More fathers taking family medical leave

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FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — When Iain Moyer's daughter, Sophia, came into this world, he did something more and more men are starting to do — he took paternity leave.

After the 12 weeks his wife Nicole took from her job, Moyer took a month off from his job as assistant band director at the University of North Alabama to care for his child.

"It was priceless, because it was bonding time that you can't get back and you can't make up for," Moyer said.

He said they staggered their off time to extend the time before they put their daughter into day care.

Moyer and his wife both applied for off-time, which Moyer said was unpaid, through the Family Medical Leave Act.

The act allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid off time for the birth of a child, said Brenda Bryant, administrator with the Lauderdale County Commission. The act also allows for up to 12 weeks of time off for an adopted child or serious illness of family members.

"Your job is safe while you're on that leave," Bryant said. "If it's a non- emergency, you would apply ahead of time. But (with the birth of a child), you might not know to the day when it is going to happen."

Sawyer Roberts, a Florence firefighter, said he took off two shifts from his job to help care for his premature daughter, Neely. With his wife Michaela in school working toward a nursing degree, they couldn't afford for him to take more time.

"With her being premature, that was a pretty hard time and being in the hospital for six days is pretty rough," he said. "If I had to go to work and leave my wife and child in the hospital, that would be pretty hard. It's hard to do now."

Even if his daughter wasn't premature, Roberts said he still would have taken the time off.

"The first three weeks have been a roller coaster," he said. "Even the first three weeks, that's hard for one person to have to deal with. Of course, if I were to be there, it would have made things a whole lot easier. There are a lot of things that you miss because babies are developing so quickly."

Roberts' work schedule has him working 24 hours followed by 48 hours off. His schedule allows him time to spend with his daughter and take care of her, but if his wife has class while he's at work, then he uses sick time or vacation time, he said.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, having the option for paid parental leave has been found to reduce child mortality and improve children's health.

"There is also some evidence that parents — both mothers and fathers — benefit from being able to take leave," wrote Sarah Fass in a 2009 article on the center's website.

"Mothers who were employed prior to child birth and who delay returning to work after giving birth experience fewer depressive symptoms than those who return to work earlier," Fass said on the site.

"Fathers who take longer leaves after a child's birth are more involved in childrearing activities once they return to work. These benefits for parents also contribute to improved child well-being."

According to the site, rights to parental leave increased women's rate of employment in Europe.

According to the International Labour Organization, the United States is one of only three industrialized nations, along with Australia and New Zealand, that does not offer paid maternity leave.

Drew Jamison, a therapist at Shoals Family Therapy in Florence, said the first few months in a child's life are very important to the development between babies and their parents.

"Any opportunity for parents to spend time looking into the child's face, comforting, soothing, feeding — those basic needs — are only going to contribute to the attachment between parent and child," Jamison said.

"If both parents have time off, it can only be beneficial."

Jamison said marital satisfaction sometimes drops when a baby is first brought home.

"Being able to have time off, not only spent with the child, but the couple has opportunities to spend time together to invest in the relationship," he said.

"It just requires adjustment. It is a whole restructuring of the family, and because of that adjustment, that is part of where the strain and the stress comes from. There may be some role changes as each person has the opportunity to step up."

Financial woes can also cause strain on the family, he said. And if one — or both — partners are taking unpaid leave, it can add to that stress.

"There are times when it's just not feasible to take an extended amount of time off, but if it is, then it's going to be what's best for the whole family," Jamison said.

Steve Holt, president of Shoals Chamber of Commerce, said fathers taking time from work to be with newborn children is a trend he approves.

"I think the pros are that at least one of the parents has to be with the newborn child, and if it's both that's even better," he said.

"To me, it's just as important for the father to be able to be at home with the new baby if that's possible. I think it's a family issue and I believe that as far as the chamber is concerned, we would encourage for the mother or the father to raise that new baby. Family first."

He said being able to spend time with the family also helps the relationship between employee and employer.

"If you've got earned leave, that's great," he said. "Maybe it's unpaid, but either way, I think that employees are more productive and committed to the company when they know they have the support of that company with their family."

Lynn Rieff, a history and women's studies professor at UNA, said it would be nice if everyone were guaranteed paid parental leave.

Rieff said when she had her two children — now teenagers — unpaid leave wasn't an option for her family.

"If you have both parents at home, your childcare is going to be improved," she said. "Both people are trying to make those types of adjustments. "You're up and down at all hours of the night and it shouldn't be just one parent's responsibility, but sometimes that happens if one parent or both parents have to be at work in the morning."

Rieff said people are starting to get beyond the idea that work in the home is women's work.

According to Rieff, more of her students are starting to mention growing up in households with more shared responsibilities.

"When you are talking about the well-being of the family," she said, "both the husband and the wife should be part of the responsibilities of everything it takes to keep a family routine going day in and day out."

Rieff said while she's not naïve enough to think paid parental leave wouldn't have a financial cost, companies shouldn't just look at the short-term bottom line.

"I think it comes back to looking at leave and your work force and family leave as an investment rather than assuming it's a cost," she said.

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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