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Paternity Leave: Options for Today's New Dads

Katlyn Joy |20, August 2012


The image from old TV shows decades past of fathers milling nervously about the waiting room while their babies were being born is terribly outdated and so is the image of image of only mothers caring for the newborns.

Today's dad doesn't just have a changing societal perceptions but also the law to help him be a more involved and hands-on father. The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows for parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid paternity or maternity leave within a year of adding a child to the family through birth or adoption.

There are some stipulations, such as the company needs to be one that employs 50 or more workers and the worker needs to have been employed with the firm for a minimum of 12 months prior to taking leave.

Some companies go the extra step and offer both maternity and paternity leave that is paid. Some may offer a couple to several weeks paid parental leave for a new baby, but few American companies can rival the policy in Sweden. Swedes enjoy the benefit of the most generous paternity leave in the world. Father must take two months off before the child turns 8 years old in order to claim the full government benefits available to them. However, dads may take up to 240 days. The government pays 80 percent of a parent's salary up to a capped amount of ,000 for 13 months. One parent can sign over all but two of those months to the other parent.

In the US, most dads do take some time off work, usually between 2 and 4 weeks for a new baby's arrival. Most however, cannot afford to take unpaid leave and so use other time allotted them for paternity leave.

Taking time from work can be daunting to new dads who are often concerned already with the growing family's finances and may also be worrying about their portion of the hospital bill from the birth.

Dads may also concerned whether taking time away from work will impact their career. While FMLA protects a parent's job during leave, their are some intangibles such as losing a shot at a promotion down the line that you might fear but would have a difficult proving in court for instance.

Many fathers use vacation time, sick days or personal days to cover their leave. They may take a week or two right after the birth, and then take more time off a bit later, perhaps when their wives return to their jobs at the end of maternity leave.

Ways for Dads to Stay Home

- Talk to your employer about leave policies, specifically spending time with your human resource department. They may offer options you didn't know were available.

- Put in some overtime if possible to put up some extra money for unpaid leave time.

- Consider splitting up your leave by spending the first week after your baby's birth at home, then returning to work until later. Perhaps take a week or two off when your wife returns to her job following her maternity leave.

- If your wife and you both have time available to you, alternate leaves.

- Consider accruing days so you may take a day off once a week the first several months, or get a couple half-days a week to help your wife with baby and household responsibilities and lighten her load.

- Brainstorm with your employer how to cover your job responsibilities while still getting some extra time at home with your new little one. Maybe you can telecommute the first several weeks either full or part-time.

- Work with other team members to arrange a schedule or work load that will cover all job duties. Sometimes there are other dads who need time off for a new addition or to care for a family member and working together you can help each other out and be home with family who need you.

- Be flexible and open-minded about options for working and being a hands-on dad. You need not worry about too many raised eyebrows or nosy questions these days however. Taking paternity leave is (finally) a normal part of family life.

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