Several weeks ago, my co-Managing Partner, Jordan, and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their family. I watched their pure joy and subsequent sleep deprivation. The experience had me reflecting on what it means to support each other during family transitions. Of course, I could write at length about maternity leave and the need to support all types of leave we might need throughout our lives. However, this event had me thinking specifically about fathers and secondary caregivers, whose roles have historically been downplayed after the birth of a child. I’ve been thinking about how we can create a culture that normalizes family leave.
Paternity Leave: Not Enough Progress
As a society, we must continue to normalize all types of family leave. We’ve made some progress, though arguably not enough, toward better maternity leave. However, we still downplay paternity leave. Without enough support from a partner who has to return to work quickly, women have to carry the majority of the burden of having a new baby at home. (Of course, that’s on top of literally carrying the weight of the child, and then some, for the better part of a year.) The more we talk about, demonstrate, and celebrate the role of fathers at home and the benefits of their involvement in the early months, the more progress we’ll make in normalizing paternity leave.
Companies play a critical role in establishing acceptance of paternity leave by creating policies that support the whole family. If an employee feels the company will penalize them for taking time off, or if their policy did not provide enough time off in the first place, it sends a clear message that their role at home is less important.
However, fathers and secondary caregivers play a significant role at home, even if they’re not doing the feedings. Plus, many dual-income families choose to stack their time off so that a parent can be home with the child for several months before arranging for childcare. Providing adequate support for employees prioritizes the child’s well-being during those critical early months.
Support from Colleagues for Using Family Leave
Peers and colleagues have a unique opportunity to reinforce the importance of family leave and encourage each other to step away when needed. It can be difficult to ask your peers to pick up your work. But, those relatively rare opportunities on our teams allow us to step up, demonstrate compassion, and be there for one another. While societal acceptance and corporate policies are critical, it is equally essential for new parents to feel supported by those they work with day to day.
I hope that we eventually get broad support for generous family leave policies that aren’t specific to gender or position in the family. Many companies have moved in that direction and are paving the way forward. In the meantime, we can continue to have open and honest conversations about what it’s like to bring a child home. We should also discuss how some historical norms may no longer be serving us well. We can encourage and support each other. And we can never send enough coffee.