Why Parental Leave For A Father Is Important For Mental Health And Family Life

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated September 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Research has found that parental leave for fathers can have a host of positive effects, including positively impacting the father's relationship with their child and their relationship with their partner. Despite these positive effects, many new fathers are not offered robust parental leave benefits and are not taking much leave after welcoming a new child into the family. In this article, we'll explore the importance of parental leave for fathers and some of the issues surrounding it.

Being A New Parent Brings New Challenges

Parental Leave For Fathers

First, what is parental leave? Parental leave refers to an "employee benefit that provides job leave from employment to care for a child following its birth or adoption." In short, it's time off that organizations and companies offer to their workers when a new baby is born, or for a newly adopted child. Parental leave can be in the form of paid time off or unpaid leave.

Different companies and organizations have varying policies related to parental leave, and fathers in the U.S. are often given very little family leave benefits, hence the growing movement in support of mitigating this discrepancy.

According to some statistics, in the U.S., the average length of paternity leave is about one week off for fathers. By contrast, the average amount of paid maternity leave given by companies to new mothers is around eight weeks of paid leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but only for those who are eligible. 

What Mental Health Impacts Do New Parents Face?

Welcoming a new child to the family can be an incredible gift, but it also comes with a high level of responsibility. Health concerns that can impact new parents include but are not limited to:

  • Stress: With any life change, whether positive or negative, the transitional period can come with challenges. If stress is severe or ongoing, there can be severe physical and mental health consequences. These include but are not limited to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, trouble sleeping, an increased risk of diabetes, an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, an increased risk of high blood pressure, and more.

  • Lack Of Sleep: Like stress, a lack of sleep can lead to serious negative health outcomes. These include but are limited to an increased risk of getting into a car accident, an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, an increased risk of diabetes, and an increased risk of depression and anxiety. It can also lead to irritability, trouble concentrating or focusing, lowered productivity in the workplace, and trouble in interpersonal relationships.

  • Postpartum Depression: Postpartum depression is a very common mental health concern among parents, and it can affect fathers as well. Experts suggest that around one in 10 fathers face postpartum depression and anxiety. 

  • Relationship Strain: Conflict over the division of labor, the difficulty of sleeping, and changes in a couple's sex life can lead to relationship strain after welcoming a new child.

The Benefits Of Parental Leave For Fathers

Research shows that paternal leave for fathers can be beneficial for mental health and family life in various ways, and these effects don't only apply to the short term. Fathers who take FMLA for stress avoidance in their families can bond with their new children, improve their mental health, support their partners, and ultimately be more productive when they do return to work. 

Here are some of the potential benefits of parental leaves for fathers:

  • Can Lead To An Increase In Parent-child Closeness.

Research shows that two or more weeks of parental leave for new dads is linked to several positive effects on their relationship with their child/children. Specifically, two or more weeks of paternity leave is associated with improved children's perceptions of their father's involvement, increased feelings of closeness between the father and child, and better father-child communication.

  • Can Lower The Likelihood Of Divorce.

Paternity leave isn't just positive for child-father relationships; it can also be positive for the adults in the family unit. Studies indicate that divorce is less likely in families where fathers take parental leave after welcoming a new child. This could be due to the perception of household labor division and other factors, such as fathers having adequate time to bond with the children.

  • Can Promote Gender Equality.

Parental leave for fathers can also promote gender equality in the workplace, the household, and other parts of life. When fathers can stay home, they can engage more often and more meaningfully in caring for the child and help with household tasks more than they would if this time were spent at work. Since those who take maternity leave can and often do see negative effects on their career as a result of taking this necessary time off, when people of all genders are awarded parental leave, some of these discrepancies in the workplace may be mitigated for mothers and fathers alike.

One additional advantage? When fathers take parental leave after welcoming a new child into the family, it may support the other parent's well-being. This is true both mentally and physically, and with the needs of a child in mind, this makes sense.

Why Don't More Fathers Take Parental Leave?

With all the benefits of doing so in mind, why don't more fathers take paternity leave? The answer, most often, appears to be the cost of doing so. Many fathers don't take paternity leave because, financially, they can't. 

The United States is an outlier among the industrialized countries of the world when it comes to providing for paid family leave. As previously mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a new baby. As a result, many people are forced to spend their vacation days to take time off after the birth of a baby or the illness of a family member. Currently, only thirteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave laws

Note: Federal employees can view the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child.

It is worth noting the relationship between these facts and income disparities. Many parents wish they could spend time with their new child. However, low-income families are less likely to have the resources they need to take parental leave after welcoming a new child if the leave is:

  • Unpaid,

  • Pays significantly less than they would make otherwise,

  • Or if it may put their work at risk (some employers may illegally discriminate against parents, particularly fathers, who utilize parental leave).

Businesses and organizations can support employees' mental health and family life by offering adequate paid parental leave for fathers. 

Mental Health Support For New Parents

If you have concerns related to parenting, mental health, or your relationship after welcoming a new child, speaking with a therapist may help. There are several different ways to find a therapist or counselor to work with. For instance, you can ask a medical professional, such as a primary care physician, for a referral, contact your insurance company to inquire about who or what they cover, search the web, or sign up for an online therapy platform.

Online therapy sessions, which may be conducted via video or phone, are often helpful for those with young children who cannot be left alone. Online therapy can be a convenient way to get the support you need. With BetterHelp, you can work with a licensed professional from your own home or anywhere else with a reliable internet connection, and you don't have to take the time to commute to a therapy office, which can be helpful for people with full schedules, such as new parents. 

New parents can face many new challenges and may experience a wide mix of mental health concerns. Research shows that online therapy can be an effective treatment option for a broad range of concerns. For instance, one such study conducted a literature review on the effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy. It concluded that "ICBT is effective in the treatment and management of various psychiatric disorders such as depression, GAD and social anxiety, panic disorders," and more.

Being A New Parent Brings New Challenges


Parental leave for fathers can have a range of positive benefits, including strengthening the father-child bond and reducing the likelihood of divorce. However, many men do not take much leave after welcoming a new child to the family, and paternity leave benefits are often lacking. For support with the many challenges that can come as a new parent, online therapy can help.

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