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What to consider before taking extended maternity or paternity leave

 
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When you’re expecting, you’re faced with a lot of decisions. From baby names and nursery furniture to daycare centers and college funds, the choices you’ll be making will all have an impact on your baby’s life.

Some choices, however, will also have a significant impact on your own life. And one of those choices is whether to take extended maternity or paternity leave.

Parental leave in the U.S.: The facts

The United States is one of four countries in the world where paid maternity leave isn’t a legal requirement. Employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave if their employer has 50 or more employees and if they’ve worked a minimum of 12 months and 1,250 hours in the year leading up to the leave.

Though the federal government has yet to create legislation guaranteeing paid leave even for women, as Kim Lachance Shandrow reports in her Entrepreneur article “10 U.S. Companies with Radically Awesome Parental Leave Policies,” a growing number of leading employers, including Google, Adobe, Netflix, and Twitter provide generous paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.

The pros and cons of extended parental leave

With increasingly more Millennials starting families and wanting to spend time with them, more and more companies are offering some form of extended parental leave—albeit not as generous as the ones mentioned above. In some cases they offer a percentage of an employee’s salary; in others, unpaid leave. But is taking extended maternity or paternity the smart thing to do? Keep the following considerations in mind.

Extended leave most definitely has a number of advantages. If you’re the biological mother, you’ll have more time to recover after giving birth. You’ll also enjoy more time to get used to nursing and even transition your baby to formula. For any parent, the opportunity to spend more time with your new baby, your partner, and any other children you have is valuable bonding time. It also allows you to get through those potentially difficult first months (when you don’t get more than two hours sleep at a stretch) without compromising your ability to focus at work. Finally, it will make it easier to establish a streamlined routine for when you return to work.

There are, of course, disadvantages. The first and most pressing for many people is loss of income. Whether you’re getting a percentage of your salary or no income at all, you’ll have to prepare for having less disposable cash while gaining the responsibility for another life—along with baby supplies, doctors’ bills, and other expenses. The second disadvantage is the interruption of your career. You run the risk of not being available for projects that could help you advance—and you’ll probably have to fight harder to get them when you return to work. Loss of visibility is a similar but even more serious issue. If you’re simply not on your manager’s radar for a couple of months, then you can expect some serious competition when you’re back in the office.

A win-win solution

If you want to take extended leave but don’t want to worry about loss of income or compromising your career, you can suggest a win-win solution to your supervisor. Instead of taking leave, ask if you can work a reduced number of hours and/or telecommute for a few months. In addition, keep an eye out for projects you can work on remotely. There may even be a high-profile project you’re equipped to do solo from home. Chances are, your supervisor will be happy to work with you to find a solution, since it prevents him or her from losing a good employee and having to recruit a replacement.

Taking extended parental leave can be a valuable life experience. Start preparing well ahead of time so you keep your income and your career secure.


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