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Life lessons on the benefits of parental leave

September 16, 2020
Jodi Horne
Chris Porter

Chief Information Security Officer, Fannie Mae

This past July, my wife gave birth to our third son, Henry. I had the great opportunity to take advantage of one of Fannie Mae's updated benefits, Paid Parental Leave, and I wanted to share my experience.

With my other sons, Thomas and William, I did not have the opportunity to reap the benefits of paternity leave or parental leave, and am grateful to have had the chance to do so with my third son. Before I get too far along, I think it would be important to cover a few statistics about paid parental leave, and in particular, how it relates to fathers.

  1. Only 19% of all workers in the US have access to paid family leave through their employer.
  2. Often these policies aren't equitable even within a company. One study showed that only 9% 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 a staggering 3 out of 4 took one week or less!

When you look at the statistics and how few companies offer paid parental leave as a benefit, you realize just what a tremendous benefit it is! However, you have to take advantage of it. Regarding parental leave for a father, there still exists a stigma when it comes to taking time off to bond and support your family. Many men believe that if they take advantage of this benefit, 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, you can, too.

My parental leave didn't go according to my “birth plan." I had planned to take four weeks off, then spread out the remaining two weeks over the course of the next several months. My son had a different plan. He decided to come a couple weeks early! When that happened, due to the timing of school starting, it made sense to take the whole time at once.

What made it work was the tremendous support I received from Kimberly Johnson, my peers in our Chief Operating Office, and my Information Security and Integrated Risk Management teams. The first couple of weeks were hard for me (this is all relative, I know, because it was much harder for my wife!). In all seriousness, I found it very difficult for the first couple of weeks to let go and let my peers and team take the reins.

What cinched it for me was a note from one of my peers, Ramon Richards. I guess I had been responding to one too many emails, and I received a note from Ramon that essentially said, “Your team has been solid. Enjoy this time with your family. I will text if the house is on fire." This was the nudge I needed to stop focusing on work, and to turn my focus to spending time with my family and bonding with my new son.

Over the last six weeks, I believe I've spent more quality time with my two oldest sons than I have in the last several years. To be honest, that's a little sad to say, but it's the truth. And because of the global pandemic, we have been able to spend A LOT OF TIME together. We've been watching movies, playing video games, learning ABCs and numbers, and I've even taught my middle son to swim at a neighbor's pool. These will become tremendous memories that I will cherish forever. And getting time to bond with my new son, who is by far the best sleeper of any of our kids, has been great. There's nothing better than a newborn who rarely cries, likes to sleep, and be held.

Thank you, Fannie Mae, for this benefit but also valuing flexibility during such a challenging time. I've had a phenomenal experience and am grateful to be a part of an organization that made it possible.

And for those new parents out there, especially you new fathers, here is my advice: Take this 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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