'I was exhausted' and 'freaking out in my head' — inside one dad's paternity leave and transition back to work

Jared Crafton with boys

Like many working parents, Jared Crafton is familiar with the work-life juggle. 

The 34-year-old is a father of two young boys, ages 3 years old and 9 months. He’s also a senior manager at professional services giant EY, formerly known as Ernst and Young, leading its forensic technology practice in Boston. He manages up to 80 people at a time, including eight full-time employees in the Boston office. 

What makes Crafton different from most men in high-stress jobs is that he’s been able to take paid paternity leave after the birth of each of his children.

Crafton first took a paternity leave when his son Zachary was born in 2012. Having a second child with his wife, Michelle, in June was “significantly harder,” he tells Business Insider. 

With his youngest son, Tyler, he not only took two weeks off to be with his family, but he worked with an executive coach to make the transition easier. 

“It was a stressful period with Tyler,” says Crafton. “I’d been in Boston about six months. There were a lot of demands on me. We’d hired people, and I had my hands in a whole lot of things.” 

He was worried about being away from the office, delegating work, and communicating how much and when he was going to be available. Plus, with family coming into town and soon two young children needing attention, he knew his home life was about to get hectic. 

Through one of the women he mentored, he found out about a new coaching program that EY was beginning to offer parents. “She had done it and loved it, so I started asking questions,” says Crafton. “I was one of the first dads to sign up.” 

He was assigned an executive coach who would help him navigate the transition before, during, and after he returned to work from his paternity leave. Together, they came up with a plan, which Crafton could share with his bosses, employees, and family. 

His son Tyler was born on June 10. “We wanted to establish co-parenting from the beginning, which is all about shared responsibilities,” says Crafton. “After two days in the hospital, we got home, and you’ve got to feed this thing every two hours and change diapers. During those weeks, I was up all night helping with the baby and the feedings.” 

“My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and I didn’t want her to feel like she was doing everything,” he continues. “There’s a lot of stuff to do with both kids. You can’t ignore the baby, and the toddler needs a ton of attention, too.” 

He gave his colleagues a window of time when they could contact him — between 1 and 3 p.m. when his son was taking a nap — and asked them to text him if there was an emergency. He didn’t check in regularly, but peeked at email here and there. “I love my job,” he says, “so it’s hard to totally take a break.” 

Jared Crafton reading newspaper with son

Crafton says it was great to be able to disappear for two weeks and spend that time with his wife and family. While his dad “never changed a diaper,” he says, today, men “want to have that time to bond with our families.” 

Not all men are afforded this time. In fact, not many women in the US are, either. Only about 12% of American companies offered paid maternity or paternity leave in 2014, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. That’s down from 17% in 2010. 

Although the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide new parents with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the law does not require it to be paid, and workers at small businesses may receive nothing at all. 

The inclusion of men in EY’s policy is relatively new for the firm. Beginning in 2002, dads were offered two weeks of paid paternity leave. In the effort of fairness and in recognition of same-sex couples, in 2004 EY extended it to six weeks for men who were primary caregivers. 

In the beginning, some EY leaders believed offering men paid paternity leave wasn’t necessary and that men wouldn’t take it even if allowed, according to EY Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer Karyn Twaronite. 

However, she says nearly all EY dads take advantage of it, amounting to between 500 and 600 fathers in the US each year, which is about as many mothers that take leave at EY. While they are offered up to six weeks, 90% of these dads take between two and three weeks off. 

In a study of more than 1,000 fathers working in 30 different organizations conducted by the Boston College Center for Work & Family and sponsored by EY, a full 99% of men believed employers should offer paid paternity leave, and three quarters said two to four weeks is an appropriate amount.

“Time is the one commodity that no one has enough of,” Twaronite says. “When companies offer time for family, it’s a treasure.” 

Of course, the time leading up to and following a parental leave is often fraught with emotion. Twaronite says men and women cite similar concerns. They often stress about their work piling up and tend to worry about asking their bosses and teammates for help. Some may even fear that, if their leave goes smoothly, their boss won’t think they’re valuable and they’ll be passed over for a promotion or replaced. 

To address some of these concerns, EY launched an initiative called the Career & Family Transitions program in 2012. Initially intended for mothers, women in the program were assigned a confidential coach to talk through their work-life issues. 

It was such a success that EY soon decided to include men, but Twaronite says they weren’t sure if any would sign up. “We had 10 spots open for dads,” she says. “Not only did dads take it up immediately, but there was a waiting list. Now a quarter of the program is dads.” 

Today, EY has four full-time coaches that have worked with 600 employees in total. 

Jared Crafton with familyCrafton says his coach was particularly helpful once he came back to work. They spoke for about an hour by phone once a month for eight months after he returned from leave. 

“When I came back, I was exhausted. I wasn’t getting enough sleep,” he says. “We were still figuring out who makes dinner, who takes Zach to practice. I wasn’t 100%, so I worked through that with my coach.” 

The coach helped him realize that he was being harder on himself than other people were. “I was stressed about not replying fast enough over email or asking for another day to finish something,” he says. “I was freaking out in my head, thinking I wasn’t doing enough. But my coach polled people, and I found out it was OK; everyone was happy.” 

In addition to the many stresses of a new baby, men who take paternity leave often still face — or at least fear — a remaining stigma. According to Tracey Edwards, an executive coach involved in the program, some men are worried they’ll be perceived as less committed employees. One dad told her that people were asking, “What are you going to do while you’re off?” Another dad said one of his coworkers asked, “So when does your mancation start?” 

Crafton admits that with his first child he was afraid of being out of the office and of what people might think, but that fear dissipated the second time around. “A lot of my friends don’t even have paternity leave,” he says. “They were jealous. They would take advantage of it if they could.” 

Indeed, mostly what Edwards hears from dads is that they want to be involved at home and are concerned about balancing everything. One dad told her, “I don’t want to be a C-performer at home and on the job.” She sees her role as giving them support and helping them clarify for themselves what their biggest issues are, so they can come up with solutions. 

Experts say that men’s increasing involvement at home is highly connected to women’s advancement. In part, it frees women up to focus on work, and it also helps men better understand the competing demands on mothers. 

“When a company offers paternity leave, it’s really good for women, too,” Twaronite says. “Those men experience for themselves what it’s like to take a leave, which makes them better bosses and teammates to women.”

Readers: Are you interested in sharing your story about your parental leave and transition back to work? Email me at jgoudreau[at]businessinsider[dot]com.

SEE ALSO: Why Ernst & Young Believes So Strongly In Paid Paternity Leave

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