Although Alexis Ohanian admits he “never thought much about paternity leave” before becoming a dad, taking those 16 weeks off turned out to be a big confidence booster and a foundation builder for him, his wife Serena Williams and their 23-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia.
In a recent essay for The New York Times, the Reddit co-founder, 36, opened up about why paternity leave is so important, despite men feeling a “stigma” around it.
While Ohanian understands that “not every father has the flexibility to leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career,” he stresses the importance of paid family leave for everyone.
“Serena and I were lucky enough to have help at home and many other advantages working in our favor. But even with all of that privilege, including my ability to focus solely on my family and not worry about keeping my job, it was still incredibly difficult,” Ohanian wrote.
“Nothing could have dragged me away from my wife and daughter in those hours, days and weeks — and I’m grateful that I was never forced to choose between my family and my job.”
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Ohanian cited a statistic claiming only 9% of work sites in the United States offer paid paternity leave to all male employees, and 76% of fathers are back to work within a week after the birth or adoption of a child.
“I don’t blame my dad, or anybody else’s dad, for not taking time off after a child’s birth,” he shared. “Our culture makes it difficult. The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate some form of paid family leave,” despite the fact that most dads want to be at home for the first months after a child’s birth.
Ohanian blames the lack of paternity leave on our culture’s “stigma” and that “men are conditioned to be breadwinners,” adding that men’s “sense of duty is often fear-based” as well.
“Nearly a third of dads think that taking leave could negatively impact their career. We could miss out on a promotion. We could become obsolete. We could get fired. Career fear is powerful,” he wrote.
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For Ohanian, however, staying at home to care for his baby girl helped him get the hang of fatherhood — and even the parenting playing field.
“Spending a big chunk of time with Olympia when she was a newborn gave me confidence that I could figure this whole parenting thing out,” he explained. “As an only child with no cousins, I didn’t grow up around babies; in fact, I had never held one until my daughter was born.”
The Initialized Capital managing partner also credits his paternity leave for helping get himself and Williams, 37, on the same page about “sharing parental responsibilities.”
“Two years later, there is no stigma in our house about me changing diapers, feeding Olympia, doing her hair or anything else I might need to do in a pinch. They’re all just dad things (not “babysitter” things — I hate it when people refer to dads spending time with their kids as babysitting),” he said.
“The understanding of my responsibility to care for my family that I gained during those first months after Olympia’s birth has never left me, and it gives purpose to my fatherhood today,” he added. “It’s not always easy — my wife’s job takes her all over the world, as does mine — but I will do whatever I can, even if it means taking a dreaded red-eye or making a 24-hour international trip, to optimize time with Olympia and Serena.”
The internet mogul expressed that no father (and no person, for that matter) should ever have to choose between work and family. He expressed that “birth parents, adoptive parents and caregivers alike” should all be considered in a federal bill for paid family leave.
But until then, however, Ohanian urges dads to “talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you.”