A Dutch dad has a powerful message for men who are afraid to go on paternity leave: Just do it.
Sietze Vermeulen, who works at the Netherlands consulate in San Francisco, took to LinkedIn to tout the benefits of taking time off—even when it’s difficult.
“Today was my first day back at work after my daughter Adriana was born,” he begins his post. “Four weeks of bonding, caring for my recovering wife, and getting used to my new role. But also missing work during a peak month. Was it convenient? No. Was it necessary? Hell yeah.”
He goes on to lay out the perfect case for why paternity leave is so important, and not just for his family. “I believe being home now makes me a better father, husband AND employee. Research says it bolsters my child’s IQ and strengthens my marriage. Other research says it will negatively impact my career and salary. Yet what kind of employee would I be if I’d shown up at work immediately? A tired, grumpy and unhappy one.”
Sietze is right about the benefits: Studies have shown that men who take paternity leave are more likely to care for their babies and tackle household chores, long after their leave has ended. That’s bound to strengthen any marriage. And a study of four developed countries, including the United States, found that kids whose dads took longer paternity leaves and spent more time caring for them as young children had higher cognitive test scores.
He’s also right about the downsides: When men take time off to care for family members, their long-term earnings are suppressed.
That could be one reason why so many fathers are afraid to go on paternity leave. Even though men are just as likely as women to say they need paid time off to care for their kids, moms take far more leave, according to Working Mother‘s own research. In a survey of 3,000 parents, 63 percent of dads and 65 percent of moms took paid parental leave, but dads averaged 4.8 weeks versus 8.2 weeks for moms.
It begs the question: Why don’t more men like Sietze take leave if they say they need it? For starters, it’s not often paid. Just 9 percent of worksites offer paid paternity leave to all employees. Sietze himself admits he only received five days of paid leave—the rest he took unpaid. That can be a big burden for families who rely on dad’s paycheck to make ends meet.
And even when men receive paid leave, they’re often nervous about using it. A Deloitte survey of 1,000 workers found that one in three men believed taking leave to care for a newborn would put their career at risk.
To those dads, “I’d say: man up,” Sietze says in his post. “As men we have to set an example so it becomes the norm and it no longer negatively impacts our careers. So talk to your boss and see what’s possible to be a good employee AND father.”
He’s right. While many fathers rightfully fear career repercussions for taking leave, it’s important to note that working moms are often at risk to suffer the same consequences—yet we take leave anyway. If we want to foster a workplace where women and men are equally able to advance, we need more men like Sietze stepping up to stay home, even when it’s hard.
And, as he notes, there’s a strong case to be made that dads who take leave are better workers: “As I walk into the office I’m no longer overwhelmed, my wife is strong enough to be home alone, and my boss gets a content and semi-rested employee.”