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Paternity Leave: The Law, The Stigma, The Benefits

Becoming a parent happens to both men and women, and yet the traditional culture of the United States only expects mom to take a break from work to bond with her new child. Where does this leave dad? He'd like to get to know his new child and spend some time before going back to the daily grind. While you're preparing for your new bundle, keep your options in mind. 

Pictured Above: The author, Bonnie Jean Feldkamp with her husband Felipe Cisneros. They are expecting.


The Law

Companies are not required by law to offer any paid maternity or paternity leave (parental leave) after a child’s birth. However, many companies will include a stipulation for maternity leave. Times are changing and now progressive companies are proactively changing the language in their employee handbooks to from “maternity leave” to “parental leave” to be more inclusive. 

However, If the employer has not voluntarily updated the terminology, what the employee should know is that legally an employer should not offer one without the other. It leaves a company open to a potential discrimination lawsuit.

If an employer does not offer a paid leave stipulation in the handbook and the company meets the criteria (has more than 50 employees etc...) under The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), then employees are entitled to take up to 12 workweeks of job-protected unpaid leave for the “birth or placement of a son or daughter, to bond with a newborn or newly placed son or daughter, or to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition.” This can be taken in one chunk as part-time days or spaced out for the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

The Stigma

Pictured above: Father with his new child courtesy of BaileyKade Photography

The United States lags behind when compared to the rest of the world for paid parental leave. And it's worse for dads than for mom. As reported to the Washington Post, “Just 14 percent of U.S. employers offer paid leave for new dads at all, according to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute.” With this lack of protocol also comes the stigma that paid leave is for moms.

Research at Rutgers department of psychology in New Jersey shows that men who request family leave are more likely to be seen as weak and uncertain, and less likely to be recommended for pay raises or promotions. The study further states that men who request leave suffer a femininity stigma and are not considered as masculine as their counterparts who have not requested paternity leave. This stigma makes it tough on dad when he really does want to be home to experience his new son or daughter.

The only way to remove this stigma is for companies to have the policies written in a gender-neutral tone and for managers to lead by example and create the culture of work-life balance that benefits the whole company. Progressive companies are leading the way. Johnson & Johnson, for example, bases a large portion of their products around the care of infants and families. They recently increased their paid paternity leave from one week to nine. Other companies such as Google, Linkedin, Bank of America and Patagonia have also made efforts to help new families get off to a great start with above average leave benefits. Read the top ten list of companies here.

The Benefits

David and Lucy

Pictured above: Dave Mao with his new daughter, Lucy 

In the beginning,  the assumption is it’s all about mom and baby. In some ways that is true. A breastfeeding mom is the sole source of nutrition for a while. And though dad bonds with the new baby as well, when it comes to domestic routines, mom tends to be in charge. That's the stereotype, anyway. This is because traditionally, dad went back to work. He missed out on the development phase of the household details and logistics. He came home in the evening and couldn’t be helpful without asking what he should do. He didn’t know the routine or where anything was kept. Imagine if dad wanted to take over baby duty so mom could rest, for example. After the fifth time of, “honey, where does this go?” or “where can I find the…” forget it. It’s easier for mom to do it herself.

But, when dad is around he becomes embedded in the daily routine, a partnership solidifies, and dad can jump in and help without having to wait for direction. This is one of the benefits in paternity leave. There are no more clear-cut gender roles in the house. Studies also show that when dad takes paternity leave the results are long-lasting. A family gets established. When it’s time for mom and dad to both go back to work  - as many times is the case - evening chores don’t rest on the shoulders of mom out of pure know-how. Dad and mom divide the duties and a partnership in parenting truly emerges.


Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of two and expecting her third. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at for more great info on Raising Kids. 








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