You are currently viewing Dads, Don’t Waste Your Paternity Leave

Dads, Don’t Waste Your Paternity Leave

In recent years, paternity leave benefits have increased for almost every job in the U.S. While this paid time off isn’t uniform in every company, it’s higher on average than it has ever been.

Most believers see this cultural trend as a blessing, but many dads end up in a whirlwind of decisions. Questions loom: Should I take the full benefit of the time off, or even take it at all? What happens if I lose ground at work over the weeks I’m gone? If I do take the full benefit, how do I maximize the time?

The answers aren’t as easy as you may think. At first, this seems like a no-brainer: “Of course, take all the time you can!” But research shows most men don’t take their full leave. Why?

Some are concerned it seems excessive in a work culture where men typically take only a few weeks off at most. Others are concerned they’ll lose social traction on their teams or lose opportunities to contribute to projects. Others say their companies don’t pay as well during paternity leave, so they’re forced to decline the leave because it’d mean drastic cuts during a season of growing expenses. In this situation, men will often leverage their vacation benefits (PTO) instead of using the paternity benefit.

All this leaves men wondering about the best approach.

The advice a Christian husband hears from men in the church can add to the confusion. A friend in his early 60s told me he couldn’t imagine taking the full benefit. He said it seems excessive since a dad’s role in the home is incomparable to a mom’s responsibilities. Moreover, he wondered about how employers can sustain the expense.

Another friend in his late 30s looked at paternity leave from a completely different perspective. He encourages friends to take all the time they possibly can, and he listed several godly reasons: helping your wife, taking on more responsibility for the home and kids, and not leaving money you’re owed on the table.

It seems the best approach to a decision that involves so many factors is to understand the full benefits your employer offers, to seek wisdom from others, and to spend time praying about the decision with your wife well in advance of when it needs to be communicated to your employer.

Way Forward

There are several legitimate approaches to complex decisions like this one. Know that what’s best for you may not be what’s best for others. Let each husband and wife be fully convinced in their own minds (Rom. 14:5).

As you pray and discern, here are some questions to consider.

1. Are you valuing your wife’s needs more than your fear of being forgotten?

Some concerns about losing out at work may be valid—especially for men who are the primary breadwinners for their families. But in a work culture that’s increasingly more intentional about investing in paternity leave, some men’s fears are unfounded projections of an unreal future.

Know that what’s best for you may not be what’s best for others.

What if taking the full time allowed by your company not only had zero negative effect on your advancement but also was a tremendous blessing to your wife? What might it mean to her if you take the hours you normally spend at work and invest them into helping manage life with a new baby? How might this support her recovery from labor and (if you have them) your other children’s ability to adjust to a new normal? Would it give her peace of mind to know you’re going to be a full-time dad not just for several days but for several weeks?

Husbands must keep their lives “free from the love of money” and put aside fear of man (Heb. 13:5–6). We also must remember that we’re called to “love [our] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Eph. 5:25).” Sacrificing time to be there for your wife models and communicates Christ’s love. It may also fulfill Peter’s command to honor your wife as “[an heir] with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).

2. Are you taking into account the opportunity to enjoy and bond with your new baby?

One friend told me about a guy he knew who took his paternity leave benefit but hid it from his wife. He simply left the house during work hours and returned each evening after spending the day on himself. This man was overjoyed he’d beaten the system.

But when I heard this, I felt both offended for his wife (whom he’d deceived for several weeks) and deeply sorry for him. This man wasted days he’ll never get back. The short-lived joy of stealing time from his company and lying to his wife pales in comparison to the moments of joy he stole from himself when he could have been treasuring time with his newborn.

Godly men wouldn’t consider this man’s path, but taking extra time away from work to enjoy your new child may still feel like a selfish indulgence for a believer. It’s not. God’s word encourages us to rejoice in all God’s good gifts and receive them with gratitude (Ecc. 5:19; 9:9; James 1:17–18). Often when we set aside time to enjoy one of God’s good gifts, we rediscover joy in his other gifts. There was a unique joy in experiencing each of my three sons for the first time. But each one, because of his difference, also helps me to appreciate his two brothers in unique ways. This is how joy works. When we rejoice in one of God’s good gifts, our joy can indiscriminately multiply in surprising ways.

So consider how taking time to bond with your new baby could free up opportunities to connect with your entire family in unplanned ways. Consider the connections you may make with your family if you leverage your paternity leave for joy.

3. Are you considering the opportunity to invest in your family’s spiritual growth?

Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Learning to lovingly discipline and instruct our children takes time. While paternity leave isn’t a paid sabbatical specially designed for your parenting growth, it does hold a tremendous opportunity. During a paternity leave, dads can forge new discipleship habits that may last long after the leave ends.

During a paternity leave, dads can forge new discipleship rhythms that may last long after the leave ends.

This may range from having a more consistent time of family devotions with your kids to getting into the habit of praying and talking with your wife about how you’re disciplining them. Redeeming a few minutes each day to go through a parenting book with your wife over a few weeks could help you embrace a common vision, and bear fruit throughout your kids’ lifetime. Likewise, overcoming the awkwardness of spiritual conversations with your preschool kids will pay off in the teen years when the stakes are higher and time is less available.

Stir Up Gratitude

If you’re reading this because you need to decide about paternity leave in the coming days, take time to think about the extravagant blessing this upcoming decision represents. God has blessed you and your wife with the privilege of preparing your home for a new child. You have a job and an employer who provides a thoughtful benefit to growing families. You’re part of a marriage union and you have the opportunity to help your wife grow and flourish as a Christian (Eph. 5:25).

Weigh this decision thoughtfully with wisdom and prayer. But above all, let your questions about paternity leave stir up a heart of gratitude for all God’s gifts.


Leave a Reply