Discover more from The New Fatherhood
Paternity Leave: Why, When, Where and How Long?
And introducing TedOS—a little something for all the expectant dads
Today’s issue is a preview of something I’ve been working on for a while: a way to help expectant dads navigate the pitfalls of becoming a parent, and step into it mentally prepared, with eyes open, and hearts full. I’ll share more towards the end. For now, strap in, and let’s talk paternity leave.
I’ve been a dad since 2014. I’ve been papa-in-preparation for longer, almost a decade. She’ll turn nine next month. Before I know it she’ll be ten, which gives me a solid year to build up the emotional muscle required to navigate being a parent of a double-digit child; a milestone looming heavier than my own 40th earlier this year.
When she came into the world I was still nestled into the bosom of my corporate employer, who offered what was—at that time—a very generous four weeks off. Now new dads at Google, like many of the tech behemoths, are offered almost six months (although how many dads take that amount is a question we will come back to later). I took two weeks off when she was born, saving the other two for a vacation later in the year. New parent pro tip: you can travel together as a family pretty easily when they’re 2-8 months old. We ventured on a road trip that took in Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and L.A., with a driving schedule synchronised to nap times, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe” acting as a bizarrely effective lullaby. Enjoy it while you can—once they’re up and about, travel gets considerably more difficult. But let’s not talk about that 11-hour flight when she was learning to walk. It’s still too soon.
I vividly recall returning to work when those first two weeks were up. It felt hasty—we were all overwhelmed with emotion, wondering what life would be like outside this protective bubble we’d been cocooned in for a fortnight. I couldn’t—I still can’t—believe I was heading back to work so soon. And to think, many dads don’t even get those two weeks.
When my second was born, I was working for myself. As my own boss I could dictate my leave, and ended up taking a lot more time off—3 months, if I recall. I was thankful for it. During that time I understood how hard it is to stay at home. When you go back to the office after becoming a parent, your life is different—you’re tired, or you should be, and your perspective on what matters may have shifted slightly, or taken a 180-degree turn—but on a day-to-day basis, from 9-5, you’re pretty much living and doing things the way you were before.
Babies start to comprehend object permanence at around eight months, and begin to understand that when you go to work, you don’t disappear forever. You’re a little older and may have entire periods during the workday when your newborn is gone from your brain. But the parent who remains at home? They’ll never forget there’s a tiny dependent in the house with them. Their life—24/7, from 9-5 and back again—has fundamentally shifted, if not forever, then at least for the next few months (or years). There are times when getting through the day is all you can hope for—you don’t shower, you don’t eat, you’re tired all the time, and even performing the basic impression of being a functional adult feels insurmountable. It doesn’t help that many things new parents face overlap with signs of depression. No wonder so many dads are struggling.
Dads are playing a more active role at home than ever before. But in the US, around 40% of dads don’t take the full amount of paternity leave offered, and 2019 data showed that less than a third of dads in the UK took any. Some of this is due to employers and governments slowly catching up. But just as much is down to how society sees the role of the father, and our own personal perceptions. We must move towards gender equality in all aspects of co-parenting, and paternity leave is the coalface of broader changes required.
Research has consistently demonstrated the profound benefits that fathers' involvement can have on the well-being of their children: one Swedish study found that children whose fathers took paternity leave were less likely to experience behavioural and emotional problems later in life; another from the University of Oslo revealed that couples who shared parental leave experienced increased satisfaction in their relationship and had a higher chance of remaining married. It follows logic, and leading research, that dads who take paternity leave are more likely to be engaged in childcare activities later on, and form stronger bonds with their children as they grow.
