should I use my maternity leave to set an example for other women?

A reader writes:

I am pregnant and live in a state that lets me take maternity leave from 36 weeks pregnant to 18 weeks after the date I give birth. Not all of this is paid, but much of it is and I could take the rest unpaid or apply my banked PTO. approximately 10 weeks depending on the nature of the birth are paid disability, an additional six weeks are paid family leave, and, for the remaining time I could potentially take off, I could either take it unpaid or apply my banked PTO.

I was discussing plans with my mom, and she thinks that because I am a woman in a leadership role, I should consider taking the entire allowed leave, to set a positive example for the women who report under me. Her take is that if I take a short leave, perhaps other women will feel pressured to take a shorter leave themselves, and it’s my duty as a woman to lead by example and prioritize the importance of family leave.

I … am not sure. On the one hand, I totally get it. I wouldn’t want one of my staff to feel pressured to take less leave because she was trying to prove herself, either to me or to the company. On the other, while I do think leading by example is important, I also think that part of that would naturally be doing what is best for me, my family, and my career. I may take the maximum allowed leave regardless, but I’m unsure if this should be a factor.

Should women in leadership roles factor the impact of their decisions on the potential decisions of those watching them into their grand scheme life choices?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 163 comments… read them below }

  1. SuperBB*

    If you can afford it, I would take all the leave you get, but that doesn’t necessarily mean taking it all at once. I have known couples where both spouses received some paid parental leave, so after both parents took initial time off for recovery/bonding/surviving those first weeks, they then alternated leaves so they could maximize the time before the baby had to go to daycare. Something to consider in the age of COVID.

    1. BritSouthAfricanAmericanHybrid*

      I agree. My company offers 16 weeks parental leave, and one of my male coworkers took a couple of weeks right after the baby was born. Then once his partner used all her leave, he took the remainder of his leave.

    2. The Original K.*

      My friend and her husband did this. They were both home for the first two weeks and then he went back to work, she was home for her leave, and he took his when hers ended. It allowed them each to bond and also bought them time to figure out child care.

    3. Atalanta0jess*

      I took some of my leave intermittently and worked 4 days a week for something like 8 months. It was amazing.

      1. anon for this*

        My husband did this and it was amazing. It really helped us with childcare in those infant months, and he got time to get really confident in being a dad (sometimes lack of leave can interfere with that in my opinion).

        1. allathian*

          Oh yes. There’s clear evidence to show that fathers/non-birthing parents who take leave when their baby is fairly young will be both more confident and bond better with the child, and that in families where both parents take leave to be with the baby, housework tends to be more evenly distributed even after both of them have returned to work and the baby is in daycare. And when both parents are used to being solely responsible for the child during the day, it’s not always the mom who stays at home when the kid is sick. This can only benefit working moms.

    4. MsClaw*

      My only caveat would be do not use all your banked PTO. You will need it once you are back at work and your baby catches the inevitable colds, pink eye, fevers, etc that are just par for the course for young kiddos.

  2. Sarah*

    “Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men?”

    Hard disagree with Allison on this. If this was a man in leadership, I’d think it was doubly as important for him to max out his leave. Leaders need to model setting work/ life balance to their teams. If you feel like taking the full leave would hurt your career, then you need to understand every woman on your team will think that and if you don’t take your leave, will have one more proof point.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      But the point is that men are not told to do this or factor it in as a significant part of their decision making process. The LW’s mom isn’t telling her son in law to take as much parental leave as possible, just her telling daughter that.

      1. ANON*

        How could you possibly know this? We have no idea what the LW’s mom is or isn’t telling her son, assuming her child is even male…

        I have heard men urged to take parental leave because of the example it will set and contribution to setting a new precedent pretty often.

      2. Heather*

        In my experience, a lot of men are being told exactly that (in companies and/or regions where paternity leave are a thing). My company only introduced paternity leave last year and it hasn’t come up on my team yet, but if/when a male leader on my team is about to be a parent I would make a point of it to remind him to take advantage of it exactly because of the signal effect.

      3. Craig*

        I don’t know common it is but I’ve heard our CEO (old, male, no kids) urging men in leadership roles to take the available paternity leave to show others it’s not frowned on.

        1. Koalafied*

          I do feel like there’s a difference between a message of “you, as a senior employee at our company, should set a good example for employees at our company, specifically,” coming from management at the new parent’s workplace – where caring about things like staff morale and senior staff modeling good examples for junior staff is part of management’s job – and a message of “you, as a [woman/man], should set a good example for other [women/men],” coming from just, like, random people in the new parent’s personal life. My sense is that the former might be fairly common to both genders but the latter is much more likely to be something women encounter.

      4. Ben*

        I don’t doubt there’s a double-standard at play here–there usually is when it comes to mothers and fathers in the workplace. Regardless, it’s a sound idea for leaders (of either sex) to set a good example by taking advantage of work-life benefits so that staff in more precarious situations can feel confident they will not be punished for using them. In fact, the LW herself seems concerned that her career might suffer from taking the maximum parental leave available. That’s a problem! How is anyone else going to feel comfortable using the benefit?

      5. KateM*

        Don’t you think that people often are nearer to their own children than the spouses of their children, and so what they dare to suggest or not depends on the relationship, not gender?

    2. longtime AAM lurker*

      I think Allison’s observation is on-point from a general perspective regarding uneven gendered expectations regarding role models–though in this example where we are talking about parental leave, and I agree with Sarah that this is where I’d love to see men in leadership embracing, using and advocating for parental leave.

      1. Anon and On*

        And that it was the LW’s mother who said this. It seems that these types of comments often come from women to other women. (Is there a word for “mansplaining” by a woman?)

        1. Uranus Wars*

          When my mom does it I just call it lecturing and disrespect in my ability to make adult decisions.

    3. Stuff*

      The thing is, financially she may decide she doesn’t want to be out her pay for that long. She may also decide that she might end up getting stir crazy being away from work for so long. Both are valid ways to feel, and she shouldn’t have to override those feelings.

      1. nelliebelle1197*

        Also, also less well-paid employees may resent this and feel the LW is entitled or privileged in a way they are not. It is a double edged sword for sure and I have a feeling LW is a good person and thoughtful based on her wording and question; I doubt she would ever want to be thought of that way by her staff.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Also, also less well-paid employees may resent this and feel the LW is entitled or privileged in a way they are not. It is a double edged sword for sure….

          My motto is “when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t do what you damn well please.” Therefore, OP, do what’s best for you and your family.

      2. BubbleTea*

        Yes, I had to go back to work once my paid leave ran out. I was fortunate that I had complete support to take whatever proportion of my potential leave I wanted, and it was paid more than legally required (UK) but once the pay stopped, so did the leave. If anyone had tried to tell me I needed to take the last chunk to set a good example to others, I’d have felt it was pretty tone deaf.

      3. BubbleTea*

        Yes, I had to go back to work once my paid leave ran out. I was fortunate that I had complete support to take whatever proportion of my potential leave I wanted, and it was paid more than legally required (UK) but once the pay stopped, so did the leave. If anyone had tried to tell me I needed to take the last chunk to set a good example to others, I’d have felt it was pretty tone deaf.

      4. BubbleTea*

        Yes, I had to go back to work once my paid leave ran out. I was fortunate that I had complete support to take whatever proportion of my potential leave I wanted, and it was paid more than legally required (UK) but once the pay stopped, so did the leave. If anyone had tried to tell me I needed to take the last chunk to set a good example to others, I’d have felt it was pretty tone deaf.

    4. Anonym*

      Agreed, agreed, agreed. OP’s mom is right, and everyone should encourage every leader in their life to do the same. Of course, you have to do what makes most financial sense for you, but this culture will not change if we don’t make these choices when we get the chance.

