On Leave (plus some extended Hanukkah gratitude)

So I made it through three days of Hanukkah gratitude posts before Shabbat hit and then days so packed with unpacking and trips to home goods stores to get our new apartment feeling like home that I never got back to the following days.

But it’s never too late for gratitude, right? Here’s what I was going to express thanks for:

Day 4: Red Panda Cub’s four amazing grandparents – Grandmas Holly and Pam, and Grandpas Doug (DougDoug) and Steve. The cub is so lucky to have you in her life and Mama Bear and I are only doing as well as we are because of how you raised us!

Alternatively, RPC’s two living great-grandparents Jack and Faffy, and two cousins Kamau and Phoebe, is also four 🙂

Day 5: RPC’s five aunts and uncles – Shayna and Amanda, David, Bo, and Josh. Likewise, what an amazing group of aunts and uncles!! Between all of us, I feel like RPC is gonna have all the basics of life pretty well covered.

Day 6: I hadn’t thought of anything relating to the number six yet. Maybe this one is for RPC’s five “Spokane Cousins” — Cassie and Zack, Emmy, Maggie, and Chloe, the close family friends we grew up with and who we’re so excited to see many of out here in Idaho — who, if you include my sister in the group even though she’s already recognized above, makes six 🙂

Day 7: How about seven days of the week, every week, to keep doing that good stuff. And especially a shout-out to Shabbat, the seventh day, as a day set aside in Jewish tradition to rest, to be with the ones you love and to just enjoy the world as it is.

Day 8: Ok, here’s the one I really want to spend some time on. Because for Day 8 of Hanukkah, I want to express gratitude for the eight full weeks of paid parental leave I was eligible to take (and have taken) in my job at Hazon.

First off, this is by far one of the most progressive leave policies I’ve come across, especially in the non-profit world, and I think it’s worth sharing the basics. Full-time employees, whether male or female, are immediately eligible for up to twelve weeks of (unpaid) leave for the birth or adoption of a child. After one year of employment, four weeks of leave are automatically paid. After two years, it’s eight weeks; and after three years it’s the full twelve weeks of paid parental leave. And you can add sick and vacation to extend leave, up to the full twelve weeks.

So I was able to take my full eight weeks – I took three and change right at the beginning, and then resumed my leave when Mama Bear went back to work after being on leave for three months, *most *of which was paid, but not all – and I’m adding sick and vacation to fill out the full twelve.

Obviously this is amazing on the level of being able to spend this time with my child. It’s also made moving to a new apartment, well, not by any means easy because moving is never easy, especially not with a four month old, but at least relatively sane and manageable. I can’t imagine how we would have done it had we both been working full time.

And, we’re able to delay the inevitable cost of childcare that peaks around this time and then, thankfully but by no means quickly, starts to taper down as kids approach kindergarten when free public school finally kicks in.

But the other reason, perhaps less obvious, that I felt it was important to take as much leave as possible, is that I genuinely think it promotes gender equity.

Let’s unpack this a bit, setting aside the other considerations: let’s say finances weren’t an issue, and it somehow wasn’t personally important for me to spend as much time as possible with my child at this unique lifestage (ok, I didn’t say either of these were realistic, but just go with me J ). I think that the taking of parental leave by fathers does a few things:

  • It creates empathy – no better way to understand what it’s like for mothers (and other primary caretakers) who are staying at home with infants all day, and the physical, mental, and psychological strain it involves, than to do it yourself;
  • If you’re taking any of your leave simultaneously, it enables you to share the workload and help Mama Bear feel less isolated and alone;
  • It allows the transition back to work for Mama Bear to be a little bit easier, knowing that at least it’s Papa Bear at home with the cub and not the feeling of leaving your child with “a complete stranger”;

The big one, though, is what it does at the workplace. It can be really difficult to take an extended leave from work. There’s the re-arranging of your workload, your project timelines, the inevitable stress approaching the start of your leave as you try to get things to a state where they can be paused or passed off. There’s the discomfort of leaning more heavily on your colleagues than you might normally be inclined towards. And of course the FOMO feelings (fear of missing out) both in the day-to-day goings-on in the office and the larger long-term implications (real or perceived) of how an extended absence may impact your career growth and trajectory.

And this is with a progressive, paid-leave policy. Amplify all of this by a zillion when you’ve got poor policies that create a labyrinthine mish-mosh of paperwork, unpaid leave, or no options for leave at all that are far too common in American workplaces.

But even with good leave policies, when we put all of these stresses and anxieties on women we’re perpetuating imbalances in the workplace. For women who physically gave birth to their own child, the physical recovery necessary is immense – even putting financial and other factors aside, mothers don’t have the luxury of not taking basically as-much-leave-as-possible in the same way that fathers do.

[Sidenote: now’s a good time to acknowledge, as I have elsewhere, that I’m writing this blog from the perspective of bring in a heterosexual male-female relationship. Obviously things are different for same-sex relationships, single-parent families, and all the other variations from what’s considered the “norm” in society. But all the more so, I think part of what makes these families so important is that when we move away from societal norms — for example, in a same sex relationship, both partners have to decide together how the obligations and roles of parenting are going to be arranged without falling back on pre-established gender roles — I think this helps us move further away in general from constrictive gender expectations.]

As I write this post, we’re on Red Panda Cub’s first flight (woo!) – heading across the country for a final week of leave with my family in the mountains, fully on vacation now. January 2, I’ll be back to work, (mostly) full-time. I’ve been working one day (8 hours) a week for the last couple months while on leave, which will help (I think) with the transition back to work and allow me to extend my leave a bit by not having to go back to five days a week immediately. [btw: it’s amazing how difficult it is to fit just eight productive hours of work into a week when you’re caring for an infant]

There’s going to be a lot I’ve missed while away from work. There will be the reintegration with my colleagues, especially those I work with most directly, and the “payback” for their assistance in managing my projects and tasks while I’ve been away.

But I hope that in a small way, my taking the full leave possible will enable other colleagues and friends to feel comfortable taking leave as well when the time comes – at Hazon, at other JOFEE organizations, and just in general, wherever and whenever possible.

To bring Jewish tradition in, to allow yourself to take leave is to recognize the importance of defining periods of time differently, as with Shabbat and Shmita, the sabbatical year.

Being on leave is not restful — taking care of a child is a lot of work! But it allows to acknowledge that we move through different periods in our lives.We’re humans, not robots, and not every week or month or year is the same as the others.

And for other fathers and fathers-to-be out there – I hope you, too, will take advantage of whatever leave is available to you! I’m immensely grateful and lucky to work for an organization with such a great policy and I’m well aware of how rare this is. Hopefully, though, it’s just an early adopter of practices that will soon be standard and simply the basic expectation for a more well-balanced word.

Until then … Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays! I’m off to go skiing.

One thought on “On Leave (plus some extended Hanukkah gratitude)

  1. Pingback: Want to Encourage Gender Equality in Your Workplace?  Don’t Adopt THIS Family Leave Policy - Mindful Return

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