Guest Post By Mitch Kuhn, Creative Director, Stoltz Marketing Group
My wife and I just welcomed our first baby. I’m grateful for a million things, but right now I’m especially grateful that my company gave me eight weeks of paid time off to take care of my family.
As I talked to other parents, I realized how rare it is for non-birthing partners to get paid parental leave in America (it’s pretty darn rare even for the birthing parent). One friend said he had to beg for two weeks off after his wife had a C-section. Another cobbled together sick leave and paid time off just to get a month. Another went back to work after only a few days. This is absurd to me. It sounded ridiculous before having my own child, and now I can’t fathom it.
The stats support these stories: The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only about 1 in 4 employees (24 percent) in the private sector workforce have access to paid family leave. SOURCE. Additionally, according to ACLU, “relatively few fathers take advantage of the guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid family leave required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and those that do tend to take less time off than do mothers — just 5 percent of fathers have ever taken at least two weeks paid family leave.” Better parental leave policies from employers would help improve this illogical gap.
My crucial role during parental leave
After being there for the birth of my daughter and a few days of recovery (or, more accurately, more days of not sleeping) in the hospital, my wife and I went home to figure out the whole “parenting a newborn” thing. Beyond the existential changes, my days and nights were largely filled with tasks: Feeding Mom while she feeds Baby. Changing diapers. Prepping food for Mom. Carrying the car seat, groceries, and anything else over 10 pounds so Mom can heal. Tracking medication schedules. Logging Baby’s daily schedule. Adding Baby to our insurance so we don’t go bankrupt. Paperwork. Coordinating info with family and friends. Taking photos. Washing and rewashing bottles. Washing/drying/folding more laundry than I knew existed. Kinda sorta sleeping. Wondering if I’m doing anything right. Helping Mom believe she’s doing everything right. Staring at my new baby. Holding Baby. Doctor appointments. Baby gear troubleshooting. Figuring out how to be a dad. Texting all the people. Occasionally taking showers. And probably many other things that I can’t remember because it’s a total blur.
Beyond the day-to-day support I was able to provide, parental leave as a policy benefits families and employers — creating a stronger community fabric and a stronger economy in the U.S.
The upsides of parental leave — for parents and the workforce
What’s good for dads is good for their partners, too. If I’d had to go straight back to work, my wife would have been left alone to somehow also do EVERYTHING ELSE. To take care of all people, you have to take care of all parents.
Research shows that parental leave benefits both the mother and non-birthing partners. A 2021 study by McKinsey & Company found that 100 percent of men who took paternity leave would do it again and 90% noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partner. And while 20% of the same men felt that the risk of career setback was the main downside, they also importantly concluded that the benefits outweighed the risk.
Meanwhile, mothers with partners who take paternity leave reduced odds for serious health complications like postpartum depression and, according to one study, had a 7 percent rise in their own income for each month of leave their child’s father takes.
The upsides of parental leave — for baby
We were lucky to have a healthy baby — and a pretty happy one at that. Even so, it wasn’t until week three or four that I could imagine going back to work. And I was so glad I didn’t have to think about it yet. Month one was survival — sleep, eat, don’t fall asleep on the couch while holding Baby. Month two was integration — figure out how to exist as (mostly) functioning people with this new (amazing and demanding) addition.
And while sometimes I struggled with not being able to do more for my wife and baby, simply having more than one parent at home likely had a real impact on my daughter. According to a report from the Department of Labor, “when fathers are more engaged with their children, their children have better developmental outcomes. This includes fewer behavioral problems and improved cognitive and mental health outcomes. A study of four Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, including the United States, found evidence suggesting that longer paternity leaves and increased time fathers spent caring for their very young children is associated with higher cognitive test scores for their children.”
The flipside? The extremes of insufficient parental leave support can literally be life and death.
More specifically, a 10-week increase in parental paid leave was correlated with a 3.3–3.5 percent reduction in child mortality and a 2.5–3.4 percent reduction in infant mortality according to a 2020 study.
Especially in a state that’s gone to great lengths to champion the rights of unborn children, shouldn’t our support of that child extend beyond the womb?
The upsides of parental leave — for employers
I’ll never forget those eight special weeks of getting to know my sweet little baby, who is already not so little anymore. I’m back at work now and writing this. As expected, it feels strange to be away from the little one all day. But it also feels good to know my family and I are supported and cared for even when my billable hours are zero. For that, I will always be grateful. My gratitude has undoubtedly deepened my loyalty and motivation at work, making my work stronger and more efficient.
Men who spend time with their children report a boost in happiness and fulfillment that may also extend to the workplace. In one 2018 McKinsey & Company study, 60 percent of men described childcare hours as “very meaningful,” almost double the percentage of men who described paid work that way. At the same time, many new fathers also discover a newfound appreciation for their employers.
One study on the economic impact of paid family leave in California found that the vast majority of businesses in the state saw no effect or a positive one. Claire Cain Miller for The New York Times wrote, "87% of businesses say paid family leave has not increased costs and 9% percent say they saved money, because of decreased turnover or benefit payments.”
My employer’s policy is a lifesaver
I work for a woman-owned, women-led advertising agency that puts people first. Our policy is parental leave. Not maternity or paternity…parental. That means we encourage any person welcoming a new human into their family through birth or adoption to take 12 weeks off — 8 of which are paid.
With this policy, leadership is actively trying to make life better for dads and other non-birthing partners.
Stoltz implemented their parental leave policy in 2020 because we understand that having a new baby is beautiful AND disruptive. When you encourage parents to take the space and time they need, you’re encouraging them to be their best selves at home and at work. That’s only possible with parental leave — and I encourage more employers to do the right thing and extend their parental leave policies.
About the Author
Mitch is a creative director at Stoltz Marketing Group. He lives in Boise with his wife and new baby and is a strong advocate for the importance of parental leave.