Rep. Colin Allred was the first member of Congress to take paternity leave in 2019.
[Editor's note: While this article is about fathers in heterosexual relationships, we extrapolate that the positive impacts described are consistent among same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships. This is based on research showing that children have similar outcomes no matter the gender of the parents raising them. Unfortunately, at this time there is a lack of research on non-traditional family structures—but things are changing, and we support the continuation of efforts that support all families.
We also acknowledge that single parents work exceptionally hard to ensure that their children have the best outcomes and that the absence of a father or partner does not automatically preclude children from healthy and happy lives. We stand behind all families.]
We need to change the way we talk about paternity leave.
Representative Colin Allred agrees. In 2019, the representative from Texas made history when he became the first member of Congress to take paternity leave. When Allred's wife gave birth to their second child earlier this year, he again took another leave.
"It was really important to me. I mean, I grew up without a father. But my whole life, I thought, 'When I have a chance to be a father, I'm going to be a good dad. I'm going to be there,''' Allred said in an interview with CBS News. "And, you know, I think in our household, my wife and I try to keep things as equal as possible. And this was part of that."
We know that when dads take paternity leave, everyone benefits. A new poll reveals troubling findings about how men—both fathers and those who hope to soon become fathers—view, think and talk about paternity leave.
A new survey from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll found that 67% of men surveyed believe it is a "badge of honor" for men at their company to take the least amount of paternity leave as possible.
62% acknowledge an unspoken rule in their workplace that men shouldn't take full paternity leave, and 59% report that no one at their company takes their full paternity leave time.
Allred says that mentally isn't fair—and it isn't working.
"Yeah. I mean, there's an expectation in the workplace that, you know, you didn't have the baby. So what do you need the time off for, right? And there's also, of course, kind of the cultural expectation in many cases that mom is going to, you know, do all of the childcare," Allred told CBS News. "And, of course, what we've seen... Women are being asked to do all the childcare, all the housework, and still be in the workforce. And, you know, that's just not working."
For context, over 500 American men were surveyed in the past month for The Harris Poll. All of the men who answered are employed full-time and have either had a child in the last five years or are planning to have one in the next five years.
So this isn't out-of-touch thinking from older workers who have forgotten how hard it is raising a newborn. These aren't the opinions of people who aren't interested in having kids. These results reflect how prospective fathers and those with young children say paternity leave is viewed in their workplace.
Perhaps even more damaging, 58% of men believed that if they take six weeks of paternity leave, it will set back their career. 55% fear losing their job by taking full paternity leave.
No parent should fear losing their job for taking family leave.
The poll revealed that despite the disparities, most men (82%) believe that all parents should have equal paid family leave regardless of gender. They acknowledged that it sets up parents for equal parenting long-term and has the potential to help advance women's careers, too.
What can we do? How can we change the conversation and make sure all partners feel comfortable taking the full length of their family leave?
For starters, we can demand that employers offer generous leave policies. Paid time off for new dads is available at just 9% of companies in the U.S., according to CBS.
We also need to make sure our families take advantage of family leave, when possible. It's important that company leaders take their full leave time to lead by example, too.
Rep. Allred made history in 2019 by announcing his paternity leave. Other members of Congress may have returned home for the birth of a child for a few days—but no member had cleared their calendar and publicly announced the leave.
Since then, Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton has also taken paternity leave for the birth of his daughter. If more men in leadership positions take advantage of family leave, then hopefully others will feel comfortable following suit.
When fathers take paternity leave, everyone—mom, dad and baby—benefits. We need to do everything we can to help our families thrive.
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