In Hebrew, Shira means “poetry” and “song.” But to me, Shira is a symbol of everything I believe in. That’s the name my wife, Sara, and I picked for our first daughter, who is due right after Father’s Day. As the day gets closer, our blurry sonograms are coming into focus — and so too are the things we care about.
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Because of my daughter, I’m taking two months off from Gusto to go on paternity leave.
Becoming a parent is a celebration. All of a sudden you and your partner take on this incredible responsibility over someone’s life, and that experience changes your family forever. However, sometimes the sheer beauty of it all can get buried. We live in the only developed country where parents aren’t guaranteed to stay on payroll when they have a child. Fathers are commonly left out of the picture altogether. Only 12 percent of private companies give new dads paid leave, and 70 percent of fathers who took it were gone for fewer than ten days.
I believe this is wrong and unfair. New parents — both mothers and fathers — should have the flexibility to take time to enjoy and adjust to their growing families. They should feel confident and completely fearless.
So at Gusto, we decided to do something about it. We now offer a “bundle of joy” benefits package for new parents, which includes 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, eight weeks of paid paternity leave, plus extras like diapers, food delivery, house cleaning and sleep coaching during the time away.
While not every company takes this approach, there are still many things people can do. Here’s how everyone can inspire more meaningful leave options for all the amazing new parents out there.
Work and life: The remix
My favorite dessert is a bowl of coffee and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Sometimes all I want is the soothing mint, sometimes that zap of coffee, and other times, I just want to swirl it all together. This is also how I think about the relationship between work and life — it has to be mixed.
My philosophy is that we should try to enjoy all special moments, in life and work, right as they happen. Whisking together these different parts allows us to appreciate every second. If there’s a chance to spend time with my family, I’ll grab it. If there’s an opportunity to jump into a meaningful project at work and devote nights and weekends to it, I’ll do that with just as much passion. Everything can connect.
That’s why when something significant happens, like a birth, we need to make sure that we use it as a chance to truly commit to its magnitude. We need to enable mothers and fathers to bond with their newborns without feeling sorry about it. This is something everyone can do, but we need to talk about it to encourage more people to really do it. And progress is happening. Every time a company offers leave and a person takes it, we all become a little more accepting of the separate spheres that make up a whole life.
Lead by example
One of the biggest reasons I’m going on paternity leave is to signal to my team that this is normal, expected behavior. It shouldn’t make you feel guilty, or as if you’re not as committed to your work. Once people see that I’m out for two months, I hope they feel comfortable doing the same if they choose to. This is also how I act when I go on vacation. Inside every email, meeting, and Slack message, I not-so-subtly announce my plans because I want people to cozy up to the idea that time off is healthy.
Research has shown that my brazen tactic is actually effective. When men see other men going on leave, also known as the peer effect, it raises the chances that they’ll do it too.
I believe people are born with an innate desire to do good things. So when you see someone else doing something good, like spending time with their child, it just kind of feeds into your goodness. And hopefully, it also pushes you to do the same.
As the future parent of a girl, I care a lot about equality. I grew up in a place where it wasn’t just cool to talk about, it was rooted in our identity. This is also why I think creating equal opportunities for parents is so elemental for us as a society.
In 1969, Golda Meir became the first female Prime Minister of Israel — the third woman in the world to ever assume the position. That egalitarian spirit lives on today, especially when it comes to parental leave. Israeli parents get a minimum of 14 weeks off for leave, which the couple shares. It doesn’t seesaw because of someone’s gender or whether they actually carried the child. When a company hires an employee, they expect the same work ethic, and the same leave, regardless of that person’s gender. As a result, mothers and fathers are more likely to reach their potential since they’re the ones who define the entire experience.
This can happen everywhere — if we allow it.
My dream is for parental leave to turn into a decision that’s made together by both parents. I deeply admire mothers and the sacrifices they make, along with the partners that support them through it all. I try to thank Sara every day for giving so much to our future daughter. She’s already an amazing mom.
One day, my daughter will read this. And when that day comes (love you, Shira!), I’m confident that things will be better. I want my daughter to live in a world where me taking two months of paternity leave isn’t a big deal. I want her to live in a world where she can freely find the things that move her, even if those things are new and different. If my wife and I do our job correctly, Shira will also find that world within herself — one that we helped build, but at its core, is all her own.
This story was originally published in The Huffington Post.