The Christian Case for Paternity Leave

The Christian Case for Paternity Leave

Last month, we brought home a newborn, making us a family of five, with three sons under the age of four. In other words, we are very tired and our house is quite messy. At the same time, we are feeling quite blessed to have three healthy boys and two excited big brothers. 

One thing that I am thankful for in the process of adjusting to our new family lineup is that I was fortunate enough to take off three weeks from work once the baby came. To be sure, this is the longest period of time I have gone without working an eight-hour day since I was 19 years old. And I have to tell you, it has been incredibly beneficial. 

I say I was fortunate to take off three weeks from work, because it is very rare in our country for a father to be afforded paid family leave for that long. According to one research summary, 76% of fathers in America return to work less than one week after their baby arrives, and only 45% of companies offer any paid paternity leave. 

Some employees are simply not permitted to take time off when their new child comes. Others are permitted to take paternity leave, but with no pay. And still others are offered paid time off but do not take it in its entirety for fear that they will experience a setback in their career for doing so. 

The problem is particularly pronounced among low-income workers, only 6% of whom take paid family leave, according to the National Association of Evangelicals. 

Beyond the policies of private companies, of all the developed nations in the world, America has some of the worst policies when it comes to ensuring paid family leave—for fathers as well as for mothers. 

As a result, the average length of paternity leave in America is one week. For perspective, the average leave for new fathers in nations within the European Union is between six and seven weeks.

While this is a problem for our society as a whole, I am concerned that it is also particularly a problem with regard to how many evangelicals see the issue. 

Having worked in and around evangelical churches and organizations, I have often been surprised by the general attitude toward paid family leave for new fathers. For as pro-life and pro-family as we are, many evangelicals tend to be suspicious of paternity leave, often questioning whether it is necessary.

Some go as far as to scoff at the idea of paid paternity leave, suggesting that the request for leave is just an excuse to be lazy and take an extra vacation. 

However, I believe that ensuring paid family leave is an essential facet of being pro-life and of seeking the common good of our society by placing a special emphasis on the family. 

Here are a few reasons I believe that’s the case. 

Paternity Leave Allows Fathers To Bond With Their Children. 

Fathers are important. Every significant sociological study into that reality yields the same answer. When it comes to the development of families and communities, the strong presence of fathers is a key indicator of health.

But even without statistical analysis, Christians understand the importance of fathers, because the Scriptures reiterate it constantly. Fathers are called to raise their children with discipline and compassion—to model, though imperfectly, the love of the heavenly Father. 

For example: 

 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)

Fatherhood is a high calling. 

Affording fathers a special time of bonding with their children upon their arrival offers long-term relational benefits. Fathers who are given time to hold and rock their infants, be involved in feeding or burping them, changing their diapers, and bathing them report higher levels of connection with their children—even years after they have developed out of infancy

Family leave helps fathers set the tone for their relationship with their children in a way that can result in deeper connections. And a connected father is far more likely to be effective in training up his children in the way they should go.

Paternity Leave Allows Fathers To Help Their Families Adjust to New Household Dynamics. 

Every new addition to the family alters the household dynamics in profound and unique ways. 

With all three of my sons, I can recall a distinct moment of overwhelm shortly after bringing them home for the first time. With my firstborn, I drove home from the hospital at well below the speed limit out of anxiety for the precious cargo in the backseat. With my second son, I learned that he needed protection not only from the evils of the world, but also from a toddler brother who just might literally kill him with affection. With the third, I quickly realized that parents are now outnumbered in this house, and a new strategy for managing the chaos has quickly become necessary. 

With each new addition to the family also came distinct behavioral issues from the sons who had come before. Adjusting to a new identity and position in the family while grappling with the reality that the newest family member requires significant attention from mom is a lot for a little one to manage. 

In those moments, children need their dads and wives need their husbands. When a husband and father is able to be present, the family can more effectively manage the stress, resulting in better behavioral and relational outcomes across the board. 

In these times of transition, families would greatly benefit from having some space to readjust. It takes longer than merely a couple of days to develop new rhythms, new systems, and a new understanding of life as the family knows it.

Paternity Leave Is Also Pragmatic for Employers. 

Beyond being a Christian mandate, taking practical steps to care for the health and well-being of others is also deeply pragmatic for employers. While there may be some operational costs associated with giving employees longer periods of paid leave, the benefits are undeniable. 

Paid family leave alleviates financial stress, as well as the interpersonal conflict between spouses that can result from the strain of a busy schedule at a time when a couple’s life has been upended. When paid leave is given, workers return to their jobs more rested and ready to deeply engage with their work. This results in higher productivity, as well as increased morale. 

All of this points to the fact that when we order our lives around the way that God designed us—to respect the natural rhythms of life and give them adequate attention instead of being forced back into the grind of attempting to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of ourselves and others—we all collectively benefit. 

As Solomon once wrote, for everything there is a season. And the season of new parenthood is one of the more pivotal seasons in a person’s life. If we care about workers as people created in the image of God, it is only natural for us to care about their well being, as well as that of their families. It dignifies them, and benefits our communities as a whole. 

Christians would do well to support legislation that guarantees paid family leave for both mothers and fathers. And Christian business owners and executive leaders would also do well to advocate for as generous paid family leave plans as their organizations can afford. 


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ronald LaBarre

    Very well said! In a blink of eye they will be leaving the nest .

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