      I am not in a leadership role (mid-senior individual contributor), but will be maxing out my maternity leave soon, and my partner will be taking the max that his company allows as well. I wavered on this, worrying about subtle career impacts down the line, but the principle of it helped me hold fast.

      OP, please show EVERYONE that works for and with you that this is what’s done, and that they all should feel empowered to do the same. It’s a unique and powerful opportunity, and you don’t know how many people it will help down the line.

      1. idontplaygames*

        Agree with this. Rightly or wrongly, choosing to or not to take the entire amount of leave available will have a ripple effect on your team or teams that work closely with you. As someone who is sitting here 8 months pregnant, I will be maxing out our newly enhanced paid maternity leave of 18-20 weeks (depending on delivery). If someone above me or even at my level had a baby since the new leave was made available, and this person chose not to use the full amount of time, this WOULD affect my decision. Call me a coward, but we all know how mothers are treated–and compared to one another–in corporate America.

    5. Gretchen*

      I agree and told my (male) manager as such when he had his first kid. We have a lot of young men on our team and a generous parental leave policy by US standards. He took two weeks off after the birth, used the rest of his leave sporadically throughout the year, and became much less of a workaholic.

    6. Ex-Teacher*

      Yeah, as a man I got a lot of sideways looks when I did take leave for my child’s birth. I wasn’t told to take it so much as I was told off or insulted for taking as much as I did (only about a month, it was the max I could take without losing any income).

      I did have someone actually tell me that a month was too much, and there were concerns about what other people would think of me taking so much time away. Problematic both in that it was implied that other men would have a bad opinion of me for doing so, and that it would set a bad example for the other men if they did what I did.Heck, I even got told what an awful mistake it was to tell my wife I know how to change a diaper!

      I get that there are serious issues with how women are treated because of historical patriarchy (and am speaking up when I see it). But I often get the impression that because of these historical problems, the connected opinion is that men have it 100% easy and don’t have to think about or worry about many similar concerns. Yes, I know that women have it harder, and asking one person to be an example to and of their gender isn’t okay. But to treat it as though men just don’t face any of these pressures is inaccurate and doesn’t really help solve the problem in my opinion.

      1. Bluesboy*

        A (male) friend of mine took three days of paid leave when his son was born, and he was definitely side-eyed for it.

        I actually think that men should take paternity leave, not just to encourage other men to, but also to balance out the situation with women. I’m not in the US, so it might be different here, but there is definitely discrimination against women because they ‘might get pregnant and take maternity leave’. If men as a group took all the paternity leave available to them…there would be less of an incentive to avoid women employees for slimy employers. Men taking paternity leave helps both other men and women!

    7. un-pleased*

      Yep! The male leaders in my firm do try to live in ways that show their roles as family members are as important as (or more than) their roles as businessmen.

      This statement also really confuses certain men’s experiences for being all men’s experiences. I think if you know a diversity of men, there’s plenty of talk about how to be a man with a family as a model for other men. It’s just that a lot of those men are men of color, and I suspect a lot of folks here don’t have a diverse network of relationships.

      It frustrates me how much of the gender discussion here centers white men of a particular status as THE example of what men’s lives are like, while completely erasing how diverse men’s experiences are. It’s real second wave around here sometimes.

    8. Morgan Proctor*

      Thank you for saying this. I also think that I disagree with Allison’s advice on this one. I think the LW should take the full amount of leave, both because it sets a good example for her employees, but also because it sets an expectation within higher leadership that parents that work for this company can and will use the full leave. Also, she gets more time with her new child. If she can afford it, I think it’s a win-win.

      And as far as men go, this is changing a LOT. Lots and lots of men are rightfully demanding parental leave for themselves. When they take it, they set an example for other men that taking parental leave is ok, and thus dismantling decades’ worth of stigma and sexism. I think that’s pretty important, and they should be empowering each other to care for their families during this critical point in their lives.

    9. Glitsy Gus*

      A friend of mine who is an upper manager in big tech made sure to take all of his paternity leave for this reason as well. He wanted his team to see that not only is it OK, that the world will continue on if they take a break for important things. It kind of drove him nuts at the beginning (he’s a bit of a workaholic) but he also knew he wouldn’t get that time back with his kiddo and in the end he was really glad he did it.

      I do agree with Allison in general, but at this point in time I do really think it’s important for male managers to think about this and how their behavior influences others.

    10. Heather*

      Seconded. And if a male leader was writing in to ask about setting some other example (say, taking PTO and actually being out of pocket, or putting their pronouns in their email signature, or whatever else), I suspect Alison would emphasize that people pay attention to what leaders actually do more than to what they say. If my leadership paid lip service to the importance of taking parental leave but were all back at work in minimal time themselves, I’d definitely assume that the unwritten rule was to do the same if you wanted to be taken seriously around the office.

    11. AY*

      Unquestionably, the most annoying thing about my old law firm were the senior (male) partners’ comments about paternity leave. They went on and on and on about the old days: how they had to go back to work the same afternoon, how they had to travel out of state for depositions the day after their kids were born, how they just couldn’t get their heads around the paternity leave the firm now offers, and how they couldn’t imagine taking leave when they were young lawyers. Of course, very few new fathers actually took anything close to the full paternity leave, and I have to chalk it up to the culture. I don’t think the senior partners were intentionally discouraging paternity leave, but the message we all received was “this isn’t how you become a successful lawyer.”

    12. Tito*

      My husband’s boss did that exactly. He was there first on the team to have a child with the new paternal leave policy and he took the maximum amount and encouraged others to do the same! It was really great that by the time we had our kids my husband has no worries about taking his leave.

    13. Snow Globe*

      I seem to remember a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg took parental leave, specifically for this reason, to encourage all employees, both men and women, to take leave that the are provided.

    14. Pugetkayak*

      My brother in law absolutely did this as an example. He is in leadership and granted 16 weeks fully paid. He found other men just weren’t taking more than a few weeks. He took the entire thing because he wanted ALL parents (and often it’s not as expected for men to take all that they earn, which is bad too) and especially men to make sure they felt comfortable taking time off.
      I do disagree with Allison here as well, men really help out WOMEN when they also take time off for their children.

    15. An academic*

      Thank you. My husband took his full paternity leave of 12 weeks (staggered with mine). One of his reasons was explicitly to model this behavior for his direct reports. Given that paternity leave is such a new thing, I agree with others that it’s actually more important for men to proudly model taking their full leave than for women to do so.

    16. Eyes Kiwami*

      Yes, I actually thought Alison didn’t update her answer because of this line. I’m pretty sure has encouraged leaders to consider what example they set for leave-taking and corporate culture around parental responsibilities!

      Of course prioritize what is best for yourself and your family, if you absolutely must come back early then yes do that. But if you have any flexibility then I encourage ANY leader, male or female, to max out their leave as an example to their teams.

      I think people are getting confused and thinking OP must set an example because she is a woman and represents all women here. No, it’s because she is a leader and represents her workers.

    17. LB*

      In the last couple of years things have really changed in my workplace. Much of the old guard with their sexist attitudes and nonsensical, non-family-friendly policies have retired (especially in HR). They’ve been replaced with much younger people who are promoting all kinds of changes in attitude. As someone in the middle of that, age wise, it is interesting to see men now thinking about how to be better allies, promote women, and be family friendly in both word and action. So the shift, at least here, has only happened recently and definitely men are now thinking about and talking to others about how to be good examples for other men, to call out other men when they are wrong, stand up for women (the right way) when they need support, and to be inclusive.

  3. learnedthehardway*

    From Canada here – Maternity / parental leave only gets normalized if people take it. Setting an example would be a good thing to do.

    Our economy in Canada has managed – a lot of roles go to secondments, interim promotions, and contracts during the time their incumbents are on maternity or parental (for either parent) leaves.

