I am so grateful that I’ve been able to spend six months with my family taking parental leave for the birth of my daughter.
I think it’s important to pause for a moment and acknowledge the fact that I’m highly privileged to receive this much parental leave in the United States. Most people do not receive anything comparable. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers, but only if they work for a company with 50 or more employees. In California, we have Paid Family Leave (PFL), which provides 6 weeks of partially paid leave. A few other states have similar protections, but it’s not enough for families to recover from the trauma of childbirth and to be in the right mental and physical health before returning to work. I’m grateful that a number of tech companies are leading the pack in terms of parental leave, and very fortunate that I’m able to work in this industry, but hopefully one’s ability to care for their child or partner will not be dependent on their employer in the future.
So, with all that said, I’m very grateful that my employer provides six months of parental leave to either parent, for childbirth or adoption. It’s an amazing benefit.
I’m grateful that I was able to bond with my daughter in ways that took far longer to do with my son. I started a new job when my son was 7 weeks old and for the first year he only ever wanted to be held or interact with his mother. I was fortunate to have some parental leave after starting my job that let me build up a bond and trust with him over time, but it was slow going and frustrating for both my wife and myself. In contrast, there are currently1 no moments that my daughter prefers her mother over myself. Every kid is different, and that could be enough variance as it is, but I relish the thousands of her smiles I’ve been able to provoke and take in.
I’m grateful that I was able to be the primary caregiver for my son while my wife was recovering. Every recovery is different: my wife’s recovery from my son’s delivery was relatively easy – we were hiking when he was 2 weeks old. With my daughter, my wife depended on me for months2, and if I had not been able to be home, we would have needed other family members to come live with us or hire help for part of the time.
I’m grateful that I got to spend so much time with my wife. We’re both working professionals who sometimes overwork and after just a few days into my parental leave, I extended it from 3 months to 6.
I’m grateful that this was paid leave, as my wife’s was entirely unpaid. Financially, we could not have both afforded to take the time with our daughter and so my paycheck enabled my wife to spend more time at home before going back to work.
On a professional note, I’m grateful that I had a chance to do some succession planning so that the people I lead would succeed in my absence. I’m also fortunate that the culture in my office is that people, including leaders, take time to be with their families. In the past 3 years, I’ve had two moments where there were 3 managers in a reporting line who were out on parental leave for any duration, and several months where my manager was out. Thanks to strong succession planning all around, these moments created opportunities for everyone to grow, be recognized, and try on different roles and responsibilities.
Parental leave is not a vacation or sabbatical, and I’m not going back to work as an especially healthier or more skilled employee, but I am happier. I’m excited to head back to work after this time in a *different* position. And I’m so grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to be a full time parent for the last half year.
If your company offers parental leave, take it. Your team will succeed without you if you’ve set them up for success. When your company reviews the benefits it offers, encourage your leaders to embrace parental leave as a strong value add. Encourage your politicians to do the same, and support their efforts. The time with your family is worth it and irreplaceable.