paternity leaveU.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron recently welcomed baby daughter Florence Rose Endellion to their family. Mr. Cameron has said that he is contemplating taking paternity leave.

In some circles, the Prime Minister is being praised as a role model for contemporary fathers, while some critics snipe that he’s got more important things to do than stay home with his family. If Mr. Cameron decides to take paternity leave, his deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, (also the father of young children) would take his place.

The Wall Street Journal’s “The Juggle” blog recently wrote about paternity leave saying that even though the U.K. government provides a modest stipend for it, most men don’t take advantage of it for fear it will hurt their careers.

In the U.S., our paternity leave laws are not as generous. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, with some conditions, but California is the only state that provides paid paternity benefits. I can’t think of one man I know who has taken advantage of the FMLA.

As “The Juggle” points out, it’s not just the question of money or career that keeps men from taking paternity leave.

“There’s a pervasive stigma around paternity leave that’s hard to counter,” wrote John J. Edwards III at “The Juggle,” who previously interviewed dads who took time off after baby. He noted that men who took paternity leave “weathered some puzzlement and derision from his co-workers. Even a two-week leave is often considered remarkable for men to take.”

Is staying home with a baby just not manly enough? It seems that we’re sending modern men mixed messages — they should change diapers and be an involved parent, but not if it means taking time off from their job.

In the case of Mr. Cameron, there is an additional reason he may want to spend time with his family. Last year, their severely disabled son, Ivan, died at age 6. They also have two other children.

If regular Schmoes can’t take paternity leave without getting funny looks from their co-workers and friends, how will people react to a world leader take leave?

When my daughters were born, my husband took one week of his vacation time off to be home with us. Since he worked for a small company, they couldn’t have managed without him for more time. And with a new baby and my leaving my full-time job, we couldn’t afford for him to take unpaid leave.

If we expect fathers to be involved in their children’s lives and take equal responsibility for child rearing, shouldn’t it start from day one? I sincerely hope that Mr. Cameron decides to take paternity leave — not only so that he can bond with his new baby, but also to set an example for other dads.

Do you think paid paternity leave should be provided along with maternity leave? Did your husband take paternity leave?

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Photo: flickr/Neil Gillis

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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46 thoughts on “Should Dads Take Paternity Leave?

  1. Diana says:

    My husband took 12 weeks of paternity leave after the birth of our daughter. It was so wonderful. We both work and so it was nice that she was able to not start daycare until she was nearly six months old. My husband loved staying home with her and getting that one-on-one time. I think folks may have looked at him twice for doing it but he was lucky that he had a supportive boss with kids.

  2. JZ says:

    My hub took a week off for both our sons. Of course it was his paid vacation time but it was nice he could be home. As far as getting flak from other men that is rediculous. My husbands about as manly as you get and he would of took paternal leave if they offered it to him.

  3. Marie-Eve says:

    Here in Canada there used to be a stigma as well… But much to my delight in recent years I’ve seen this changed, and quickly. Fathers (or same-sex partners) now have between 3 and 5 weeks of paid leave following the birth, and everyone I know is taking it. What I’ve seen as well is the father taking up the last bit of the one-year maternity leave when the mother has to or chooses to return to work before that. Part of the mat leave can be transferred to the dad, and 6 different guys at my office have been doing that -taking between 6 weeks and 6 months to care for their kid full-time. I think it’s awesome.

  4. Voice of Reason says:

    We were in the UK when our children were born and my husband (a business owner) took paternity leave, plus a little extra.

    I can’t imagine a father not taking it provided it was a financially viable option for their family. I guess I’m lucky in that I just don’t know any men who would put their careers ahead of spending time with their newborns.

    David Cameron should definitely take the leave. I was under the impression that he had always intended to take it, so I imagine that the only reason for his hesitation is that his (new coalition) government is currently trying to put through very contentious budget reforms.

  5. Rosana says:

    Competent men will stay competent even after paternity leave. It is the “workaholic syndrome” that some people suffer, what makes them think that a person has to choose between work and personal life, they think you cannot not have both, so if you take some time off *gasp* to take care of your family, then they prefer to see you as a slacker.
    Maybe Mr. Cameron should take paternity leave so his critics will see that the world will not come to an end while he is away.

