In May, I’ll be going on parental leave for six months. When I mention this to my American colleagues, they understandably roll their eyes. In the US, there is no paid parental leave that applies to all workers; it depends on the state or employer.
According to the International Labour Organization, only 79 countries provide paid paternity leave or parental leave for fathers. The median duration is 14 weeks. Fortunately, in Luxembourg, I am lucky enough to have six months of parental leave, with a capped state salary.
Although it may not be the wisest financial decision, my wife Dora and I did not think twice about me taking the leave fully. Dora will return to work when our baby, Noah, is 10 months old. I will then stay home with Noah until he goes to day care at 16 months old.
While some of my colleagues cheer for me, with fathers saying they regret not having that opportunity or for not taking it, others question whether the money is enough or if it will be a setback for my career.
The answer to both questions is “yes”. But so what?
Working in talent management, I know that many people view most things through the lens of career progression, promotion, and higher compensation. These things are important, but are they more important than Noah?
When Noah was born, I was there. I have been by his and Dora’s side for every day and night for seven and a half months. Then, a business trip took me away for a week, and it was a difficult week. But it also made me realize how much I missed them both.
I have been very involved in Noah’s upbringing. It was a conscious choice, and it was a benefit of working from home. I believe that more and more fathers want to do the same but can’t due to the obligation to be at work.
This is a new type of fatherhood, driven by a more balanced approach to work and family life. The old, patriarchal view of the world is still around. It is ingrained in some fathers who still see their role as the provider, the go-getter, the one who can afford a big TV, an expensive car, and private schools.
I grew up in a working-class, maybe low middle-class family on a Greek tourist island. My mother worked at an accounting office, and my father was a waiter. He worked only half the year, but he worked two jobs, so he was barely at home. During the winter evenings when we were all at home, I had to study. It was the only way for our family to afford a better lifestyle, which did not include an expensive car or a big TV, but public schools and a mortgage.
I enjoy my job a lot. In May, I would be starting executing a strategy I have devised for the organization I support. Being out for six months in a fast-paced corporation can be unsettling. I find myself wondering what will happen while I’m on parental leave. Will all the leaders I work with still be there? How will things have changed? Would I need to start over?
I’ve worked hard to create a solid action plan that my colleagues can implement in my absence. While I’ll be sad to miss seeing my ideas come to fruition, the excitement of spending quality time with my son far outweighs any doubts I may have after a long day of work.
I know it will not be easy. What Dora does on her maternity leave does not look easy at all. But parenthood is not meant to be easy; it is meant to be meaningful, and meaning in life brings happiness. As I wrote in my 12-year abroad account, it is not about me anymore; it is about him. And there is no job title or salary that could ever substitute for the feeling of making him laugh or seeing Noah discover something new.
This is where I see the responsibility of us parents as citizens. No company will stop growing because its employees are entitled to more time with their babies.
Parental leave should not be at the discretion of any employer. I can’t imagine how many parents, especially fathers, want to take time off but don’t, because they feel the pressure to perform, achieve, and succeed in something that may not exist in ten or twenty years. In contrast, our children will be there, and it’s our responsibility as parents and citizens to prioritize their well-being by advocating for parental leave as a human right in every modern country’s constitution.