Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he plans to take a two-month parenting leave after his child is born.
“Priscilla and I are starting to get ready for our daughter’s arrival,” Zuckerberg shared on his Facebook page. “We’ve also been thinking about how we’re going to take time off during the first months of her life. This is a very personal decision, and I’ve decided to take two months of paternity leave when our daughter arrives.”
What’s more is that this is the second time Zuckerberg has made positive headlines during the anticipation of his first child. When they announced their pregnancy, he and his wife were public about their struggle to conceive, humbly revealing that they had three miscarriages.
In a time when traditional gender roles are being challenged more than ever—women are vying for the presidency, while more men are staying at home with the kids (a figure that has doubled in the past decade)—Zuckerberg is proving to be quite the trailblazer, and not just in tech.
For one, there’s workplace equality. We often focus mainly on wage gaps when we talk about gender disparity in the workplace, but other factors contribute, too. It’s great to see workplaces of influence taking fathers’ roles seriously when it comes to parental leave. Both mom and dad have something essential and valuable to bring to their children’s upbringing, so if it’s possible for both parents to take some time to be with the kids during the early days, that is awesome.
Second, Zuckerberg is setting an example for the case that child rearing is equally the responsibility of the father as it is the mother. Paternity leave isn’t about men having a lovely break from work. It’s a huge (and necessary) help to new moms. With our first child, my husband was around the house thanks to being in grad school, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that on-hand support during our first days of parenthood. Parenthood is so awe-inspiring, in part due to the fact that early on it’s so exhausting. You realize just how strong you can be and just how amazing the circle of life is. But having the helping hand of your spouse during that life-changing and mentally-and-physically-blown period immediately after birth is priceless.
My husband’s presence in the home helped me in so many ways—soothing our baby when she was fussy (thank you, Happiest Baby on the Block DVD for teaching tips that dads can master like no other), helping with midnight diaper changes and feedings, and singing to the baby. This not only took a load off me when I needed a break, but it also heart-warmed me toward both him and the new babe.
All this leads to another point that should not surprise us: Parenting leave is good for the relationship of the parents. Research shows that marital satisfaction can take a dip after having kids, so any support that spouses can give each other during the challenging time of early parenthood can help curb loads of stress. Experts have pointed to exhaustion and isolation as things that can make moms burn out fast, and sometimes that can be unsettling for their husbands to see. It’s not uncommon for husbands to come home from the office and think, “What happened to my wife?” If the husband is there for the day-to-day grit for some amount of time, he can get a glimpse of what it is she’s going through and can share part of the burden, too. According to developmental molecular biologist John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, dads can help moms in particularly targeted ways: helping with home maintenance (because balls will be dropped), watching the baby and allowing her to get rest, and encouraging her to get out of the house. Medina explains:
“Guys, start helping around the house now. Make a list of what your wife does. Make a list of what you do. If your list displays the toxic inequality typical in the United States—you know, the one predictive of divorce rates—then change the list. Balance it until you both are satisfied with what equality means.”
And of course, when moms and dads share the challenges of early parenthood through parenting leave, the results are good for the child as well. Research shows that the most valuable thing one can do for their baby’s healthy brain development is for the parents to focus on keeping their relationship healthy and flourishing—i.e. keeping a low-conflict home. This usually doesn’t happen naturally but requires time and attention on the part of mom and dad. More and more, parents want to make sure they put their kids into the right preschool and the right music lessons to ensure that they have a shot at Ivy League schools in the future. But it turns out that those child-focused projects aren’t the key to smart babies; parental harmony is. As Medina puts it, “The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success. If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse.”
So, by now we can see how parenting leave is good for dads, moms, their marriages, and babies. Can kids and marriages survive without it? Sure. But will they be better off for having it, whenever possible? Absolutely. This is why Zuckerberg’s move, while good for him and his family, is also good for those of all his employees at Facebook and those at innumerable other organizations as well.
As Wired pointed out, “Like some other major tech companies, Facebook already offers new parents a parental leave plan considered very generous by U.S. standards. . . . However, employees may feel reluctant to take advantage of such plans if their companies don’t have a culture that encourages taking time off. And company culture typically comes from the top.” You can’t get much more on the top than from Mark Zuckerberg himself.
Congratulations to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg on the expectation of their new baby. And bravo—not only for putting your family first in choosing parenting leave but also for setting an example for businesses and employees galore that parenting leave is as invaluable as any health-care benefit. For something that contributes to the physical and mental health of the whole family, it’s hard to think of a better investment we could make for future generations.
Photo Credit: Facebook