But how can fathers be encouraged to take paternity leave when it is still met with resistance in the workplace? A shift in cultural values will be a crucial driver. If we challenge the stigma surrounding paternity leave, we can promote a more inclusive narrative where fathers are not just breadwinners but also caregivers. In Iceland, both parents are entitled to three months of government-paid leave, with an additional three months divided between the couple as they see fit. The result? A staggering 90% of Icelandic fathers take the entire amount of paternity leave on offer. In Norway, parents share 49 weeks of full pay, meaning most dads take six months off. Imagine a world where fathers' roles are genuinely valued and supported—a world where the core narrative of parenthood extends beyond maternal instinct. The world will be graced with happier, more fulfilled children. If we’re lucky, we might also be given more creative art exploring what fatherhood means, like the breadth and depth of Karl Ove Knausgård’s magnum opus.
"What about my career?” you might ask. “Won't a lengthy paternity leave hurt my chance of promotion?" It's a valid concern. But forgive me, as I play the world’s tiniest violin, as women have been battling this same problem for decades. In countries like Sweden, where gender-equal parental leave is the norm, men and women have been able to balance their family responsibilities with their careers, meaning both sexes have an equal chance of climbing the career ladder. The number of women leading Fortune 500 companies stands at a measly 8%, whilst women led 13% of top Swedish businesses in 2021, a number undoubtedly higher today.
I’m not in the business of giving advice, but only offer the contours of my own journey in the hope it might illuminate yours, whilst bringing together the hivemind of The New Fatherhood to attempt the same. When it comes to paternity leave, there’s one thing that holds true amongst almost every dad I hear from: take as much time as you can. The early days of your child's life are a fleeting, magical period you'll never get back. Your baby will change and grow at a mind-boggling pace, and being present for those milestones is priceless. Taking an active role in your child's life from the get-go will create an unbreakable bond between the two of you, setting the stage for a lifetime of love and support; and by sharing the load of new parent duties you can help alleviate the immense physical and emotional strain with your partner. Nobody loses here. Except maybe your boss.
And on that, I leave you with a Reddit thread that hasn’t been far from my mind since I saw it earlier this month. A simple PSA, and a reminder that 20 years from now, the only people who will remember that you worked late are your kids.
Five key considerations around paternity leave
Company policy: What does your company offer? Most companies outside of the US will be providing some form of leave. But inside the US—one of only seven countries worldwide to offer zero paid time off for parents—you’re trapped in a state-by-state and company-by-company matrix of complication and contemplation. Whatever your situation, find out if you can take it in increments—some weeks at the start, maybe the rest when they’re a few months older.
Financial considerations: If your company doesn’t offer any paid leave—which seems completely crazy, but this accounts for 60% of US companies—you may need to take unpaid leave or use vacation or sick days. This may significantly impact your family's budget, especially if you are the primary breadwinner.
Family needs: For those looking at months, not weeks, of parental leave, you’re probably aligning calendars with your partner; planning for some time overlapped, some time solo. If this is your second time around, the needs will be different, with an older child to tend to. Ask yourself—what’s best for your family here? How can everyone feel included and supported?
Personal goals: What kind of a dad do you want to be? If you’re reading this newsletter, you’ve got feelings on the matter. Now is the time to start. You might notice your own goals and values shifting. Your career goals, which may have been a solid foundation you’ve been building on for years, can begin to look shakey. Or perhaps they’re stronger than ever, and you’re wondering why you’re taking so much time off? All these perspectives are valid, and to be interrogated.
Cultural norms: What is expected in your workplace and community? As shocking as it is, we live in a world where paternity leave is stigmatised or seen as a sign of weakness in many workplaces. You still have idiots in prominent positions claiming things like “any man in an important position who takes six months of leave for a newborn is a loser.” Don’t listen to them; listen to yourself, and decide based on what is best for you and your family.
What do The New Fatherhood dads think?
Back in 2021, I asked the dads here: How much paternity leave did you take? How was it? And what stands out from that time?
My work is based at an Australian university and I had three weeks for our first child (two weeks paid, one unpaid); and for our second child I combined vacation time with a Christmas shut down and paternity leave for a total of 6 weeks. The standard at my work is two weeks paid for non-primary carers.
