Alexis Ohanian's emotional experience shines a light on why *all* dads deserve paid leave

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History has recognized Reddit co-founder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian as a key player in the evolution of the internet and years from now it might recognize him as a key player in the evolution of paid parental leave in America. Since taking leave after the birth of his daughter, Olympia, Ohanian has been repeatedly telling the world that, of all the impressive things he's done in his life, taking the time to be with his newborn daughter and support his wife, Serena Williams, was one of the most important decisions he's ever made.

That's why Ohanian joined fellow fathers, with the support of Dove Men+Care and the non-profit Paid Leave US (PL+US), on Capitol Hill this month to press lawmakers for change. He wants all fathers to be able to do what he did and for paternity leave to be normalized in the American workplace. Ohanian met with Senators and Members of Congress and took time to speak with Motherly about why the fight for paid leave is so important.

Here are five reasons Alexis Ohanian is so obsessed with advancing paternity leave:

1. Mothers need not just time to heal, but support to do so 

Serena Williams' birth experience was traumatic and required a long recovery period. She was lucky to be alive after suffering a pulmonary embolism after her emergency C-section.

She was also lucky to have a partner who had the privilege of taking leave. "A lot of folks saw a glimpse into this through the HBO documentary. The reality was, after all the complications and a number of surgeries that my wife had including a C-section but then multiple others, there was very little she could do in those first few weeks just physically. And I had to help her with a lot of it," Ohanian tells Motherly.

Williams' birth experience was difficult, but the truth is that recovering from birth (especially a C-section) is generally difficult even under the best of circumstances. It takes time to recover. Mothers need help. And when a mom's partner has to head back to work just a couple of days after it takes a toll physically and mentally.

Research shows that when dads take paternity leave, moms are 14% less likely to be admitted to a hospital for birth-related issues within the first six months of childbirth.

Ohanian was there to change the diapers or pick up his daughter in the middle of the night, actions that helped his wife heal. "[These] were things that I was very willing to take on because it felt like the least I could do for a woman who had already sacrificed so much to just bring her into the world, to bring Olympia into the world," he explains.

2. Dads need time to bond with their babies 

When dads get to take parental leave they become more confident parents and are more likely to be equal participants in childcare years later. Ohanian has experienced this firsthand. He tells Motherly he went from having no experience with babies to having a crash course in caring for his daughter. Spending those early weeks with her taught him he was completely capable of overcoming parenting challenges.

"I was quickly learning how to thaw breast milk in the middle of the night, and feed my kid and change her diaper. I got really good at using the Snoo, the smart bed, to help her get back to sleep," he explains. "These are all just things that I was in no way qualified to do but was able to learn and that really gave me the confidence. Now, Olympia is a super active 2-year-old, and it gives me confidence anytime there's some new challenge or new thing. It gives me the confidence to know that I can handle it. And that's a true gift that came from having that paternity leave."

3. Paid parental leave impacts productivity (in a good way)

Ohanian tells Motherly making paid leave available to fathers (and encouraging them to actually take it) is an opportunity for businesses to get more value out of an employee. "When they are back in the office they are going to be more engaged because they're not as worried about the things going on at home with their newborn and their family. They're going to be more productive," he tells Motherly.

Surveys of businesses in states with paid leave laws suggest implementing paid leave has a positive impact on worker productivity and that employers notice workers who take parental leave are less stressed when they come back to work. "There's a growing body of work that just shows this is, from a business standpoint, this is a smart, smart decision," he explains.

4. Fathers want to be more involved than ever before

Ohanian says he is happy to see the men of his generation flipping the script on the bumbling dad trope and talking about how they are just as capable parents as mothers are. "It is like a lazy shtick that has been ingrained in such a big part of the popular culture. But the reality is social media has allowed us to push from the bottom up messages and examples of dads being competent dads," Ohanian says.

Olympia loves her mama, but she's growing up knowing that her dad, too, is fully capable of helping her with whatever she needs. "Admittedly Olympia at this age is basically Serena's shadow. She loves her mom, like adores her, which is great," he explains.

The Reddit co-founder loves to see examples of great fathers on Reddit and in his social media feeds. "That's normalizing behavior that we've never really seen from the top down," he explains.

5. Paid parental leave shouldn't be a privilege—but a right 

Ohanian has talked a lot about how lucky he was to be able to take paternity leave in the first place. "It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company," he previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

He took 16 weeks of parental leave in a country where there is no national paid parental leave plan, but even in countries where parents do have access to paid leave, dads don't take all that they can. As Motherly previously reported, a report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Ohanian wants all fathers in America to have access to paid leave, and wants all fathers who already have access to feel comfortable taking it. In his conversation with Motherly, Ohanian offered this advice to dads to want to take leave but are afraid how their bosses will react:

"Look, if they're one of the few American men who even have the opportunity, (less than one in five men in the US), you're already one of the lucky few. And so I would say, if you're that fortunate to even have the opportunity, absolutely take advantage of it. And if your boss tries to give you any sass, tell him that the guy who created Reddit and runs a half billion dollar early stage venture capital fund felt like he was—not just a worthy business leader—but was better because he took that time off."

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We often think of the unequal gender division of unpaid labor as a personal issue, but a new report by Oxfam proves that it is a global issue—and that a handful of men are becoming incredibly wealthy while women and girls bear the burden of unpaid work and poverty.

According to Oxfam, the unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry.