  6. Carmen says:

    CommentsWow, this is cool. I am an unmarried 40 something woman with no kids who was just reading a little of the parenting section to be up on different things and because one other article looked interesting (about standing up to/breaking away from other parents who are friends but raise their kids in ways that are incompatible with your beliefs). Anyway, this article really impressed me with the idea that the leader of a country would consider taking the time off and exercising his rights as a parent too. As some have said this is a very worthy example he would be setting especially at his level of “employment”. I too hope he does it. And I must say too that I will probably write at least a little bit about this in my (personal) blog to share with my friends/readers because I think that even if he decides (because of the budget issue someone mentioned) he can’t do it it is an important thing to share with as many people as possible that the man was even considering it. Bravo!

  7. IndigoSabrian says:

    My husband took a month (unpaid) off after our son was born. It was the most amazing time for the three of us to bond as a new family. We don’t have other family close by and I don’t know what I would have done as a new mom alone with a one-week old baby.

  8. Alicia says:

    Of course I think guys should get paternity leave just as women get maternity leave! Complete equality for all! And of course there’s hardly anyone taking the FMLA unpaid paternity leave. It’s *unpaid*. If the mother is on maternity leave, usually unpaid, how can anyone afford for the dad to also not be paid? It’s ridiculous.

  9. Manjari says:

    My husband also took a month off unpaid. We really couldn’t afford it, because I wasn’t working either. So no money came in the whole month. We still don’t regret it at all. It was the best thing to have him there for the first 4 weeks of the twins’ lives.

  10. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    My husband took a week off using vacation time and then three weeks working from home. He is fortunate in the fact that his work requires a phone and high-speed online access. It’s not ideal because he’s busy much of the day, but it helps a great deal.

  11. [...] Bernstein’s Strollerderby piece on the debate over whether the British prime minister should take paternity leave. Paula argues that [...]

  12. paulabernstein says:

    It’s official! He’s taking two weeks off. Bravo!

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  42. Jcdew says:

    As a single father of a now 20 year old daughter I can say employers frown upon Fathers taking any kind of leave for thier children.

    I have lost countless jobs due to my child being sick and having to go take care of her
    yet women would do it ALL the time with no penalty.

    Society will never change,most men still pay for woman’s dat and most women expect it. Even if a woman gets the same pay as a man I have known many that end up getting a man to do it for them.

  43. Lisa says:

    We’re taking advantage of FMLA. Since we work at the same organization though, we have to share 12 weeks. So we’re both taking 5 weeks together. I’m a teacher, so luckily, my FMLA only has to cover me until the start of summer.

    So far, everything seems to be going well. We’ve got backup lined up for my husband (who does not teach) and we’re both going to be “semi-available” so he’s in the loop while away.

  44. edro says:

    HA! i read this article cuz i was sucked in by the headline thinking that it meant taking a break from being a parent… cuz i could sure use one…well a longer one. Being a stay at home dad sure has its rewards but the monotony is killing me. My son is awesome but being that he is still a week shy of his 1st birthday and has been walking for 3 and a half months already (running for most of it) is 3 inches taller than my inseam of 32 and weighs 27 pounds and is freakishly smart has been very taxing. This little guy is a monster. Only recently have i been able to wear him out instead of vice-versa. The only reason I’m even able to write this is because him and his mom are visiting family out of town for a few days (thank God). I didnt do anything for the first two days at all just slept ate and watched movies. too mentally exhausted to do anything else. But im probably just anxious to get back to work since I work seasonally offshore and I’ve been home since September. Who am i kidding. my kid is a beast and the misses knows it too.

  45. Jenna says:

    I would give my right ovary for my husband to be able to take paternity leave. I’m due to pop any day now and because his business is a lot slower in the summer it’s almost impossible for him to take anytime off at all. We have our fingers crossed that I’ll go into labor on a Friday afternoon so he doesn’t have to take time off while I’m in the hospital.

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