I'm so grateful for the time I had in the early days of my kids' lives. It really took the edge off the challenges of having a newborn and it was great to support my wife. If you have the option to take paternity leave, please take as much as you can get. Work will always be there. Make memories with your family, the time passes too fast. Kyle
Both my wife and I took two weeks off when my son was born. I returned to work at that point, while my wife used the remaining ten weeks of her leave. When my wife returned to work, I took my remaining six weeks of leave. I got no push back from my boss, though a little bit of pushback from coworkers (both for coming back so fast after he was born and for taking so much time off during the second stint). I think it was very important for my wife and I to have some shared time off to start with and then for both of us to get substantial amounts of time when we were solely responsible for him. I think that set us up for a much more equitable parenting arrangement where neither of us could claim more or less expertise or gatekeep the other. Austin
I’m super fortunate by US standards. I work for a French-owned agency so I got 4 weeks for my first and 6 for my second. Both times I used it all (split into a couper of periods to spread it out) and got zero pushback about it. My only wish is that I got the same leave as much of my family back in the UK gets. Lee
I’m Irish, based in the UK and my daughter arrived in 2020 in the middle of lockdown. I took 3 weeks off directly after she was born. 3 weeks off at 3 months to bring her home to see family. And 5 weeks off when she was 9 months and my girlfriend had started back at work after her maternity leave. It was a combination of paid paternity leave, additional annual leave I bought and unpaid parental leave. We definitely feel lucky we could afford to do this.
I can’t imagine not being around to do my share of the caring and help my girlfriend recover after birth. The other chunks of time allowed us to travel and see family with some pressure of work taken off. The I had one on one with her was excellent, we spent loads of time outdoors and I was there to do the settling in stage at her nursery. I was working from home in the chunks in between so was still around to help. I can’t imagine leaving every morning and leaving my girlfriend home all day on her own. It was definitely a bonus being able to get baby cuddles between meetings. Not once did I think about work, the impact paternity leave might have on my career or what people might think. Aidan
I run my own company so I'm lucky enough to have a more flexible work schedule than most people. My kid was a preemie and arrived literally in the middle of a massive, non-negotiable client deadline and I have vivid memories of getting the wi-fi to work in my wife's hospital room. Afterwards, I took 8 weeks off to spend time with my son as originally planned and have zero regrets--spending that time with my kid was incredible. Neal
Given I started my current job as a newly single guy, the fact that my employer has such a generous paternity leave plan never occurred to me... but I'm very glad I stuck around because they gave me 4 months full-pay (as I technically took it off my wife's 1-year maternity leave) but the finances left us in a reasonable good position as I earn more than she does.
I did that this summer, which I've mentioned a whole bunch of times on the community Geneva... and I've really struggled to get back into the swing of things at work. I went back 4 October, and now in the 2nd week of November start to feel like I'm a professional again... and I say that in this weird mixed way.
I left my work identity so far behind I was kind of loathed to pick it up again. Could I not just be Alba's Dad? isn't that enough? (I thought so) so I viscerally feel both the challenge that new mothers face now, in a way that I didn't; sympathise with new dads who are forced back to work within days/weeks (I took 3 weeks off when Alba was born in January, and the 4 months between June-October this year); and I now to start to have this added dimension to my identity that is not centred around work. It's quite something.
