When I heard that Prince Harry was planning to take paternity leave, I couldn’t help but pump my fist in the air. Refinery29 reports that Harry has told aides that he will take two weeks’ paternity leave. Naturally, the press is stressing that he doesn’t need to take paternity leave because he doesn’t work in the way most people do. However, he’s doing it because it’s a progressive dad thing to do, and moms deserve support. It’s important for high-profile figures to publicly acknowledge this, in order to normalize family leave.
As a father of three, anytime someone high profile normalizes paternity leave, I get excited, and I’ll tell you why. With our first two children, I was waiting tables while finishing my college degree. I took what time off we could afford (usually no more than a few days). I worked for a large restaurant chain where I was paid $2.15 an hour to wait tables (the federal minimum wage for tipped workers at the time). There was no vacation, no sick pay, and certainly no paternity leave. With our first two children, I missed out on those important first few moments of bonding, and the opportunity to be there for my wife when she really needed me. I often told myself that once I was done with college, I’d take as much time as I could if we ever added to our family.
But once Mel was pregnant with our third, and I was in my big kid, after-college job, I ran into the fatherhood penalty. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it’s the idea that men are expected to put work first and family second, regardless of any family leave benefits offered.
In fact, I don’t want to speak for Prince William, but I’m pretty sure he ran into the fatherhood penalty with his third. According to Cosmopolitan, Prince William also took two weeks’ paternity leave from his royal duties after the birth of his two oldest children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. However, he was back at work two days after Prince Louis was born. You remember the memes of him dozing off, and every parent in the world being like, yeah, I’ve been there. Turns out you’re mortal like the rest of us. But why did he take two weeks off with his first two kids, and then only two days with the third? I’m going to go ahead and assume that the fatherhood penalty played a hand in it, because I know it all too well.
When my wife was 8 months pregnant with our third, my boss and I were discussing my paternity leave. “I wouldn’t take too much time off,” he said. “Your students could really suffer.” I was at my desk, and he was sitting across from me. When he said “suffer,” I felt a heavy weight on my chest. He crossed his legs and looked me in the eyes, and suddenly I felt selfish. Selfish and guilty for wanting to support my wife, and bond with my new baby. It shouldn’t be this way.
Turns out Prince William and I are not alone. According to a recent survey commissioned by Talking Talent, the parent company of Life Meets Work, only 32 percent of men took their available paternity leave. And 62% of parents surveyed said they would have taken more leave if their coworkers had.
Let that sink in for a bit. As a father who has been down this road, I’m well aware that taking time off to be with family can feel like being in a tug of war, where you feel like you need to be home because you love your family and want to support them, but you also feel as though you will face backlash at work for choosing your spouse and children over your job. It is especially stressful in cases like mine, because that job is necessary for supporting your family and meeting their needs. I can only imagine what it feels like when you are in the spotlight like Prince Harry and Prince William, though at least for them their financial security isn’t at stake.
But I must emphasize, high profile fathers like Prince Harry taking paternity leave definitely helps change the stigma around fathers taking paternity leave. And honestly, the benefits of paternity leave are there. A 2016 Cornell University study found that paternity leave (several weeks or months is best) promotes a father-child connection that can increase gender equality. The authors of the study put it this way, “Longer leaves mean dads have more time to bond with a new child, and will be more involved in caring for their children right from the start. This hands-on engagement can set a pattern that lasts long after the leave ends.”
My wife and I aren’t planning to have more children, but if you are an expectant father and reading this, I get it. I get the pressure. But I also know the regret, and I can say, without any reservation, that if you have the option to take paternity leave, take it. Take every last moment of it, and feel no guilt. Support your wife and family as much as you can.
In the long run, the more we band together, the more we push for parental leave equality in both pay and expectations, the more high profile fathers like Prince Harry take paternity leave, the less stigma will be around men taking time off to be with their families during such a crucial time. We still have a long ways to go, but this is the progress we need to propel us forward.