Taking paternity leave in an unlimited vacation day company

It doesn’t work, but here’s how we fixed it.

“Take as much time as you need.”

I’ve never felt guilty about the time that I’ve taken off since my co-workers and management lead by example. We share our escapades on slack, on social media, and chat about it during our daily stand-ups. “Take as much time as you need” is a really easy concept to grok when everyone values time away from work. When it comes to family leave, that’s a different story.

Family leave is not a vacation.

As I held Everett in my hands for the first time, I realized he was no longer a dream or a prayer…he was a living person no longer shielded from the outside world. He needed me 24 hours a day and I wasn’t going to let him down.

Over the next couple of days in the hospital, we didn’t sleep at all. We had gone to baby classes, read books, listened to podcasts, asked family for advice, and all of the normal things that first-time parents do. However, nothing prepares you for the emotional and physical exhaustion you experience. Every cry, every breathe, and every moment of silence breeds anxiety and hope. After about 48 hours in the hospital, we were finally able to go home.

How to not set a precedent.

My goal was to set a precedent for other people in our company. Anytime someone would ask me how much time I took off for paternity leave, I would proudly gloat and encourage them to do the same. In fact, I’d challenge them to take even more time.

Unfortunately, the stigma and realities of being the non-primary caregiver here in the United States won out. Many of my co-workers were pressured into coming back to work much earlier than they had wanted. I tried to set a precedent, but I had failed miserably. Still, 5 weeks isn’t half bad, right?

Life isn’t easier after your leave ends.

My wife was admitted to the hospital with Pancreatitis. She needed to have emergency gallbladder surgery. I told my manager that I would be out for the unforeseeable future. My wife was about to have surgery and I needed to take care of a 6 week old. This is exactly why Articulate has Flexible PTO. Keeping up with my work responsibilities was the last thing I was concerned about when I had to feed our baby every 3 hours including 2 AM and 5 AM feedings, change diapers, give baths, soothe him when he cried for his mom, ensure he takes his naps on schedule, keep laundry up, and the million other things you have to do for your child. That doesn’t include the anxiety of my wife having a major surgery. For a period of 5 days, I was the primary caregiver for our son. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Although I had been involved in every moment of my son’s first few weeks, it was nothing like being completely responsible for his every need…and I only did it for 5 days. His mother is on that level 24/7. Mothers are awesome. Mothers are the real heroes.

The pressure is real and it was worse than I thought.

As I approached the birth of my second son, I started asking my colleagues again how much time off they took off hoping that things had changed. Some of the fathers had taken 4 to 6 weeks…same for the mothers. After everything my wife went through including the labor, surgery, multiple bouts of mastitis, and everything else that goes with having a child, I just can’t imagine a mother taking 6 weeks off. I was pissed.

I shouldn’t be the catalyst for this.

Change doesn’t happen until someone is not only willing to recognize it, but do something about it. Although it makes me really uncomfortable to call out problems, I have a responsibility to my team to make their lives easier and less-stressful. After all, work is easy…having a kid is hard.

How Articulate stepped up and fixed the problem.

Both primary and non-primary caregivers can take 17 weeks of paid leave. You can take it all at once, split it up into chunks, or extend it by working part-time.

I originally planned on taking about 5 weeks off and then phasing back into work for 2 weeks. My new plan is to take 8 weeks off and phase back into work for 2 weeks. Then, I’ll take additional time off around Thanksgiving and Christmas. When my wife decides to go back to work, I’ll take advantage of the leave that’s left to help with that transition.

Stop waiting for legislation. We can fix this now.

You can fix this now by simply asking your company to match Articulate’s new Baby Bonding Benefit. If your policy is already better than Articulate’s, please ask around and make sure people are fully utilizing it. “Take as much time as you need” means “Take as much time as your manager thinks is reasonable.” Parental leave shouldn’t be up for interpretation.

Engineering Project Manager at Articulate.com — Owner of elearningfreak.com and wisdomplugin.com