    If you are concerned about the optics from senior management and implications to your career, consider that you can remain involved and accessible (if you choose to do so). Post-COVID, companies OUGHT to be used to the idea that people can remain engaged from home. Also, perhaps you could plan for a senior direct report to take the role on, on an interim basis. Or maybe you could split your role between 2-3 people who could take part of it on, again on an interim basis. You could mentor those people while you are on leave. It’s kind of a grey area – being on leave but engaging in work things, but it might work better for your situation than being entirely disengaged, if you feel that is best for your own career.

  4. Gnome*

    OP, please set the example of doing what is best for your family. and that may be taking it all, or getting back into the workplace quickly. My kids are teens and we had several stay-at-home dads in our circle when they were little… because that’s what was best for the family. and if you talk about it that way, whatever you end up doing, it will set a good example across the board.

    1. Gnome*

      FWIW, I wanted to take the full leave I could, but ended up going back because I was stir crazy and we had good available daycare. I would have hated to feel pressured one way or the other!

      1. Lilo*

        The isolation of maternity leave really got to me. My husband took his leave after I went back.

        You just have to do you.

        1. christine crang*

          That must have been so tough. The isolated experience of maternity leave is in part the product of a society where parents don’t routinely take longer leaves. There are whole communities where I live of folks on leave, I’ve been able to line up my parental leaves with other friends’ leaves, and there are community centre programs designed specifically for parents on leave and their young babies. I can see why it would all be so much harder without that structure.

          1. Gnome*

            This can vary geographically too. there is lots of stuff where I am, but I had kids well before most of my friends and I also had some difficulties after, so most were simply not feasible for me. But also, just socializing isn’t the same as working with others to accomplish something. I need the later, and all the Mommy and me stuff is for the former.

          2. Lilo*

            I was the first of my friends to have a baby and my family doesn’t live very close. I did try mommy and me and meet ups but it just didn’t help.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes! Advocating for your own interests is setting a good example.

      For me, I was itching to get back to work. I was physically ready, my kid was happy to go to daycare (more people to dote on him), and it was the right thing for my family. And I got flack for it- “Oh, are you sure the kid is ready? Shouldn’t you really be home with him?” With some people you just won’t win.

      1. Me ... Just Me*

        Yes!! I wish that people would not just assume that a mother wants to spend every waking moment with her children — even a baby. They definitely don’t put this expectation on fathers. What’s up with that?! Please, just let people decide for themselves how they are going to manage themselves and their families — without all of this “you’ll regret it later if you don’t ______” (insert any social norm that society wants to delegate to women).

        I have two grown children that I gave birth to. Nope, never once did I want to stay home and give up work to tend a baby. I’m not a baby person. Luckily for me, babies are only babies for a little while, so after the whole baby stage, there’s more to look forward to.

      2. allathian*

        I yearn for a world where people can make decisions like this that suit them best without judgment from others.

        I’m in an area with long maternity and family leave, and I had a few mommy friends with kids of a similar age. Because my son’s the first and only child of two families (my sister’s childfree and my SIL’s single and quite conservative in outlook, meaning that she wouldn’t consider trying to get pregnant without being married, and she’s almost 40), he had two grannies who were more than happy to babysit him so that I could go run errands and do chores more easily during the day.

        Even with support it wasn’t always easy, and I was happy to return to work when our son was 2. A change is as good as a rest sometimes, and I felt that I was a better mom when I had other things to think about during the day, and could eat at least one meal a day without constant interruptions. I also felt that I was a better employee because I had other things to occupy my mind when I wasn’t working. Being the parent of a toddler certainly prevented me from ruminating about work stuff when I wasn’t working.

        I think it’s very valuable to have non-work things that are important to you to occupy your mind and hands when you aren’t working, but everyone has to find their own thing for themselves; for some it’s family (however you define it), for others it can be volunteering, going back to school, a hobby they’re passionate about, or whatever. Or maybe a bit of all of them if you have the energy. I don’t want to suggest that parents are somehow “better people,” just that parenthood helped me to grow as a person and an employee.

      3. LaReesa*

        Ugh I totally get this comment (I went back to work after 12 weeks and I actually felt like it was the right time for me) but I think in the climate of our country, she does have a responsibility to “max out” that maternity leave and set an example. And 18 weeks is such a relatively short amount of time! I think in any other country it’s fine to just do what you want, because longer parental leaves are normalized. But here, where parental leave DOES have negative connotations and can have negative impacts on your career, the value of a leader in an organization taking that full benefit does set an important example and precedent.

        1. LaReesa*

          P.S. I also think men have this responsibility, and it’s an even bigger responsibility. You’re setting the tone for the lifetime of caring for your kid as well as setting an example at your workplace that ALL parents have important responsibilities and that leave and doctor’s appointments and conferences, etc., are not just womens work.

    3. amoeba*

      I think what’s also important is to make clear that in case you’re coming back early, it’s not because “longer absence would be bad for my career” type reasons. I think everybody would understand if somebody says “oh, I have good childcare available and would really rather keep my PTO for later in the year” or “would rather not go without pay”. I mean, obviously you don’t owe anybody an explanation but in this case I’d probably give one to make clear it’s not because you disapprove of people being out for longer, but a matter of personal preference/circumstances.

    4. Distracted Librarian*

      I was hoping to see this answer. Everyone has different needs for family care, and no one should feel obligated to put aside those needs to set an example for anyone. I cut my maternity leave short, because I learned very quickly that the isolation was terrible for my mental health, and I had excellent childcare (my mom). I’m sorry if that “set a bad example,” but my personal life is just that–personal–and my personal decisions should be about my needs and the needs of my family.

  5. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Do what’s best for yourself and your family. And have open, honest dialogue with your staff to make sure that they all understand that you fully support them all doing the same – and back this up with your actions. Best wishes to you.

  6. Wocka Wocka*

    Yes, do what is best for you and your family. But, don’t deplete your banked PTO, you’ll need some once you get back for appointments and the inevitable sick child which turns in to the inevitable sick parent.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        That plus daycares now tend to send your kid home to quarantine if they so much as get a sniffle, and shut the whole place down for a week at a time if someone actually gets COVID. You pretty much need either a reliable grandparent/babysitter or a stay/work-at-home parent with a flexible schedule if you want to put your kids in daycare right now :-/

        1. ferrina*

          It was common before Covid too- infants can run weird bugs, and diseases will run through a daycare a couple times a year (pink eye; hand foot and mouth; croup). And some parents will get sick more often too (from lack of sleep + whatever your kid brings home).

      2. Empress Matilda*

        My now-husband moved in with us when my daughter was 5 and my son was 2. We were largely immune to the Daycare Plague by then, and had pretty much forgotten about it. Then we couldn’t figure out why my husband started getting so many colds all the time – we can only assume he caught all the versions of the plague all at once!

        1. Ellis Bell*

          This happens to teachers when we change schools. There’s something about a new school’s eco system of germs that will totally clock you when you’re a newcomer, but eventually you get used to it.

    1. pope suburban*

      Yes, that would be my concern too. Although not maternity leave, I had to deplete my entire PTO reserve after surgery three years ago and never really got it back to where it was. Part of that is that I have to use PTO for federal holidays (My agency is not great in that respect), but part of it is just routine illnesses or emergencies. Leaving no buffer is a gamble, especially when you add a young child to the mix who will have doctor’s appointments and who, if in child care, will likely bring home quite a few colds/minor illnesses.

  7. christine crang*

    Canadian here. In the context of what parental leave looks like in most western developed countries 22 weeks is still so short! If you can afford to financially and feel your senior role will protect you from nasty sexist toxic perceptions that you “aren’t serious” about your career then I absolutely think you should take it. This advice is less about optics and more about what it’s actually like to have a little baby. Where I live, daycare for infants barely exists and the concept of a six month old baby *not* being home with a parent is almost unheard of (and yes, it’s moms more than dads here, though we are seeing some steps towards improving the gender balance on this). Leaving them when they’re tiny is so painful. I know it’s a pain that’s normalized in your country but don’t martyr yourself unnecessarily if you don’t have to!

