Getting time off for birth of a child

Value Judgments

Your Money

July 25, 2004|By JANET KIDD STEWART

IT'S THE WORKING parents' Catch-22.

You want to advance in your career to earn as much as possible to keep food on the table and start socking away money for your children's college education. And yet every time you stay late at the office you start to channel Harry Chapin singing "Cat's in the Cradle."

Eric Fedowitz is no different. He puts in long hours in the Washington area as director of structured finance for KPMG, the big tax and consulting firm. But he arranged his schedule so he could take two weeks off after the births of his two sons, Reed, 5, and Dane, 1.

After Dane's birth, Fedowitz used a new paternity policy KPMG put in place in 2002, which allows up to two weeks of paid leave for fathers after the birth or adoption of a child.

More companies are offering paid paternity leave, experts say.

In California this month, a new law took effect that guarantees partially paid paternity leave for most workers in the state. That may spur multistate employers to add the benefit for all their workers to match California.

Other companies already offering at least some paid time off for new dads include Microsoft Corp., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., Deloitte & Touche and Eli Lilly and Co.

For Fedowitz, the leave was the same amount of time as when he used two weeks of vacation for Reed's birth, but they were very different experiences.

"With the first child, it was more difficult. It wasn't as acceptable and I had to do a lot more conditioning" of co-workers and superiors, he said.

Today, 70 percent of eligible employees take advantage of the leave, up from 30 percent in the program's first year, said Barbara Wankoff, workplace solutions director for KPMG.

Two weeks is a blink of a bleary eye for parents of newborns, but for Fedowitz, at least, it made a big impact.

"I know the children aren't going to remember that I did this, but it makes a difference because from the very beginning you're there helping out. You're part of it, rather than being on the outside looking in," he said.

And every little bit of extra help comes in handy. Fedowitz's wife, Toni Carpenito, has her own demanding job as an accountant with the International Monetary Fund.

A really sobering reality is that moms and dads alike are finding it increasingly difficult to check out of work to focus attention on the family, even in those critical first weeks.

In a survey of professional mothers, one woman told of a boss who called the labor and delivery room three times and visited the hospital the next day to tell her she had two weeks to get back to work, said Marisa Thalberg, president of Executive Moms, a networking group.

About 41 percent of working mothers went back to work within three months after giving birth, census figures from the mid-1990s show.

"At so many firms, the subtext is that, `We have this on paper, but don't try it because it's a career breaker,' " said Kathie Lingle, director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress in Scottsdale, Ariz.

As for Fedowitz, even with the paternity leave he probably won't use all of the six weeks of vacation he's entitled to this year. And by his own account, he doubled up and did almost all his work ahead of time to be ready to take the leave.

"My advice [to other professional dads considering a leave] is to get all your work caught up so that when you're not there, people are less likely to feel burdened," he said.

E-mail Janet Kidd Stewart at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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