Paternity Leave Shouldn't Be An Afterthought When We Talk About Paid Family Leave

by Mike Julianelle
Originally Published: 
paternity leave

I had my second kid in January. He’s been around for more than eight months now, and I’m still recovering. But I probably shouldn’t say that since I didn’t physically birth the child. Being a father, I’m only the secondary parent anyway, so what impact could having a baby have on me?

As an enlightened 21st-century male with an equal share of the parenting duties, I don’t really believe that. But many people still do, including the Republican nominee for President, D… D… I can’t think of his name. It’s something that starts with D? Oh right: the Devil.

Last week, the Devil, Donald Trump, announced his child care plan that is mostly notable for what it leaves out. The proposal includes six weeks of paid leave for a woman who has given birth, plus tax credits for stay-at-home moms. The benefits, according to Ivanka Trump, whom her father credits with pushing him to bestow this amazing gift to American mothers, are mostly great in comparison to what moms get now — which is essentially zilch.

From a previous post on Scary Mommy, “Out of 170 nations studied by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations Agency, the United States and New Guinea are the only two nations that do not mandate any kind of payout for maternity leave.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s plan doesn’t provide any benefits for less traditional families, such as those who adopt (sorry, you didn’t give birth!), or those made up of two men (sorry, you didn’t give birth!), or any benefits for dads (sorry, you didn’t give birth!). In fact, it offers no benefits for fathers at all, regardless of their sexual orientation. This is also nothing new.

The good news is America isn’t quite as far behind the rest of the world in that area — only 47% of countries offer leave for new fathers.

The fact that paternity leave is an afterthought really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since maternity leave is also an afterthought, but at least maternity leave actually gets thought of after. Dads don’t get thought of at all.

I know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe not what you’re thinking, but I know what many of the people on Facebook are thinking because they aren’t shy about announcing it. In short, they’re also sorry men don’t give birth.

“Yeah sorry. This is focused on women because we have the babies and the brutal career choices to make.”

Maternity leave is for the physical recovery of the mother.”

“Not that dads shouldn’t parent, but last I checked, dads didn’t need to recover from childbirth or a C-section. He helped when he could, but I also breastfeed both my kids. Personally, if my husband had been home, I probably would have killed him.”

“Last I checked, women — not men — go thru childbirth and also breastfeed. So this is for them. Stop complaining that it doesn’t include gay men or other families. This plan is specifically for mothers. When you birth a baby, then you can talk. Geez.”

Yeah! Those 1950s housewives are right! After all, I have two kids, and neither of them emerged from my body, so my paternity leave was a total vacation! When my first son was born, I got a few days off because my boss is a nice person and has kids of his own and allowed me to cut some corners. So I spent those few stressful days figuring out how to deal with a newborn and not being sure when I was expected back at work because there was no actual policy in place doing keg stands!

Then, this past January, my progressive AF company allotted me five full days and all I did was sleep because I had a 5-year-old and a newborn. They couldn’t possibly benefit from having an able-bodied man around the house while their mother recuperated from a few grueling days in the hospital!

Wait, did I say I got five days to booze and catnap for kid number two? I actually spent the first two days of my meager paternity leave in the NICU where my newborn was recovering from breathing difficulties, so I really only had three days left to repeatedly boot and rally while ignoring and endangering my entire family.

Except nope. Because my children did emerge from my wife’s body, and as a loving responsible husband, I spent those five days doing everything I could to help her recover from the physical act of having a child and helping her catch up on sleep (which is impossible), along with doing all the other stuff good husbands do when they’re home (i.e., everything my wife asked me to do). And as a caring, responsible father, I spent those five days taking care of and getting to know my baby, along with doing all the other stuff good dads do when they’re home (i.e., everything my 5-year-old asks me to do).

Honestly, not only is the maternity leave many families can afford often way too short, the first few weeks of maternity leave, paid or not, are almost useless without paternity leave to supplement them. My wife was exhausted from giving birth and exhausted from breastfeeding, and while I was exhausted too (the delivery room is not exactly a relaxing spa, even when you’re not in stirrups), having me around lightened her load considerably, especially when it came to parenting our other kid.

Plus, not only is paternity leave a necessary and vital complement to maternity leave, it’s also a necessary and vital component of both the baby’s and the father’s development. Studies have shown that having Daddy around has long-term benefits for the child’s learning abilities and that it’s good for the dad’s development too, because, shockingly, when you’re actually valued as a parent from the get-go, you’re more likely to want to participate down the line. Oh, and one more thing: When men share some of the parenting load, it allows women to spend less time out of the workforce and is better for their careers.

The cool thing about the ignorance here is that there are all sorts of facts and studies we can look up that support how important it is to both moms and dads for men to have paternity leave. Unfortunately, it’s 2016 and things like “facts” and “studies” have no bearing on reality anymore (#MakeAmericaRationalAgain!). Hence, people are crowing that this openly misogynistic clown show’s child care plan is a good start because it’s “better than nothing.”

They’re not wrong. Something is better than nothing. But more of something is also better than less of it, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s proposed childcare plan offers 12 weeks. (That’s twice as many as The Devil Trump’s plan, but please use Google to check my math.) It also includes mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. Not only is there more of it, it’s also inclusionary, instead of exclusionary, which basically sums up both candidates’ entire platforms.

I don’t know about you, but the inclusionary version of America is the one in which I want to live, raise my children, and party during paternity leave — if we men ever get any.

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