    1. christine crang*

      Adding to this: does your spouse get paid leave? If so, see how much you can get him to take after you wrap up your leave! kiddo having time at home with both parents is great for bonding and ensuring more equal parenting in the long term.

      1. Anon for this one*

        Nothing in the letter implies the kid’s other parent is a man. There is zero reason for you to insert your assumptions about what families look like here.

        1. LJ*

          There’s exactly 1 instance of a pronoun in the above message, the rest of which can be applied regardless of the gender of the other parent. And for that matter, nothing implies there is another parent in the picture. But yet somehow the child was fathered, and in some/most cases there is a father in the life. Can we please assume good intent among the posters here?

        2. Heather*

          Nothing in the letter implies that there is an “other parent”. Yet you made that assumption anyway. Because that’s how discussing a scenario where we’re operating with minimal information usually works.

    2. ferrina*

      my experience was the exact opposite! I desperately wanted to work after 6 weeks of maternity leave. Since I live in the U.S. (where most parents don’t have a choice), my kid started in daycare at 6 weeks (pre-Covid) and I went back to work full time. It was something that was definitely right for both of us.

      moral being: every person and every family will need something different. Do what’s right for you.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I will add though that not every mom wants to take such a long break. I would have gone crazy if I had to take off 22 weeks straight. It isn’t sexist to point out that different women have different experiences.

      I also had an easy pregnancy and had no reason to take any leave until the day of my labor induction. Plenty of women have rough pregnancies and need time off at the end, but it feels unfair to then remove that from the time they have with the baby after the birth. Seems like it should be a separate type of medical leave.

      1. Double blankie*

        Slightly at a tangent, but in terms of your last comment at the moment there is a bill hopefully going through parliament (I’m in England) to treat neonatal leave (when early babies etc are in NICU) as totally separate from mat leave, so mat leave would start when babies come home from hospital. I totally agree with that – being a NICU parent/recovering on the postnatal ward is a very different experience to having a baby at home.
        For the OP – do whatever you want! I picked 9 months mat leave as it was the middle option for what is ‘normal’ where I’m from (mostly people pick 6, 9 or 12 months). I felt it was too short when I went back. But if you’d asked me before, I would have said that it would feel too long! So pick whichever you want, and also be assertive about changing your mind if you want halfway through! (wish I’d been more assertive instead of feeling like I had to return when I’d said).

        1. jojo*

          US has the Family Medical Act that would cover that. But it is unpaid. Some employers let people donate some paid leave days if one is having a family emergency, but thise are rare.

        2. Velociraptor Attack*

          I love that. We had the experience of having a child in the NICU and it definitely impacted our leave plans. I went back a little later than I originally intended and my husband, who had planned to take 3 weeks off at birth, ended up taking a week after our son was born to be with me and then took 3 weeks off once our son came home.

    4. HannahS*

      Whoa, you are way off-base. It may not exist in your bubble, but as your fellow Canadian I can assure you that there are families who do not receive 12 months of paid leave and are not able to stay off of work for even six months. Many, many infants younger than six months in this country are in the care of someone other than their parents, whether it’s a family member, public daycare, or private home daycare. Do you know how many people in this country live paycheck-to-paycheck? Do you imagine that an Amazon warehouse worker or someone working at Tim Hortons can take 12 months off work? Daycare for infants is a HUGE DEAL, which is why our federal government just introduced a national childcare program.

    5. Orsoneko*

      Long-time lurker here. For the first time, I feel compelled to comment because I really, really want to push back against this: “Leaving them when they’re tiny is so painful. I know it’s a pain that’s normalized in your country but don’t martyr yourself unnecessarily if you don’t have to!”

      Many women find it painful to be away from their infants all day. Many don’t. I had my first child in May and took the maximum 10 weeks of paid leave granted by my company. When I returned to work, it felt like people were constantly telling me how hard it must be to be away from my baby. But honestly, it wasn’t and isn’t. I love my son to death, and I definitely find myself missing him during the day, but also? I really enjoy getting a break, and I could/can not at all relate to the women (my own mother and sister included) who told me how much they cried when they had to leave their babies with someone else for the first time. (For my first 6 weeks back to work, my son was with my husband rather than in daycare, but I don’t think I would have felt differently if he had been in daycare from the jump.) Fortunately, I’d read enough accounts from women with experiences similar to my own that I could be reasonably confident my reaction was neither abnormal nor an indication that I was insufficiently bonded with my baby or somehow defective as a mother, but without that validation it would have been very easy to believe those things. This is very much a case of YMMV.

      (Apologies if I’ve strayed too far off-topic.)

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I definitely yearn for a world where parents could make the best choice for their family without judgment from others.

        My son was 2 when I went back to work. My husband only took 2 weeks paternity leave right after the birth, he didn’t take any of the parental leave. Now the law’s changed so that parental leave, assuming there are two parents, is split more equally between them, although there’s still a share that the parents can distribute between themselves as they wish. In the vast majority of cases, it’s the birthing parent who takes the leave that can be allocated freely. If it’s the other parent, in almost all cases that’s because the birthing parent has a higher salary and it makes financial sense for the family for the birthing parent to return to work sooner.

        I’m glad that in spite of not taking much leave, my husband’s always been a great dad, and because he has much more energy than I do, he’s always done at least his share of the chores… But in recent years most of my female coworkers have returned to work when their kid’s been about a year old, while the other parent has taken leave to be with the child, and several of my male coworkers have taken up to 6 months of parental leave. That said, with WFH it can be more difficult for both parents and kids to make the switch from one primary carer to another, than if the former primary carer leaves the house altogether.

        For some moms, leaving their baby in the care of someone else, even the baby’s other parent, is very difficult. For others it’s NBD. As soon as my husband went back to work, my MIL who had retired early started spending an hour or two with us almost every day, and pretty soon she was taking him out for walks because he loved napping in a moving baby carriage. I had absolutely zero qualms about leaving him in her care, even the first time. As a result they had, and still have, a very close relationship.

        My mom who was still working when our son was born, although she retired a couple years later, got a lot less alone time with him when he was a baby, although when he was a bit older, he slept over at my parents’ more often than at my MIL’s house. Starting when our son was about 18 months old, he’d spend the night at my parents’ house about once every 6 to 8 weeks, so that my husband and I could have date nights without worrying about him. I won’t go so far as to say that those saved our marriage, but they definitely helped us to reconnect as a couple rather than as the parents of a toddler. I realize that we’re very lucky to have such a supportive family, and to have a kid who adjusts to changes reasonably easily and has always been a contented child so that he’s a lot easier for someone who isn’t his parent to care for than a kid with a more challenging temperament would be.

  8. Eat My Squirrel*

    As I’m writing this, there are only 8 comments, and I am already angry about how many are “take all the leave, even if you don’t want to.” There is no better example OP could set than doing what is right for her and her family regardless of what society/others think.

    1. pcake*

      That’s what I was thinking. What if the OP wants to go back to work before all her leave it used? Maybe part time, working from home?

      She’s not only an example – she’s a person with her own needs and preferences. I think it would be best for her to do what’s right for her and her family.

    2. Heather*

      In a vacuum or in a perfect world, that would be true. In the real world where a lot of women have had to cut their leave short to be taken seriously, it’s not the case. We have rights and we should use them, and demonstrate to people that using them isn’t going to hold us back anymore.

      1. Stuff*

        Okay, but does that mean having to disregard your own desires and needs in order to do something that doesn’t work for you, merely because you have and should have a right to do that thing?

