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Life lessons on the benefits of parental leave

September 20, 2023
Chris Porter
Chris Porter

Chief Information Security Officer, Fannie Mae

When my wife gave birth to our son Henry, I had the great opportunity to take advantage of Fannie Mae's paid parental leave benefit. I am grateful for the experience, and even more so since I did not have the same opportunity for my first two sons, Thomas and William.

Before I get too far along, a few statistics about paid parental leave and how it relates to fathers:

  1. Only 25% of all workers in the US have access to paid family leave through their employer.
  2. One study showed that only 13% of private sector workers are employed at worksites that offered paid paternity leave for male employees.
  3. 1 in 20 fathers took more than two weeks off — and 3 out of 4 took one week or less!

When you look at how few companies offer paid parental leave, you realize what a tremendous benefit it is! However, you have to take advantage of it. For fathers, a stigma still exists when it comes to taking parental leave to bond and support your family. Many men believe they will experience some sort of negative consequence at work that will inhibit their career. I'm here to vehemently debunk that myth. If I can do this as the Chief Information Security Officer at Fannie Mae, you can, too.

While the first couple of weeks were hard for me and my wife, I found it very difficult to let go and let my teammates take the reins. What made it work was the tremendous support I received from leadership, my peers, and my teams.

What cinched it for me was a note from one of my peers on the COO/Technology leadership team. I guess I had been responding to one too many emails, and he essentially said, “Your team has been solid. Enjoy this time with your family. I will text if the house is on fire." That was the nudge I needed to stop focusing on work, and give my full attention to my family.

During parental leave, I bonded with my new son and spent more quality time with my two older sons than I had in the last several years. To be honest, that's a little sad to say, but it's the truth. And because my leave coincided with the global pandemic, we were able to spend A LOT OF TIME together. We were watching movies, playing video games, learning ABCs and numbers, and I even taught my middle son to swim. And there’s nothing better than a newborn who sleeps well, rarely cries, and loves to be held. These are tremendous memories that I will cherish forever.

And for those new parents out there, especially new fathers, here is my advice: Take the leave. Use this benefit. You will not regret it. Trust me, the work will still be here when you get back. Family is the most important thing in the world. We know that now more than anything.

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