Prepare your employer, your finances and your family for parental leave.
Build a path to success.
Plan Ahead To Avoid Career Detours
If you’re worried about how parental leave will impact your career, that’s ok. The biggest reason why more men don’t take parental leave is because we’re afraid of being stigmatized and penalized in the workplace. Separately, men often feel vital to business operations, and worry their company will fall apart if they’re absent for more than a few days. The good news is that if you think ahead, it doesn’t have to be like this.
A) Know Your Rights
Before you do anything else, know your rights about parental leave. This will make you feel more confident, and help you identify workplace policies that are potentially discriminatory. There are two things you should do here:
- Get familiar with the law: Whether you’re living in the US, Europe or somewhere else, find out what laws exist regarding parental leave. Does your government offer paid leave? Unpaid leave? Even just basic job protection? Whatever there is, get your hands on it.
- Dust off your employee handbook: Learn your company’s policies on maternity/paternity leave. Unsure what they are? Look in your employee handbook. Search your Human Resources intranet portal. Talk to a trusted colleague who recently had a child. Take someone for HR out for a beer after work. Someone will know. If there is no policy, that’s great! Work with HR to make one!
B) Identify Upside For Your Company
You’re not just asking your work for a favour. Yes, paid leave will cost your company time and money. But, research and real-world results from organizations like Hulu to American Express to Ikea have proven that companies accrue real economic benefits when they support paid parental leave.
According to a 2017 survey by Ernst & Young, employers offering parental leave reported massive improvements in core business measures:
To help you find arguments that will resonate with your employer, we wrote a dedicated post on the subject. Pick a few reasons that make sense for your company.
C) Make A Plan
Find a supportive colleague (or a few) willing to take on key projects, clients and other essential work while you’re away. Arrange a transition plan and make handover notes. Anticipate working in overdrive in the month before your leave and after you return. You want to show your company you’re still invested in your work and reduce the likelihood of being seen as uncommitted to the company.
If you don’t believe there is anyone who can do the critical parts of your job, take a breath. Imagine what you’d do if you were suddenly offered a promotion. Or if your competitor offered you an amazing new job! Or what your company would do you got hit by a bus tomorrow. Chances are, someone would step up and fill your shoes. Be honest with yourself, figure out who that would be, and go ask them to support you.
D) Bring It Up. Early!
Once you’ve done all your homework, schedule a meeting with your supervisor. Ideally, this should be several months in advance of your baby's birth. Lay out your rights, your work plan and, most importantly, why it’ll be good for the company. Be prepared to negotiate in order to find a solution that works for both you and your employer. Once you’ve got approval, don’t forget to share the news with others. Whether you’re part of a team or manage others, giving your colleagues time to plan is always a good idea.
E) Be Strong and Ready for Negativity
Even in the most supportive companies, you’ll still get negative comments it from people who don’t understand what you’re doing. Some might be confused: “Why would you want to be home with a baby for that long?” Some will be condescending: “Hope you enjoy your month of holiday!” Others will complain that they didn’t get the same time off.
The strongest answer is the honest one: that you’re excited and privileged to help raise your new son or daughter. Practice saying it to yourself or your partner first. Get comfortable with the idea, and with how it feels to say it out loud. You’ll be surprised how quickly your critics will scuttle away when they find out that sticks and stones don’t hurt you.
You Can Absolutely Afford This
Think of parental leave as the first of many investments you’re going to make in the health and well-being of your child. The good news is that parental leave won’t punish your bank account nearly as much as you might have thought.
Parental leave is paid in 75% of the developed world. This includes most countries in Europe, as well as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In 2019, that number will jump to over 80% when new laws in the Netherlands and Estonia come into effect.
Parental leave payments cover 70% of new father earnings, on average, in the developed world. That’s not everything, but it’s not peanuts either. Do some research and figure out what's available to you.
Whether you have access to paid parental leave or not, the key is to plan ahead and make a budget. It sounds tedious, and maybe even frightening. But you’re a parent now, so the era of shirking responsibility is over! Start simple. Figure out how much time you want to take off, how much income you’ll lose, and then look for opportunities to close the gap. For example:
- See if your employer will help top-up your statutory benefits.
- Set up an automated savings account.
- Ask for cash instead of gifts at baby showers.
- Cut back on (or give up!) one of your vices (caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, etc) for a while.
Whatever you do, make sure to actually put aside the money you save. You’ll be thankful in a few months when you’re able to spend worry-free time with your child.
Develop Your Own Paternal Instinct
We live and work in a world that is filled with outdated concepts of fatherhood. One is that men are not “good” at caring for a young child. Another is that men don’t know how to run a household. You can bust these fatherhood myths with a little preparation and positive thinking.
Maternal Instinct vs. Paternal Instinct
Whatever you think of your partner’s connection with your child, in reality 'maternal instinct' is an acquired skill that grows through time and togetherness. Your partner will have spent nine months together with the baby before birth, and they will likely spend several months together while on maternity leave. So it makes sense that your partner will initially know your baby best. But, if you take parental leave, you’ll get your own opportunity to learn the cues and body language of your baby as they begin to find their place in the world. Call it 'paternal instinct'.
Not to mention you’ll get a heck of a lot faster at changing diapers, you’ll figure out when and how your baby wants the bottle, and you’ll find crazy ways to transform tears into laughter. If you let your guard down, you’ll discover you can pass joyful hours reading, singing, dancing, and exploring together with your child.
If it helps, think back to your first day at your current job. Did you know how to do everything that the company was demanding of you? Probably not. But with time, patience and practice, you found your own groove. Apply that same approach to spending time with your child, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you become an expert parent.
Running Your Household
Gentlemen, the truth is that there is a lot more to parental leave that just caring for your child. Being at home means stepping up across the board.
Yes, that means laundry. Yes, that means grocery shopping. Yes, that means cleaning and cooking.
Before you freak out, take a minute to realize that your child has absolutely no idea that household chores are boring. In fact, your baby will find everything you do absolutely fascinating.
So here's the trick: Transform the mundane into awesome baby adventures. A trip to the grocery store unlocks a world of new sights, sounds and smells. Folding laundry becomes a hilarious game of peekaboo. Chopping carrots becomes an exploration of new tastes and textures. Spending time at home with a baby is all about experiencing the world through their eyes.