        1. Heather*

          I mean, yeah, personally I think it does. Not to imply that taking maternity leave is important advocacy work or anything…but I think the signal effect should be considered.

          1. Qwerty*

            The OP has the right to take as much *or as little* of her leave as she wants. She has the right to decide not to completely deplete her PTO bank and save some of those days for later. She has the right not to take a pay cut (in the form of unpaid leave) as a sacrifice for your idea of the greater good.

            Stop controlling women. Her body, her life, her choice. The OP gets to be an individual doing what is best for her and her family. It holds women back when they lose their individuality and are forced to be examples or ambassadors of woman-kind.

            1. pcake*

              Thanks for saying it so well.

              People keep talking about how women should have choices, but when certain things come up in conversation or real life, it seems like there are a lot of people with the very best of intentions who seem eager to take those choices away.

          2. Stuff*

            And that signal effect is more important than your own right to make decisions about your income and career? What about parents who decide never to take parental leave at all? Which, being a woman who can’t get pregnant, is a situation I could eventually end up in. Yes, I support European paid parental leave practices, but personally, I don’t know that I’d take any time off at all, maybe just a few days or so. My mental health completely collapses any time I take extended periods off work without something like intense travel to occupy me. Taking six months off of work would not at all be for me.

          3. Education Mike*

            This is a horrible attitude. Women should have to do things they don’t want to do so other women can see that they can do whatever they’d like? No thanks.

      2. snarkfox*

        Disagree; women need to learn to put themselves and their needs and desires first, like men have been doing for eons.

        1. pcake*

          But what if my need IS to work?

          The day after my mother passed away, I worked (I’ve been working from home since 1996, so I didn’t have to go anywhere). Everyone I knew – co-workers, friends and family – pushed hard to assure me I needed to take time off for myself. The thing is, I wasn’t ready to fully process this huge, sad thing that happened, and what I needed for myself was routine. It really helped steady me, and once I was ready a few weeks later, I took time to grieve.

          We all have our own needs and ways of dealing with things.

      3. Snow Globe*

        I tend to agree with this—part of being in a leadership position is often doing things for the good of the team you are leading, even of it’s not really what you’d normally choose. If there was a real problem with taking all of the allotted leave then you’d need to do what you need to for family, but if it’s just a preference, then making a choice to demonstrate commitment to work/life balance for the people you lead would be preferable.

      4. turquoisecow*

        Feminism and women’s rights are about women having choices. If women want to be stay at home parents or go back to work right after having a baby those are both valid choices that she should make regardless of setting an example for others. Otherwise we’re still just controlling women and forcing them to make choices for others.

        1. Eyes Kiwami*

          Feminism and women’s rights are about equal rights, not just about choosing whatever you want. You can make choices that are not feminist, they don’t become feminist just because a woman chose them.

    3. Ben*

      I suppose, although I think you have to interrogate *why* going back earlier than necessary is right for her and her family. Is it because there will be financial and career consequences to not doing so? If so, that’s not setting a good example so much as succumbing to precisely the same concerns that will keep other staff from using their benefits when they want to.

      You could also make this same pitch for leaders not using PTO, or working late nights and weekends, or avoiding any other number of work-life boundaries that most workers would like to see respected. Maybe that’s “best” for the individual person because she genuinely likes and cares about her work, but it also inevitably sets a tone about workplace culture and expectations. These are things a leader has to consider, in addition to what fits her own personal preferences.

      1. Me ... Just Me*

        Yeah, No. Leaders don’t have to construct their personal lives around “leading” on their maternity leave, sick leave, PTO, vacation or any other time off. The only “leading” they need to do in reference to this is to support their peers and subordinates in using their own leave as their needs dictate and to advocate for good company policies in this regard.

        Just like everyone else, they should not be pressured to structure their entire lives around work.

    4. It Might Be Me*

      Thank you.
      Because women need the pressure to be an example at all times for all other women. /s

      Do what is right for you and encourage others to do what is right for them. I can promote a healthy work-life balance while still answering emails at 1 am. Why? Because I’m not sleeping and would rather not go into the office an hour early to answer those same emails. I have absolutely told people not to be checking their work emails at night.

    5. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

      I do think family leave in the US is a very different issue because our (lack of) leave policies are so cruel and archaic. It’s an issue worth considering if you’re in a leadership position.

      There are always loud exceptions in the comments but most people would take significantly more time if they could. The 18 weeks in this question is the best we have and it’s so inadequate. Honestly for a first baby I think it is almost silly to be questioning this because you will end up wanting to take the full time, or needing to take as much as you can because infant care here is basically non-existent. (I like working, I worked until the day I went into labor with both kids, went back at 3 months and *nothing* has radicalized me like trying to be a working parent in the US.)

      I’d say plan and communicate that you will take the max leave. If you’re just itching to get back to work, you can always quietly go back early and say that’s how childcare shook out.

  9. I would prefer not to*

    Do what’s right for you.

    And make sure the company has good policies in place, which are inclusive, well-communicated, and backed up by the wider culture.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Yes OP, listen to yourself on this one! You can still help make sure others know their options and don’t feel pressure to choose a specific route, regardless of your own choice.

  10. sometimeswhy*

    Anecdata – My boss took parental leave early in the pandemic. She originally planned on coming back early since her spouse also had really good parental benefits but ultimately she took the whole available allotment (and so did her spouse!) and now it’s been wholly, wholly normalized. We work in a very hands-on, literally-must-be-here-to-do-it field that was real averse to it not that long ago.

    We were a massive boys club maybe 15 years ago, which I know first hand because I was one of the ceiling breakers. I didn’t even tell people I that HAD kids for several years after I started. Since then, multiple members of our leadership and team in non-leadership roles–men and women–have taken their full complements of parental leave, some all at once, some in clumps.

    I don’t think women (or men) HAVE to take the time off if they have other things that work better for their families but I’ve seen up close what the cascade looks like when they do and it’s beautiful.

  11. Asenath*

    Do what is best for your family. You don’t know whether other mothers would prefer to take all the maternity leave available for them, or perhaps make other arrangements. If you look at it as “setting an example”, you’re basically saying that all women should take the maximum available to them regardless, but women vary in their needs and priorities. I’m in Canada, where longer maternity leave is quite normal, but I know women who for various reasons have taken shorter leaves, which worked for them.

  12. ccb*

    As someone who just completed a mat leave…. I would suggest taking all of it. Not because of the optics for other people but because YOU need it. You are recovering from a physically traumatic experience (no matter how you birthed), a mentally challenging experience (hiiiii laboring is mentally exhausting), and you’re trying to get a new life routine in order and get to know this little human living with you now. You live in a state and work for a company that has more leave than MOST for a reason…take it. and in the future, please encourage your staff to do the same thing no matter their gender.

    1. ferrina*

      Physical and mental recovery will vary widely. And there’s no way to predict how much time you’ll need. It’s definitely good to build a safety net in case you need more time than you anticipate, but don’t pigeonhole yourself into taking more time than you want. It would not have been good for my mental health to be with my infant for 18 weeks- I desperately wanted to be back at work after a couple months. But I also know mothers who were planning on returning ASAP and ended up wanting the full time. It’s highly individual.

    2. snarkfox*

      For a lot of women, returning to “normal” and being more than “just a mom” is necessary in order to heal.

      1. Pam*


        Love being a mom, also more than a mom. My ex and his parents could never understand that- now that I have babies, isn’t that my only priority? /s Once that baby came out, that was my only value. Every conversation they had with me revolved around my value as a mother; they seemed confused that I had a career, hobbies, was interested in not being around my child every second of every day. Bless the people that were happy to talk with me about regular things. I was so happy to get to work and away from the people who only saw me as a mother.

