A senior Bank of America employee praises the time he had off to bond with his two adopted sons.
Paid parental leave is rare enough in the U.S. Less than 20 percent of American employers offer paid leave for new dads, and even if they did, more than a third of dads wouldn’t take it out of fear they won’t have a job when they return.
For new gay dads, the options for paternity leave can be even more limited depending on how accepting and diverse the company’s culture.
Arden works at Bank of America, which gave him 16 weeks of paid paternity leave in early 2016. That’s when his two sons — Jude, 8, and Jonny, 7 — first came to live with him before he and his now-husband, Rich, formally adopted them. Those four months gave both men the chance to form a strong bond with their sons, ease the boys’ transition out of the foster system, and learn what it means to be a family.
The two men spoke to us from Maplewood, New Jersey, about how crucial paternity leave was to their adoption journey.
On the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey: Arden taking the selfie, with his husband Rich and their two sons in the background
Traditionally, parental leave was reserved for pregnant mothers so they could give birth and care for an infant. The same principle applies to gay dads who have newborns through adoption or surrogacy. But when adopting older kids, is leave really essential?
“Absolutely," says Arden.
“When the boys came to live with us, that was a very important time for the boys and for us,” he says. “It was an important opportunity for us to bond with us. They were in a strange town, a strange house, a strange new school. They needed someone they could see every single day.”
The boys, who are biological brothers, were starved for attention and “weren’t even playing with each other” when they came home, Rich says.
“They didn’t really have much of a relationship with each other,” he adds. “But Arden was there, and now they are really good friends. They play with each other; they get in trouble with each other. They look out for each other now.”
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Working parents know that quality family time can be hard to come by.
“With two working parents, it’s hard,” Arden says. “You drop them off to school early so you can catch your train, you pick them up after school. You get maybe an hour and half with them at night.”
Integrating adopted children into that rhythm without a sense of family first can be jarring for the kids and impossible for the parents. That’s why Arden spent his leave providing a stable, constant presence in the boys’ lives. He volunteered at their school so that they and their peers could see him and get used to him as a new dad.
“I was there at lunch and recess. I showed up at the library to volunteer or for field trips. The more they saw me at school, the more it made them comfortable,” Arden says.
Worried about smothering your kids if you’re on leave? Don’t. Adopted children often need you to go the extra mile.
Arden’s youngest, Jonny, was so shy when he moved to Maplewood, he would only eat lunch or have recess in the nurse’s office. As Arden spent more time at school, the young man got the confidence to eat with the other students.
While husband Rich didn’t take leave, he also benefited from having Arden at home during those 16 weeks. “The time I was spending with the kids was more quality time for me, not just getting them to brush their teeth at night,” Rich says. “We took hikes, we played. Or we just talked. We just made sure it was not typical of what you do during a normal day as a working parent.”
Adoption day, November 18, 2016
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If you’re adopting, even as you’re in the last days of finalizing the adoption, you’ll need to take meetings with everyone involved in the process and be with your child or children for checkups.
Arden took leave during the pre-adoption process, right before his sons were legally adopted, when they had a lot of appointments.
“Caseworkers were checking in, a nurse was checking in, the state-appointed guardian was checking in, a legal guardian had to come in; that was crazy in and of itself,” Arden said. “I was thankful I had the opportunity to focus on that and the boys because suddenly some of our days weren’t ours anymore.”
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The time parents must wait to adopt is determined by too many variables to list here — but one of the most important is pure luck. While the adoption process sometimes takes years, once you’re selected, placement often moves pretty fast. You have to stay flexible, and having a company with a fair leave policy can add to that flexibility.
“Even though we knew how long the process was when we started, when things happened, boom,” Rich says. “What could have taken three years happened only a few months later for us. It was nice, but overwhelming at first. Good thing we were ready; well, as ready as you can be.”
Arden and Rich with their sons Jude and Jonny
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Arden and Rich certainly loved the 16-week paternity leave for themselves. But they stressed that such a policy was good for Bank of America, too.
“These policies are a really compelling way of getting the best people, of attracting and keeping the best people at the office,” Rich says.
Plenty of large companies in recent years have adopted company policies that are friendly to same-sex couples, especially with marriage and benefits. But thinking about family-oriented policies for LGBT couples can make a company like Bank of America that much more competitive for potential jobseekers.
“If you really want to be attracting people who run the full gamut, you should be doing things that attract an entire community.”
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