A growing number of law firms offer paternity leave these days, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean all new fathers are taking advantage of it.
Of course, maternity leave garners most of the attention in discussions surrounding new parents and their careers. But the benefits of paternity leave are many and varied, and tend to last long after fathers return to work. In fact, paternity leave is a necessary part of starting, or growing, a family. Here’s why:
It Helps Dads and Babies
Thanks to the hormone oxytocin, which is in abundance during pregnancy and labor, mothers tend to bond with their babies and have strong caregiving instincts from the get-go. With fathers, things can take a little more time—but any time invested early on is worth it for both Dad and baby. In fact, according to scores of studies, the benefits of fathers spending quality time with their newborns are plentiful. Time with Dad is linked to better cognitive development, more advanced vocabularies, and even helps bolster his relationship-building abilities. And that’s just the beginning!
It Improves Mothers’ Health, Too
One of the easiest ways to improve the health of mothers? Ample and flexible paternity leave. A recent study from Sweden showed that there were decreases in mothers’ needs for anti-anxiety medications, antibiotics, hospitalizations, and specialist visits when fathers were granted paternity leave during the first six months of a baby’s life. When fathers take paternity leave, it can also help new mothers return to work sooner—which can not only benefit their careers, but oftentimes their mental health, as well. And we can easily assume that a mother taking care of a baby alongside a more engaged father will get more sleep, which is essential for every aspect of health.
It Helps Create a Level Footing
You’ve most likely seen the stats about gender disparity in the workplace. While men and women start out on relatively equal footing, both work-life balance, pay disparities, and hiring bias can get in the way of female attorneys as they strive to advance their careers. By taking paternity leave, men can help eliminate unconscious bias that women might face in the workplace. Think about it: The concerns that a hiring manager might have about hiring a woman over a man disappear if there’s an equal chance both would take time away from work to care for a new baby. By taking paternity leave, men can help eliminate the “motherhood penalty” that affects so many female attorneys.
The More Leave Men Take, the Less Stigma There Is
Just because law firms are offering paternity leave more frequently doesn’t guarantee new fathers will take advantage of it. However, any stigma associated with taking time away from work—for both mothers and fathers—lessens the more parents choose to take leave. Studies have even shown that when one male employee takes paternity leave, his male coworkers are more likely to do so. Normalizing family leave, as mentioned above, can help alleviate any negative consequences or fears both men and women may have around taking time off.
It Changes Perceptions Around Caregiving
Speaking of changing perceptions, when men take paternity leave it helps end the outdated idea that caring for a child is a female responsibility. As with the actual act of taking paternity leave, when men see other men caring for their children, it encourages them to be more invested in doing the same. And as you’ve probably noticed is a theme here, that’s something that benefits everyone. In fact, many argue the best leaders have strong caregiving qualities—and what lawyer wouldn’t want to improve their on-the-job skills at home too?
So, What Does a Good Paternity Leave Policy Look Like?
As with so much about both work life and family life, there’s no singular best option for paternity leave. Research shows, however, that the best policies out there are both inclusive and flexible. So, for example, some fathers choose to take time off while the mothers are also home, while others choose to take off once it’s time for mom to head back to work. The most important thing to remember is that no matter how fathers structure their leave, the routines established during this time go a long way toward building a strong foundation for parenting—which benefits a family for years to come.