        1. allathian*

          This. Even if I took long maternity leave, which is standard here, and embraced my identity as a mom, I was never “just a mom.” Sending my son to daycare and eventually returning to work was essential for us, both because we need two incomes to have the standard of living we want, and because I’m happier when all of my life isn’t centered around my kid.

          We also have good and cheap (hundreds rather than thousands of bucks per month even for high income brackets) municipal daycare, and once my son became a toddler, he needed the company of other kids for socialization. My husband and I are both fairly introverted, and our son’s also introverted. He needed the company of other kids in daycare at some point in early toddlerhood, otherwise the shock of going to preschool would’ve been too big. I firmly believe that most NT kids, and many ND kids, benefit from the company of other kids by age 3, regardless of whether they have siblings or not, but particularly if they don’t. Besides which, kids learn a lot in daycare, more than parents may think. My son learned to fold laundry by age 3, because they changed into pajamas for naptime.

      2. Double A*

        Okay but you’re not going to lose your non-mom identity in 18 weeks.

        Do what you want. But also maybe it’s a symptom of our workaholic culture that so many people seem so averse to spending a few months doing something besides paid work. (I got 3 months and 6 months leave my my two kids. I do not love the newborn period. I was still happy to be off work during that sleep deprived, topsy-turvy time.)

        1. allathian*

          I didn’t lose my non-mom identity in 28 months, although my work persona was in abeyance for a while there. And I seriously doubt I would’ve been able to perform to my normal standard at work for the first 6 months at least, and I’m very grateful that I didn’t have to try. I admit that I’m very glad we took a lot of photos of our son as a baby, because I don’t remember much of his first year.

          1. MeepMeep123*

            I had to come to work 1 month after giving birth (self-employment and an overly optimistic view of how much work I could do). I was so sleep-deprived that I made multiple serious mistakes at work that took me months to fix afterwards. My job requires attention to detail, and it really literally can’t be done if you’re so sleep-deprived you’re hallucinating. In retrospect, I should have taken at least 6 months off, and possibly an entire year. I didn’t start sleeping normally until the kid was 14 months old.

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah, to be honest, it looks quite unusual from the outside – most places in Europe would consider 18 weeks to be quite short. (And going crazy from not working for a few months is definitely not something that would be very common here… after half a year or a year, sure.)

  13. PinkCandyfloss*

    Honestly the fact that not all of it is paid leave is what will be the deciding factor for some if any on your team ever want to become parents.

    I have worked in dysfunctional organizations where they’d say, of course you took all the leave, because you’re in a higher role and you can afford it/have the privilege of being able to utilize the benefit fully where they simply can’t make it work, and they would resent you for doing it, not feel inspired.

    So ultimately I would choose what’s best for me and my family, not some artificial idea of “leading by example” when there are so many more complicated factors at play in how much leave any particular person takes for any reason. And work to support others individual needs if their time ever comes around to do the same.

  14. Caroline+Bowman*

    Take as much leave as you want to take, but don’t use up all of your PTO just yet, because if your baby goes to any form of daycare ever, and even if they don’t, you will be needing some of those banked days off for the inevitable emergencies (as will your partner, I don’t mean it should only be you, but having banked PTO for such eventualities is a very good idea, it will almost certainly be used!).

    Something that people sometimes do that might work for you is to, after you reach the end of your paid leave, go back 4 days a week, as in, take a day off on a specific day each week (or a non-specific day, depending) for X number of weeks. If it’s unpaid, it’ll reduce the cost burden and if it’s paid, great, and it will get you back to work with a bit of decompression in between completely away / completely on.

    If it’s possible, it might really work well – if your partner could also do a version of that for a month or two, so much the better.

  15. SJ (they/them)*

    IMHO, while this is 100% your decision, in my eyes taking all of your available paid leave makes sense and sets a good example. Taking unpaid leave / using banked time / etc seems like more of a personal judgment call and it’s not necessarily a “good example” one way or the other at that point. If that makes sense!

    1. Overeducated*

      Agreed. I’m also not sure it sends that much of a different message to take 16 weeks vs 22; what matters is that you’re taking enough of it to show that you’re using the benefit.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I can’t imagine anyone else paying enough attention to notice exactly how many weeks someone took. 16 weeks is about four months. 22 weeks is also about four months.

  16. Qwerty*

    Do what is best for you and your family. If you want/need to take all the time, then take it for you! But if you don’t want to, I don’t see how its beneficial to take a pay cut or lose all your PTO days as your way of sending a message to women.

    The best messaging you can do is phrase your leave as situational and normal, regardless of the length. I’m also a fan of saying “I’m planning to do X”, because circumstances change. A short leave could run into complications and turn into a full leave. Or if someone plans on needing the full leave they could theoretically want/need to come back sooner.

  17. Emily*

    I don’t think anyone is exactly obligated to set an example here, but it’s also true that your behavior when you’re in a leadership position is much more powerful relative to anything you can say. It’s rare that someone is going to flat-out tell you “you’ll be punished if you take leave”, even if you will. Because of that, the behavior of people who are senior enough to know what the actual deal is at the company are a much better guide than any assurances they give you about how you should totally feel free to take your leave.

    That said, if taking the leave you are legally entitled to *will* set back your career, that’s actually important information for women to have. If that’s the case, I don’t think you should feel pressure to encourage them to take more leave, either with your behavior or your words, unless you’re in a position where you can protect them from that.

    1. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

      Agreed! I don’t disagree with Alison all that much, but I do slightly disagree with her advice here. Let’s be honest, if someone says that leave is important, but doesn’t actually take it, the message is that leave is not encouraged to be taken.

  18. Quinalla*

    I think as a leader you do have to consider the optics of these things. I do think it is not good optics for say a leader to take a day or two of parental leave and then be back full speed ahead at the office immediately, especially if they are scoffing at anyone who would need all that leave time. This applies for men & women & NB, etc., but I agree with Alison that this comes up as a question/guilt/etc. a lot more for women leaders than men.

    However, you shouldn’t take the max leave just because either, especially since some of it you would have to use your PTO or go unpaid. I would try to take the max paid leave, but even then as long as you explain briefly why you are doing what you are doing for you and your family – not to justify your decision, but just so people don’t make up their own story about well she only took 12 weeks so I guess I can’t take more than that – and that here are the options for parental leave and all employees are encouraged to take as much as makes sense for them and their families.

    And I would also encourage you to work to make your leave policies even better as that sends a message that you care about this even when it may not affect you personally again. Definitely do NOT do what some leaders have done and roll back to crappy parental leave policies once you get yours. I know this shouldn’t have to be said, but it has happened, multiple times and even with people claiming to care about women/parents/families :(

  19. NewJobNewGal*

    Please use all the paid leave. After that, it’s everyone’s personal decision.
    Our HR Director came back to the office the day after she had her baby. (!!!) She absolutely set the example for every other woman in the office.

    1. Ampersand*

      I’m trying to imagine doing anything the day after having a baby….nope. The day after having a baby I was still confined to a hospital bed. Two days after that I was home.

      This is such a personal decision—no one thing works for everyone. But I still feel strongly that no one should be back at work the day after birthing a child!

      1. Esmeralda*

        If they’re able to, why not? If they WANT to, why not?

        Which do you believe—people should decide what’s best for themselves? Or women shouldn’t be allowed to come back to work right after giving birth?

        Women get to choose? Or they don’t get to choose? Which is it?

        1. BubbleTea*

          It’s actually legally mandated to take two weeks here (except for factory workers, who must take four) because giving birth is such a physically demanding and damaging thing to do. I’d be concerned about someone’s ability to work safely the day after. I had a very straightforward and short natural birth and I still couldn’t safely be left unattended to shower for the first three days (my mum managed to catch me before I passed out and hit my head).