For any prospective fathers I would reflect on this experience and say: we are lucky/fucked that if we leave our jobs for a while, it is not the career kryponite that it is for women, I think we should take advantage of that if possible. So if you are offered 1-day, 1-week, 1-month, 1-year whatever it is... just do it. For me, it was hard to let go of work and all that association and self-worth, but about 6 weeks into it, it was just this amazing bubble of me and my new family just being together without having to negotiate with anyone else... and I know I'll keep with me for the rest of my life. Ivor
I’m very fortunate - I have 13 weeks at full pay and I can use them at any point in the first year. It was great having 6 weeks immediately after my daughter was born, but knowing I have weeks to spare when my wife’s maternity leave runs out so we can keep caring for our child in the best way we can. Hugh
I have 7 month old twins, and I'm from the UK. I took three weeks, but due to financial constraints, I used two weeks paid holiday leave and only one week of statutory leave (£157/week) which the government pays for. I wish it could have been more. The guilt of going back to work was also huge, having to split my time between my family and my job has been hard, knowing how tricky it is for my wife. I wish my company was able to offer more, but until the government makes it mandatory, lots of companies won't. My company has been very flexible when it comes to me working from home, especially recently when my wife returned to work and our childminder had to isolate due to a positive covid case in her home. AJ
I was lucky enough to take 6 weeks when my son was born (2 weeks statutory, 2 weeks holiday, 2 weeks unpaid), and am so glad I did. My wife and I got to tackle the new experience together, and even got a few days away with him before I had to return to work, although I'm not sure ‘holiday’ would be the right word there, just being tired in different surroundings 😂 Jon
I only took a week off when our daughter was born. We had recently moved to the US and my wife did not have a work permit, so it didn’t seem to make sense have both of us at home.
My company offered 6 weeks of paternity time off with 100% pay, or the option of getting that paid out as a lump sum if my partner did not have paid leave. It worked out for us, and I worked from home a lot during those first few months to help out. Chad
#1: 2 weeks #2: 3 weeks #3: 3 weeks (technically two weeks, as the third week was spring break for my school)
It was the ideal amount of time for me for each kid. As a teacher, I really dislike handing over the reins to substitute for longer than necessary.
On the flip side, I know my wife would have loved me to stay home more. (She’s an absolute BOSS for recovering from THREE c-sections.) But paternity time here in the States is not valued the same way across the pond, and thankfully we have a lot of family that are local, so help was never unavailable to us. Felt like the ideal timing. Right around the end of each round of leave I was more than ready to get back to work; not sure I could have lasted a month or longer! Hunter
I've had 2 kids whilst working at the same company. For the first (2015), we had the standard statutory 2 weeks (in the UK) and managed to tack on 2 weeks PTO. Even a month felt way too short and I remember being grumpy for days when I had to go back.
For the second (a lockdown baby in May 2020), the company had changed its policy and I got 12 weeks fully paid. Even with (or perhaps because of) everything going on in the world, having 3 months off was joyous. I could completely immerse myself into family life and make them my top priority for an extended period of time; I was conscious I may never get that again. When I did return to work (even then it was working from home), I felt fully ready and was in a much better headspace to apply myself to the job. In the long run, I think there was (and continues to be) benefit both professionally and domestically with the longer period away from work. Nick
I'm lucky enough to be a freelancer in Spain, and I've been able to maximise my paternity leave. I took the initial 6 weeks off (which is mandatory, as of 2021), before returning to work while my gf had her 5 months off. When she finished her 5 months, I began taking the rest of my time, while she works full time. I've taken 5 months off (plus the initial 6 weeks) which actually runs out next week. It's been a mixed bag. I'm extremely grateful that I've had all this time with my daughter and we're very close because of it. I've definitely been overwhelmed a lot of times - but this is due to the pressure I've personally put on myself, as I've been trying to run my business while on full time paternity (I'm with my daughter from the moment she wakes up, till when my girlfriend finishes work - which is now at 3pm as she's reduced her hours). From 3pm onwards, then I am running my business and working in the evenings and a lot of weekends.
I think being the full time carer for a baby is a job in itself. My advice would be (if possible) to try not to do much else besides that - as that is your 'job'. Unfortunately, as I run my own business, I've not felt like I can stop working while being on paternity leave.
Even though my paid paternity leave finishes next week, I'm continuing to take off another 2 months, which means our daughter will be 1, before she begins nursery full time. Danny
This is something I've been thinking of, because I'm in the middle of my one month paternity leave (in Portugal). This is something I was anxious for, in order to help my wife a little bit more, and she deserves a lot.
