- At my previous job in teaching, I was offered three days of paid parental leave.
- When I found out, my wife and I delayed our plans so I could also be off during the summer.
- Eventually, I quit my job and became a full-time stay-at-home dad.
As a dad, I received three days of paid paternity leave. At the time, I was teaching high-school theater in one of the largest and most affluent public high-school systems in the US. Teaching was the career I'd worked hard for, through an expensive master's-degree program and years of student and substitute teaching, and it seemed a solid middle-class choice.
When I asked about paid time off, I was shocked to hear it was only three days.
I was welcome to take more time, unpaid, but I was told that I shouldn't count on returning to my job. They'd find another position or another school for me. The award-winning theater program I was heading would go to someone else. And the worst part is, three days is more than many Americans receive.
My wife and I changed our plans to start a family
Once my wife, Rachel, and I learned that I'd get only three days of paid leave, we changed our plans. We delayed starting a family until the summer, and I took a summer off work. I'm grateful I asked when I did and can't imagine what would've happened if we hadn't. After all, those three days included hospital time, and we were in the hospital for two days.
But the taste of those threats lingered. That summer was one of intense bonding and nonstop exhaustion. When I returned to work, with no time off available, I resumed 12-hour days while leaving our son at a daycare we hated.
I muddled through rehearsals in a blur, suffering panic attacks during each school day. Soon, I made the choice to stay at home permanently and leave teaching entirely.
I was stunned when my school told me about those three days. But the amount of guaranteed paid leave in the US is none. We're the only major country with no mandated paid leave at all. No paid time for newborns. And no time to care for sick relatives or dying parents.
In fact, we already knew that pain all too well. While Rachel and I were dating, her mother had terminal cancer and needed end-of-life care. We spent two weeks taking care of her, trading off with other family members, before she died.
I remember watching Rachel work remotely beside her mother's deathbed, struggling to log time with her job because she couldn't take time off to care for her dying mother.
My wife changed jobs
Rachel eventually went to work for the organization Family Values @ Work, a national network of grassroots organizations fighting for paid family and medical leave.
I was proud to be at Rachel's side, holding our second child, when Delaware Governor John Carney signed a state paid-leave program into law. The governor paused before the press and crowd and said most people would probably rather watch my daughter, who was dancing and smiling, than listen to him give a speech.
And in that moment, I was grateful that my wife's job gave her generous maternity leave. I was glad that I was a stay-at-home parent and could bond with my daughter without worrying about paid time off.
But what about all the others who don't have that option?
In the broader picture, three days is a single heartbeat. It isn't enough. And it's more than many are given.
Christopher Mannino is a stay-at-home dad, author, and freelance writer. He writes fantasy books for children and adults. He lives in Delaware.