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The Mamafesto: Dads can't just skip paternity leave

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine,,...

Why dads need to take time off when baby's born too

It's no secret that family leave policies in the U.S. are lacking. Most of that conversation revolves around the lack of mandated, paid leave for mothers, with the idea of paid paternity around in the background as something to get to. However, there's merit in also promoting paternity leave as a necessity for a variety of reasons — and for encouraging those with access to it — to actually take it.

The U.S. has a ways to go when it comes to support for new families. With no federal policy in place (making us one of the very few countries in the world not to step up and implement paid family leave), many families end up scrambling around to figure out how to recover from childbirth and take care of a newborn, all without losing their minds or their jobs. While it would be great to wake up tomorrow morning with the knowledge that the U.S. finally has a system in place like Canada or countries in Europe, unfortunately that's not going to happen, so we need to work with what we've got.

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Most women I know take whatever their companies will offer them, and many will often take unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act so they know their job is secure even if their income isn't. But what about the dads? Not many fathers I know are even aware of what their company policy is when it comes to paternity leave. And for some reason (oh, hey American work culture) it's not something that's openly discussed in most workplaces.

My husband is a great example of this. He works for a large company and wanted to know what it offered so he'd be prepared when our son was born. His boss was flabbergasted when my husband asked. Apparently nobody had really questioned the paternity leave policy, so he didn't know off the bat. His boss even tried to toss in a sexist/gross joke about how he'll be begging to come back after only a couple of days home with me and the baby. Nice. In the end, the company offered him two weeks of paid paternity leave, and he ended up taking another week as paid vacation and a fourth of unpaid time under FMLA, giving him a full month off with us. But it shouldn't have had to be that difficult to figure out.

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When men start taking full advantage of their paternity leave, it sends a couple of messages:

1. We actually value family, and it's not just lip service.

2. Family is not synonymous with "women's work."

And yet, even around the world, men are still resistant to taking leave. The U.K. has a generous family leave policy, and yet less than 10 percent of new fathers take the two weeks statutory leave provided for them! Many men say it goes against the work culture, and they don't want to be looked down upon for taking the leave that is due to them. While some women have these thoughts as well, this definitely seems to be something that men struggle with more often.

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For the well-being of mothers, fathers, kids and families, we need to not only work on getting maternity leave here in this country, but paternity leave as well. We need to show families that we care about them, and not just half of them.

Did your husband have the opportunity to take a leave when your kids were born? Did he take it?

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