        2. bamcheeks*

          Not sure I think “coming back to work the day after a major event” is actually a individual decision, whether it’s a birth, an injury, planned surgery, a bereavement, a disaster or whatever. Your work also has an impact on others, and it’s actually very legitimate for a workplace to say there are certain circumstances where you aren’t allowed to work. The job doesn’t exist to give you something to do!

        3. amoeba*

          Directly after birth, the body needs rest though. If you take on too much too quickly, it can really wreak havoc on your pelvic floor (even if you feel OK, and you might not notice until later in life…)

          In Germany, it’s illegal for birthing parents to work in the 8 weeks postpartum for exactly that reason. The first 40 days are called “Wochenbett” and are there for physical recovery – and as far as I know it’s strongly recommended to spend at least the first week or two actually resting (mostly in bed).

          So, yeah, at least for people who have given birth, there are valid medical reasons to not come back to the office the day after giving birth – and while, of course, one can chose to ignore that, I would not simply call it a matter of choice/preference.

  20. working parent*

    I 100% support doing what is right for you and your family, and only you know what that is. It may be worth looking into if there are options beyond taking it all or going back full-time earlier than required – I know with my first I was able to spread out my parental leave time so that I was fully off for the first 10 weeks postpartum and then worked part time for the next month.

    I also know someone else who took the first month complete off and then spread out the rest of their leave time throughout the whole year so they had a couple days off each week. Between that and working a hybrid schedule, they were able to come to the office only once a week for many months and better balance care responsibilities with their spouse for the first year.

    So there might be more options than you think! Either way, it comes down to doing what is right for you and your family and making it clear to any staff who take leave after you that you support whatever their choice might be as well.

  21. Purple Cat*

    Absolutely do what’s best for you and your family, but make sure you think about WHY you think you don’t want to take the entire time available and possibly – what less than ideal messages are you internalizing?
    You don’t say that taking time off unpaid is the issue….
    The more woman can normalize that taking full leave is a good thing and not something to fear, the better for society. (and yes, I was ABSOLUTELY dying to get back to the office when my leave was up).

  22. higheredadmin*

    I had both of my babies in the UK, where I got six months at full pay, another three months of statutory pay, and then I could have (if I wanted to) used up my time off for the year (that I was accruing while I was on leave) to make it to just over a year off, all of it with some sort of pay. As other commenters have noted, when you live somewhere with longer maternity leaves there isn’t a daycare option readily available for small babies because it is assumed a parent will be home. But on the plus side, these longer leaves means that you can hire in to cover roles on short-term contracts. I just think this is a hard thing to plan, as you have no idea what your birth and baby are going to be like until you go through it and see what you get.

    Also, props to the commenters above re: keeping all of your PTO. Not only are the kids constantly sick from daycare, but I caught everything as well. I was able to have a graduated return to work, so I was part-time for six months. A senior person in my office gave me the advice to apply for it, and it was possibly the best career advice I ever received. All of the sick kid stuff was covered by my part-time schedule, so it didn’t look like I was “slacking” upon my return. Working with your employer on a hybrid-type option is a smart move and something to explore. That might be more beneficial for staff who want to keep their PTO, and who can’t afford unpaid time.

    Also – agree how you are going to deal with taking time off with sick kids with your partner before you get into the mess of actually dealing with it. Review your benefits and make a plan. (We alternate sick kids days.)

  23. Massive Dynamic*

    Take all the paid leave you want, even if it’s not the full amount offered. And yes, leave a good chunk of PTO in the bank because you will be home with a sick baby many times, and at the doctor many times, because things like a low fever are Big Deals with small infants and warrant a doc visit, where with an older kid it’s fine to let them ride it out at home.

    You will have far too many opportunities to model for your staff what temporarily dropping work responsibilities to tend to a sick kid looks like, in the next few years and beyond. Don’t stress too much about not setting an example about taking all of your mat leave if that’s not what you want to do.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    Do you have to decide right now? Can you take 12-14 weeks or whatever and then see how you’re feeling about it then?

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, this is absolutely my position. The best thing you can ask for and model is flexibility! You have no idea how birth and having a small baby will impact you physically, mentally, financially, sleep-deprivally, how easy it will be to find childcare and how your child will adapt to it — I’ve known people who wanted (or needed) to go back to work earlier than planned and people who decided it was absolutely worth taking a £8000 hit for six more weeks with their baby. It’s honestly the most impossible thing to predict!

  25. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    —Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men?—

    This isn’t even kind of true. Men are taught from a young age how they’re supposed to act so that they’re a “real man”. What colors they can or cannot wear, emotions they can show, expectations of household obligations, and so on.

    It’s damaging to the concept of equitability to not recognize why we got to the point we did.

    1. ferrina*

      That’s very true, but I don’t think Alison is trying to say that men don’t face their own form sexism. Men definitely are pommeled with sexist expectations of “manliness”.

      Alison was referring specifically to the “do it for the WOMEN” attitude, where one woman is expected to act on behalf of all women. This is different from other shades of sexism- this one has a weird advocacy implication to it. Like if you as a WOMAN don’t do this thing, no woman will ever be able to do it again.

      I don’t know of a male equivalent- I guess if someone told you that you had to play football (even if you hate football), so all men would feel comfortable playing football. Sometimes a man will be told to act a certain way as a role model to young men/boys, but I haven’t seen a man being told that he needs to act a certain way so he can be an token example/advocate for All Men. Please let me know if I’m missing something though!

        1. ferrina*

          Toxic masculinity takes a different approach than what Alison is calling out. It’s focused on breaking down the individual rather than advocating for a group.

          Toxic masculinity is centered on asserting that your identity as a “man” is predicated on certain thought processes or behaviors- like the “real man” toxic trope. The implicit/explicit threat is that if you don’t conform to certain stereotypes/expectations, part of your identity is null and void (which is a key part of the toxicity- being told your identity isn’t real is a form of psychological abuse). Toxic masculinity will claim that the “manly” behaviors are inherent and inevitable (rather than choices), hence the “boys will be boys” excuse. That also serves as an attack against any masculine identity that doesn’t conform to the toxic masculinity definition- the toxic logic being that if you don’t conform to the “inherent” toxic behavior, you are therefor less of a “man”. (Obviously all of this is toxic and false narrative).

          What Alison is calling out is a different approach. In this approach, it’s not an attack on individual identity, but rather an implicit “responsibility” to base your actions to advocate for a particular group (this is a key difference- there is generally no element of advocacy in toxic masculinity). In the “inherent advocacy” logic, the thought process goes that because you belong to a marginalized group, you must prioritize advocating for that group above your personal needs. This required advocacy can be frustrating and draining.
          That’s why I couldn’t think of a male equivalent- women are generally conditioned to look out for the needs of the group and punished for self-advocacy (while being encouraged/obligated to group advocacy), while there is no similar penalty for men who self-advocate and no obligation to prioritize the “betterment of all men”.
          There is occasional examples of men who were encouraged or pressured to make a decision to encourage all men (there’s a couple example in these comments), but those are far, far fewer than the occurrences among women.

      1. Eyes Kiwami*

        Men nowadays are often told to take all their paternity leave (or punished for taking it) as an example for All Men, depending on whether the company wants to encourage men taking leave or make sure they get back to work.

        It’s the exact same issue, I don’t know why we think women are unique in being policed on this.

  26. Gen*

    My husband took full amount of paternity leave so as to set a good example to the other fathers in his company so that they would also take their full leave. Its actually had an impact with parenthood being celebrated (with every baby on the team getting a special stuffy) and being supported so that it is just the normal thing to do.

  27. What She Said*

    I would do what is best for you. Keep in mind when babies first go to a daycare they will bring home every germ they are exposed to for the first couple of years. So save of your banked PTO for that. I have had bosses who alternated leaves with their spouse so the baby was always with a parent just not both at the same time during the first year (exception being the first few weeks). Just something to think about.

