Their Perception Is Not Your Reality
Paternity leave has an amazing stigma in the US. Even the most reasonable time off from work can elicit spiteful judgments from co-workers. I received many jealous and resentful comments from not only co-workers, but also family and those I thought were true friends.
Sad But True
I wish I could tell you that it was all in your imagination. The truth is, it’s not.
According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), 15% of all men don’t think you should be taking any paternity leave at all. If you break that down a bit farther, 3 out of 10 old guns aged 65+ will be shooting flak directly at you just for taking it.
The good news is, most of those old timers are out of the work force by this point and don’t have much of a say in your work or life. Even better, only 1 in 10 young bucks between 18-50 are against it. So yes, there are some naysayers out there, but they are the minority and the younger generation of leaders is on board.
What I came to understand through my experience was that in almost every case, I was seeing the darkest aspects of their character made manifest. The biggest insecurities, resentments, and regrets about their own lives were boiled down, compressed, and packaged into single sentence judgments.
Having gone through this experience twice now, I have a solid handle on how to approach these real life trolls and I am happy to share it with you.
It’s All In Their Heads
First, understanding that their comments stem from their own issues. Ultimately it has nothing to do with you. Maybe they are sick of their jobs and just want some time off. Maybe they resent that paternity leave was never an option for them. Maybe they just can’t stand that your life seems to be going better than theirs is or was.
Their actions are synonymous with ‘crabs in a pot’.
When crabs are gathered into a pot or trap, they never escape even though there is a logical way for many to get out. Single crabs should be able to simply walk out by climbing on the side of the trap or those around them. Despite the clear path, each crab is denied their freedom as the other crabs claw and grasp at each other, holding everyone down and ensuring mutual destruction.
Those who chastise you for being an altruistic family man do so out of their own envy. They simply can’t handle the idea that anyone else, let alone someone they know and are close to, could have such a favorable position. Basically, ‘If I can’t have it then no one can.’ While the driving force behind their actions may be entirely obscured to their vision, it is none the less present.
Ignorance Is Your Best Friend
It should therefore be clear that you should just ignore their comments. When we understand the cause of their response we see that it really has nothing to do with us. It’s no different than the jealousy which arises towards a lottery winner or a member of the new rich.
Ultimately it is up to you whether you will allow their comments to affect your relationship. On the one hand, they most likely are not aware of the detrimental nature of their actions. On the other hand, you have just witnessed and recognized a very dark side to their personality.
My first time around, the comments cut deep. I was unprepared and took it all to heart. Even the softest backhanded compliments drove me to the edge.
Older Co-Worker: “You are so lucky to have that time. I don’t think you realize how lucky you are.”
Me: “I know how good I have it, but it’s not luck you chump. I work extraordinarily hard and have earned this time. While you were busy BS-ing all day I was getting stuff done and building some sweat equity which I knew would pay off. It has, so stop being such a jealous (insert expletive here).”
Just kidding. At the time all I could muster was a meek “Yeah I know, I am so thankful for the chance to be with my family”. Comments like these added up over time and I ended up only taking half of the time I was allotted before guilt drove me back to the cubicle. Of course the minute I got there the guilt of not being home was overwhelming, but the damage was done; I was back.
Water Off A Duck’s Back
The second time around I am better prepared. I genuinely don’t care what they think or say, I know my value. Those who ‘joked’ or harassed me were people whose opinions I would no longer hold in high esteem and I am thankful for it. I see it as a gift that I have a clearer view of who they really are as people and will devalue their opinions appropriately in the future.
Don’t let the faults in others prevent you from being your best self. As Tim Ferriss says “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. If you are learning more about those 5 people and don’t like what you see, swap them out. It’s more realistic than trying to change their flaws.
It’s Not As Bad As You Think
For even more peace of mind, know that you aren’t alone. Even way back in 2000, 70% of guys between 21 and 40 said they wanted to spend more time with their families and would even take a pay cut to do so (Radcliffe Public Policy Center). So the support is out there, even if they might not yell it out during a staff meeting.
Action: Find those people and spend more time around them.
Your situation is unique, you should approach it with positivity and a pure heart. You are doing the right thing and that should inspire you to action.
Live Your Life, Ignore The Rest
At the end of the day you have to be comfortable with your decision. Here is a good exercise for getting your head around it:
Action: Close your eyes and imagine 60 years from now, lying on your deathbed. Imagine how you might look back on your life and what pleasures and regrets would come into focus.
Now be honest, do you really give a flying-F what some disgruntled co-worker, whom you worked with for 5 years when you were 30, thought about your paternity leave. Of course not, you’ll be too busy reminiscing about living a life worth remembering.
Life is not promised. Purpose even less so. When it comes to fulfillment of that purpose, most of us can’t even come close.
I ask you this…
Why is it so damned hard to figure out what your purpose is and how to feel fulfilled. Each of us has to dig deep and figure that our for ourselves, but as best as I can tell we just aren’t groomed or wired to make purpose and fulfillment a priority. I don’t know about you but that is unacceptable to me.
I refuse to live a life where the only possible outcome is regret.
Running around ‘accomplishing’ the hell out of life, but never finding the meaning in it scares the hell out of me. Maybe it seems obvious, but until about a year ago I didn’t even realize that I had never set out the structure for a life of purpose.
I read one article about the 5 most common deathbed regrets and vowed to myself not to follow in the footsteps of these poor guys. Four of the five are directly applicable to paternity leave. I’m not going to belabor them, but if you are up for it take a quick read and think them over a bit. It really was 10 minutes that changed my outlook completely and made me a better dad.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”
- “I wish I didn’t work so hard”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”
- “I wish I had let myself be happier”
So there they are, a few things to think about.
Perception is a bitch. We are social animals and we seek approval for our decisions, but that is just one small aspect of what we are. We find our purpose and the fulfillment of that purpose through intentionally living our lives. You aren’t going to get another shot to take paternity leave or be there at the start for your family. Don’t let your fear of what other people might think about you keep you grounded. Your decisions are yours alone, and so are the outcomes.
If you have a story, I want to hear it. Shoot me an email and I would love to talk and potentially include your story in something larger I am working on. Please also head here (link to 4 month leave) to share some of your experience in the comments section.