Roughly 16 months ago, our CEO at Upwork announced a new HR policy that immediately positioned our company as a leader in the burgeoning movement to drag our country's parental leave norms out of the Dark Ages. Very suspiciously, within weeks of this announcement, my wife informed me that I would soon have an opportunity to take advantage of this new policy.
Full disclosure: My wife wasn't the messenger. My nearly 4-year-old son, Jacoby, was – greeting me at the garage door after work one evening waving a pregnancy test stick in my face and proclaiming, "Look! A magic wand!" After the shock wore off, we were able to contemplate the reality of what 12 weeks of paid paternity leave would mean for us as we prepared for our third child.
If I were to distill baby preparation into absurdly simplistic bullet points, I would classify it thusly:
- Baby No. 1: Over-planning plus over-researching plus over-panicking plus nesting
- Baby No. 2: Digging out the baby stuff from storage plus mentally preparing for the reintroduction of swaddles, bottles, pacifiers, burp cloths, boppies, wubnubs, deep-dops and pantookas (only two of those are made up – one by me, one by Dr. Seuss)
- Baby No. 3: Logistical planning plus questioning your decisions in life
The logistics of introducing a third child into your life are incredibly daunting. A seemingly endless set of questions comes up, none of which have one singular and simple answer: Is our house big enough? Where will the new baby sleep? When will grandparents come to visit, and where will they sleep? Do we need three car seats? Will three car seats even fit in our car? Do we need to buy a new car? What are we going to do about childcare? What if our daughter's day care doesn't have a vacancy for a baby? Should we get a nanny? Should we get an au pair? Can we even afford either of those options? Should we travel for the holidays with the new baby? Should we ever get on an airplane again? Is this real life?
In the face of this mounting pressure, I now had a significant release valve: 12 weeks of time away from work, a benefit with a value that really can't be measured.
During the pregnancy, I received the routine question all expectant fathers face: "Are you going to take any time off?" Notice the use of the word "any." Taking paternity leave is so rare that it's not a question of how much time you're going to take off, but whether you will be able to take any at all. No less sad is the implication that not all fathers feel entitled to take time off even if it is afforded them by their employers.
I felt a smug satisfaction as I was able to respond, "Yep, my company gives me 12 weeks fully paid." The reaction was always astonishment: "TWELVE WEEKS?! That's awesome! Are you going to take it all?" That was always the follow-up question, and again, it paints a sad reality. Taking the time off that you're entitled to – whether it's vacation time, sick time, or virtually unheard of parental leave time – is still not widely accepted.
Here's the good news: My employer is now taking steps to make this not just commonplace, but the norm. Not only was Upwork committed to providing this benefit to all employees, but it was also ready to support employees in actually taking advantage of the program. Barely a year after the official announcement, I turned on my out-of-office autoresponder and embarked on nearly three full months of full-time dad duty.
As mentioned above, the arrival of baby No. 3 meant addressing new logistical challenges, and the most logical solution for our family was for me to work throughout my wife's maternity leave and take my leave when she headed back to work. The single most important benefit of this arrangement was that my brand new, tiny, healthy baby didn't have to get dropped off at a day care until she was at the ripe old age of nearly seven months.
There was added peace of mind for my wife as well: When she went back to work after just 16 weeks, she was heading off each day knowing that our baby was home with dad. Those of you with children understand how dramatic that is. Those of you without, imagine this all-too-common scenario: Your new baby is born – this tiny, useless, helpless, adorable slug of a human – and comes home with you and your partner. After a few weeks, you've exhausted your sick time or your vacation day accrual or your limited (and likely partially paid or unpaid) family leave. You and your partner are both forced back to work while this tiny little creature – this creature that relies on you for absolutely everything, weighing less than a bowling ball, needing naps and feedings and human contact – has to get dropped off at a day care, where the child-to-adult ratio is often five to one – or worse, where germ-infested toddlers are swarming around your new baby and strangers are spending more time bonding with your child than you are. This is the sad reality for most parents in this country.
Obviously, this does not capture the extent of what having 12 weeks of paid paternity leave meant to me, my daughter, or our relationship. Twelve weeks is an eternity during the newborn phase (check out the infographic at the bottom of this post for all the dirty details). I was there in person to see the first time Clio found her feet, laughed, rolled over, and eventually progressed to a full-on crawl. I took her to "mommy and me" music classes where I was the only male among nine moms, grandmas, and nannies. We had a recurring date at the local coffee shop every morning (until I hurt my back in week six from too much Babybjörn time).
I wasn't able to do any of this when my first two kids came along. I had just two weeks of leave when Jacoby and my two-year-old daughter, June, were born. Does this mean that Clio and I will have a stronger relationship moving forward? With that much Q.T., how could we not? It's no exaggeration to say that this parental leave policy has had a dramatic impact on my life and on the well-being of my family, and I'm grateful to our company for providing this opportunity.
Now it's time to get back to work.