    1. HannahS*

      Living this right now. I’m Canadian; my husband and I split our leave. I took 7.5 months which included banked PTO, and he took 4.5 months (baby arrived quite late and entered daycare at 10.5 months old.) I have been sick continuously since she started daycare–I have missed 14 days of work in the last 6 weeks! 10 days were my own illness, 4 were due to her being sick, plus probably 3 more days of picking her up early due to her illness.

  28. A.B.*

    First time I made this account. I agree with the sentiment, that people should do as they want. But representation and actions matter. I live in a country with paid paternity leave, quit generous compared to the US. I recognize the many advantages we have and compared to the US, the US spends a lot on military and developing new methods for treating people for cancer etc. that my country benefits from. But not parental leave. Not my point here.

    To me it means something that men take leave. I work for a company where a man five years ago was the first man to take more than two weeks of leave. One of my closest managers, a man, will go on a three months paternity leave soon. I think he will be the first person, a man, in a leadership position, who goes on leave. It also meant something, when a woman, not in her fifties, but a woman in her fourties with kids aged 11-15 was hired as a director level. I actually tell my colleagues who are men who takes leave, that it means something. I know its not… goood… to compliment fathers for doing that, when mothers already does a lot of work. But it does make a difference for me, that I have a sense that it is me as a parent, not a woman, who has child responsibilites.

    For the letter writer. You should consider what is best for you and your family. I know women who are happy with all the leave they can get, and others who really enjoys their work. My own experience is that when both parents have a time at home with the child, they both have a stronger bond with the child, and child care and house work is split more evenly after going back to work.

  29. Spicy Tuna*

    A manager at work years ago took 2 weeks maternity leave. She did it because her MIL moved in and completely took over the point where my co-worker couldn’t feed or touch the baby herself, so she gave up and returned to work.

    After that, our boss reminded every pregnant woman that “A” only took two weeks.

    Setting an example, either way, is impactful.

  30. JHC*

    “Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men?”

    I’m a not-very-observant Jew. I always take off on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, whether or not I’m planning to go to services, in order to contribute to an environment where religiously observant Jews can do so (and adherents of other minority religions on their holidays). Doubly so now that I’m a boss. I’m not aware of any Christian bothering with such concerns.

  31. Jasmine Clark*

    Do what YOU want to do. Making decisions based on what other people will think and do and putting aside your own desires is no way to live life. If other women under you feel pressured to do something a certain way just because you did it that way, honestly that’s their fault — they are adults and can make their own decisions. Even though you’re the leader, the other women should still find the courage to speak up if they have any concerns or feel any pressure about their own maternity leave.

  32. Katie*

    I will never not be horrified by the anguish maternity leave in the US causes women. From a non US perspective, 22 weeks is normal to borderline a little short for maternity leave. Six months to over a year is far more the norm globally and from a wider perspective I hope more people find themselves in your situation OP and take the full tranche of leave available, as the more people take it, the more standard it becomes.

    But I digress and that doesn’t answer your question. I will echo what many posters here are saying. While this obviously fits into wider societal expectations and pressures from your workplace, the right answer to this question is what is right for you and your family. Not your job, not your coworkers, not anyone else. If you would like all the leave, take it and love it. If you can afford all the leave then take it, it’s a blessing. If you can’t afford it and would rather go back, then go back and be proud you’re providing for your family. If you would rather go back because it turns out you hate being at home, then go back and congratulate yourself for having a career that you can’t wait to return to. The other considerations are all just window dressing.

  33. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    yes! first-time mothers have no idea what’s going to hit them – however much parents tell them, they just can’t grasp the sheer scale of what their bodies and souls go through during childbirth and in the early days of motherhood. We’ve already seen women here planning on just a few weeks, and commenters tell them to plan for more, and they get defensive and then in the update they admit that the commenters were right.

  34. Luna*

    I dislike the idea of having or planning on doing something to ‘set an example’ for other people. Do what you consider is best for your situation, let others pick what is best for their situation.

    Some women love taking every ounce of maternity leave or PTO off they can post-birth. Reasons could be ranging from wanting to be there with the new baby or just needing a long-as-possible break from work. Other women take any ‘mandatory’ amount of leave, but then want to return to work. Again, reasons could range from them simply preferring to be working or having adequate childcare options.
    Both is totally okay!

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I freaking hate that we’re still doing this in 2022.

      And I hate that its a consideration that unfortunately, needs to be made.

      Ideally? Yes. You have to do what is best for you and your family. But man…I’ve even seen it play out with illnesses in the office. “So and so continued to WFH even when they were undergoing chemo, why do YOU need time off because your SPOUSE has chemo?” (That department is so gosh-darned dysfunctional and the manager got his hands slapped for that one. Rightly so.)

  35. 30ish*

    I would say that if you are in a leadership position you should at least consider the potential impact of your work life balance decisions on people who work under you. It applies to parental leave, but also to taking vacations, working overtime etc. I am an academic who insists on having work life balance. This is difficult because the culture has such a strong tendency to workaholism. But I am at least a professor so it is way easier for me than for a PhD student. If I did not take vacation, what would that communicate to them? Having an awareness of that just comes with leadership. However, wrt parental leave there is definitely a range. People know that preferences vary. I don‘t see why taking unpaid leave would necessarily set a positive example, for instance. Simply taking whatever is paid seems fine.
    I went back part time at 16 weeks, which was alright. Before that, it would have been difficult, much later and I might have gone a bit stir crazy.

  36. jojo*

    Leave a couple of weeks on the books. This is for in case your infant gets sick. Kids in daycare settings get sick more than kids that stay home. Plus you will need time off to take child to well baby appointments. Don’t know how it is in your area, but my daycare has always been closed on Good Friday while the rest of area has had to work. So you need to have some sick time on the books for your child’s needs, not just yours.

  37. aebhel*

    Yeah, I took very short parental leaves with both kids, which was partly financially motivated but largely because I was just… ready to come back to work, and had the support structure at home to make that happen. I think it’s way more important in these cases to make sure that people realize they can take full advantage of the leave policy without repercussions

  38. Betsy S*

    I’ve said this before – it is best to not make very firm plans before birth.
    It can be hard to realize that there are many things that you just cannot predict or control.

    Your health, the baby’s health, your energy level, how much sleep you will get, your own feelings of wanting to be with the baby and wanting to return to work – it will all look very different. When you have the option, give yourself room to make some decisions later.

    (I wish more places were more supportive of part-time hours. I worked for a public university and was able to use accumulated PTO to return to work part-time, and it was such a win-win, but that is so rare)

  39. Magenta*

    In the UK we are legally allowed to take up to a year, although not all of it is paid we can get government maternity pay for up to 9 months. We also accrue holiday and time off in lieu for bank holidays during that year which is often used to extend the leave by a few more months. It is assumed that you will take a year, but if you want to go back earlier you just need to give a month’s notice.
    I am very lucky in that my company pays our full pay for 6 months, I originally planned to come back to work after that, but I couldn’t bring myself to. So I planned to go back after the maternity benefit ran out, but again I wasn’t quite ready. I took the whole year and am using the accrued leave to ease myself back in part time.
    I probably could have gone back a couple of months ago, I was ready to when my baby was 10 months old, but I am so glad I could take the time with her.
    Obviously everyone is different, but I don’t think you will look back and think “I wish I had spent more time at work and less time with my baby”.

  40. CLC*

    Yes I think it’s important for women in leadership roles to take their full parental leave. It’s more important for men in leadership roles to take their full parental leave.

  41. Elio*

    Do what you feel like. If it was all paid leave I would say go for it. But if some of it isn’t paid, I’d say take it if you want or need it because you want or need it. Don’t take unpaid time off to “set an example” for other employees. That’s dumb and it’s really unlikely that anyone cares what you do. And if they did, it isn’t their business.

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