"Women are supporting the market economy with cheap and free labor and they are also supporting the state by providing care that should be provided by the public sector," the report notes.

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The unpaid work of hundreds of millions of women is generating massive wealth for a couple of thousand (predominantly male) billionaires. "What is clear is that this unpaid work is fueling a sexist economic system that takes from the many and puts money in the pockets of the few," the report states.

Max Lawson is Oxfam International's Head of Inequality Policy. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained that "the foundation of unpaid work done by the poorest women generates enormous wealth for the economy," and that women do billions of hours of unpaid care work (caring for children, the sick, the elderly and cooking, cleaning) for which they see no financial reward but which creates financial rewards for billionaires.

Indeed, the report finds that globally 42% of women can't work for money because of their unpaid care responsibilities.

In the United States, women spend 37% more time doing unpaid care work than men, Oxfam America notes in a second report released in cooperation with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"It's an economy that is built on the backs of women and of poor women and their labour, whether it's poorly paid labour or even unpaid labour, it is a sexist economy and it's a broken economy, and you can only fix the gap between the rich and the poor if at the same time you fix the gap between women and men," Lawson explains.

According to Lawson, you can't fight economic inequality without fighting gender equality, and he says 2020 is the year to do both. Now is a great time to start, because as Motherly has previously reported, no country in the world is on track to eliminate gender inequality by 2030 (one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015) and no country will until the unpaid labor of women and girls is addressed.

"Governments around the world can, and must, build a human economy that is feminist and benefits the 99%, not only the 1%," the Oxfam report concludes.

The research suggests that paid leave, investments in childcare and the care of older adults and people with disabilities as well as utilizing technology to make working more flexible would help America close the gap.

(For more information on how you can fight for paid leave, affordable childcare and more this year check out yearofthemother.org.)

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For new mamas back to sitting behind their desks at work some six weeks (or fewer) after their babies are born, the institutionalized parental leave policy in Denmark is the stuff of daydreams: Over in that Scandinavian paradise, parents are granted 52 weeks of paid leave to divide between them.

There's no denying this is much, much better than the state of parental leave in the United States, but it isn't quite as perfect as it seems from the outside. According to Denmark's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, women take an average 93% of leave allotted to couples. And when they do return to work, mothers' wages suffer both in comparison to men and women without children.

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The good news is that it seems the solution to this gender income gap is something we—the mothers of today, even here in America—can do something about.

A new paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research that examined Danish administration information from 1980 to 2013 found the motherhood penalty “creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20% in the long run," which is comparable to the gap in the United States.

What's more, the income discrepancy only increases for each child a family in Denmark has: If a woman has four children, her income is only $0.60 to every dollar a man makes—10 years down the road.

While this indicates paid parental leave alone may not be the panacea for the gender income gap, the researchers suggest that changing the way we think about roles in the workplaces and homes could help—at least when it comes to the next generation.

“As a possible explanation for the persistence of child penalties, we show that they are transmitted through generations, from parents to daughters (but not sons)," the researchers note, explaining that the more a daughter's mother worked while the girl was growing up, the less the daughter's income was affected when she became a mother.

“Women tend to adopt a balance of paid work and childcare that is correlated with the one they saw their mother strike when they were growing up," Henrik Kleven, a Princeton economist and the paper's lead author, tells Quartz At Work.

What this looks like in practice is splitting household responsibilities from the get-go and encouraging fathers to take more leave. (In Sweden, where fathers are penalized for not taking advantage of paternity leave, women's earning rose an average 7% for each month of leave that men took.)

According to the State of the World's Fathers' report, produced by Promundo (a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging men and boys in gender equality in partnership with Dove Men+Care) 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands want to take paternity leave, and yet less than 50% of fathers take as much time as their country's policy allows, and social norms, financial pressures and a lack of support from their managers are all factors.

The report also found that if fathers are able to do just under an hour of unpaid work per day, mothers can cut their unpaid labor time by the same amount.

"We need men to do our share. Fifty minutes more to relieve women of 50 minutes less would get us really close to equal," the president and CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, told Motherly.

This may help shift us toward more income equality today—and, as the research shows, our daughters will really be able to reap the benefits.

[A version of this post was first published January 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

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When we buy baby gear we expect it to be safe, and while no parent wants to hear that their gear is being recalled we appreciate when those recalls happen as a preventative measure—before a baby gets hurt.

That's the case with the recent recall of Baby Trend's Tango Mini Stroller. No injuries have been reported but the recall was issued because a problem with the hinge joints mean the stroller can collapse with a child in it, which poses a fall risk.

"As part of our rigorous process, we recently identified a potential safety issue. Since we strongly stand by our safety priority, we have decided to voluntarily recall certain models of the Tango Mini Strollers. The recalled models, under excessive pressure, both hinge joints could release, allowing the stroller to collapse and pose a fall hazard to children. Most importantly, Baby Trend has received NO reports of injuries," the company states on its website.

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The strollers were sold through Amazon and Target in October and November 2019 and cost between $100 and $120. If you've got one you should stop using it and contact Baby Trend for a refund or replacement.

Four models are impacted by this recall:

  • Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A)
  • Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A)
  • Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A)
  • Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A

"If you determine that you own one of these specific model numbers please stop using the product and contact Baby Trend's customer service at 1-800-328-7363 or via email at info@babytrend.com," Baby Trend states.

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