It's been really important to my baby daughter, now in her fifth month, and starting to connect more with us. It's great to have time to prepare her soups, to hang around in the open air and to have a good time with my wife giving her a bath and help her to fall asleep during the day and at night.
It's a workload, as you all know. And I'm feeling a little bit anxious thinking on how it will be in a few weeks when I get back at work. How will we be able to continue this growing process. But, hey, it's life. It worked with every other dads and moms, so it will work with us.
One of the "funniest" things is the reaction of other people - man and women, co-workers and other people I work with, most of them without kids: "enjoy your rest", as in "vacations". Damn! This is no vacation! This is probably the most exhausting month (months) in my life!
But now, in my fifth month as a dad, I'm sure this is so important, so fundamental, for my baby girl, for my wife and for me to have it so explicitly: that baby that's waking up to have her lunch, it's the most important thing in my life. BM
Introducing TedOS: The Expectant Dad Operating System
I’ve been writing TNF for over two years, with over 100 issues, and 200,000+ words exploring all aspects of fatherhood. From day one, I’ve invited readers to tell me what they’re looking for and the top request, consistently, has been some form of the question we all once asked ourselves: "I’ve got a baby on the way—what should I do?!"
Because there’s no manual. And whilst there are enough books to fill a thousand bookshelves, the ones aimed at dads are generally not great. And you might not have the time to read multiple 300-page books-that-could-have-been-a-blogpost before your baby arrives, in the hope of finding the right one.
Earlier this year, I started kicking an idea around—what if I actually made the thing I once needed, and that I know other dads need today? Back when I had no idea what to expect and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there; when I needed help organising and executing an ever-increasing list of things that needed to be done, a stream of new gadgets and gizmos I needed to have an opinion on, before breaking open the piggy bank and handing over some hard-earned cash.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to. For the last few months, I’ve been beavering away behind the scenes on The Expectant Dad Operating System, aka TedOS. It's not a book. It’s not an app. It’s a hybrid of sorts—a combination of the newsletter, a productivity tool, a buying guide, and a toolkit to assist you in all aspects of being a dad—whether for the first kid, second kid, or even further. It has everything you need to know, everything you need to buy, and everything you need to do to get ready to welcome a tiny human being into your life. I built it with Notion, an app used by millions of people worldwide—I am one, and I use it to run this newsletter, and most of my life—which is best described as "Apple Notes on steroids”. Notion—and TedOS—comes with collaboration tools built in, so you and your future co-parent can use it to work together, keep all your notes and research in one place, and divide and conquer everything that needs to be done.
This week’s newsletter previews one page of TedOS, offering insight and input on the decision around taking paternity leave. Inside TedOS are another 30+ pages like this, covering topics like sorting out daycare, how dad can help with breastfeeding, big conversations you need to have with your partner, and how to ask for help when times get hard. It also comes with tools to help with budget planning, journalling, goal setting and a milestone museum. It contains original essays, useful links to read, and insight from the hivemind of over 10,000 dads who continue to contribute to our weekly threads.
I’ve put a lot of love into this, and am excited to get it out into the world.
For expectant dads who are annual subscribers to the newsletter: you’ve been grandfathered into this, and can get a copy for free. Send me a note, and I’ll give you a code. For everyone else, it costs $60, with two things to note: this is being sold with purchasing power parity, meaning the cost may be reduced by up to 60% depending on where you live; and 10% of the cost will go towards the Therapy Fund, helping dads get access to mental health support.
Finally, for those of you who are done having kids, but often search for the perfect gift for a new dad in your life—you can easily give TedOS by clicking “give as a gift” during the checkout. And subscribers to the newsletter can do this with a 20% off code, which I’ll be sharing in our community later today.
Excited to get this out into the wild. Can’t wait to see what you end up doing with it.
That’s it for this week. How was it? Your feedback helps me make this great.