Structuring Parental Leave: Creative Ideas from PSP Working Parents

Partnered, working, and expecting a baby? You and your partner may be asking yourself about the best way to structure your parental leave. The answer depends on a number of factors, including your desire to postpone starting daycare/hiring a nanny; how much leave each of you can take; and whether you have family members or friends who can help out.

Below, hear from PSP members on the realities of various leave structures and what worked for them!

Not yet a member of PSP? Join our community and find support with other working parents who are dealing with the same issues you are.

New in 2021: The 2021 NYS Paid Family Leave may allow you more flexibility when you are trying to structure parental leave with your partner. Even so, the ideas here can help you find the best arrangement for your family!

The case for taking leaves simultaneously:

“My husband and I each had three months off (six weeks paid parental leave and six weeks vacation time) and we decided to take our time together for both kids. Having leave together meant that neither of us became the 'baby expert' (which continues to pay off years later) or ever felt like we were managing the craziness alone. It was also some of the nicest times of our relationship together. 

I know some folks like to have their kids home longer but when we got pregnant the leave rules were very different (nothing for him and only vacation time for me) and we were planning to have to put our daughter in daycare at six weeks.  So when the laws changed during my pregnancy we felt like the extra six weeks (and the option for him to stay with us) was all bonus time. We loved it so much that we did the same thing with our second.”


“The first month is important - big transition and also big bonding. After that you will settle into a more familiar routine.
With my first my husband was able to take time off at the outset. With my second it was a few weeks later. Up front was definitely best.”


“My husband had four weeks parental leave which he took up front and it was great to have him around. It really is a two person job. He took care of so much baby related care which was great while I was spending so many hours breastfeeding and trying to feed myself. I would echo what folks said above though about him saving a few vacation days for when you go back to work in case there are any issues, the baby gets sick, etc. My husband was able to stay home for a couple days when I went back to work and our nanny was starting which really helped with my sanity!”


The case for staggering leaves:

“For us, we wanted to keep our little one out of daycare as long as possible (especially with COVID), so we opted to stay home together for only about a week and then to switch off. I took part of my leave first (end of April through the end of the school year), then my wife took her 12 weeks beginning in August so I could start the school year with my class, and then I finished my leave from December through the end of February. Between the two of us, with me being a teacher and having summers off already, we were able to keep her home for her first 10 months.”


“We staggered our leave, so I took my 16 weeks immediately and my husband just started his 12 weeks. When all is said and done, we will have been able to avoid outside care for 6+ months. One of the biggest advantages of staggering in this way, IMO, is that as the birthing parent, I felt MUCH more comfortable returning to work knowing that my daughter was with my husband. The transition was only a back to work transition, not also a daycare / nanny transition. I know it's not always possible for everyone, but if it is and you can manage with only one person on leave at a time (my husband did take 1-2 weeks of vacation to be able to be home with me immediately following our daughter's birth), I would recommend it.”

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You can also start together and then stagger the remaining leave:

“For us, I had a generous leave policy (paid, unpaid and PTO - almost 6 months) and my husband was able to negotiate 3 months (which he mostly took, the truthfully, the second half was harder for him to fully preserve). We did 6 weeks home together (super helpful because I had a c-section), and then put his second set of 6 weeks on the end to preserve. It worked out well! For me - I was so grateful to have the 6 weeks together (full disclosure: we also had help from my mom for the first 2-3 weeks, and we had a postpartum doula).

My general sense is that post 6-8 weeks together in the beginning, it might be better to split the time, and I do think, especially if you have the c-section, but also, let's be real - recovering from birth period - it is helpful to be able to heal and have that extra help in the beginning.”


“My most recent baby was the first time my husband had any significant parental leave. We both took the first week after baby was born. Then he went back to work and I was home (My mother was here for a few weeks and that helped a lot!). I went back to work after 4 months and he took the next month off. It was easier for me to go back to work knowing he was home. During his leave, we transitioned our daughter to day care over a couple of weeks. I think after spending all day/every day with me, it was probably much easier for our daughter to transition to daycare with my husband dropping her off and easier for me too!”


“​​We also opted to spread out our leave for our first daughter and plan to do so for the second. (A month together, 5-6 months each consecutively.) The logistics I think were less important than the reasoning - it was very important to both of us that we take significant time off for various reasons and it helped form the foundation of equitable parenting that we have today.

One of the biggest boons, both at the time and in retrospect, was that this schedule gave us both perspectives that cannot otherwise be replicated: being at home together in that precious/necessary newborn period, being at a demanding full-time job while our spouse was at home with the baby, and being at home with the kiddo while our spouse was at her demanding full-time job. We rarely felt like the other person couldn't know or understand how we were feeling because she had been in the same place at some point or another.”


“I'm a big fan of Dad splitting his time. My husband did that both times and it has been great. He was there to help me get situated and with initial recovery. And then he took time off later to have one on one father baby bonding time. It's really special.”


“I echo the Dad-splitting-his-time sentiment. The first week or two after delivery can be unpredictable re: your recovery, breastfeeding etc. and having a partner or parent or helper around is very useful. My husband took two weeks after our daughter was born, and then took his last week off the week before I went back to work. This helped with my transition out of maternity leave and also book-ended our family time together (we did a sort of staycation in NY).”


“Having support for the first couple of weeks is critical. My husband took care of everything baby-related and my mom took care of all the housework - all I did was nurse and sleep and go for walks in the park. It was really helpful and I am incredibly grateful to them both. Four weeks of overlap is probably unnecessary though, so I'd suggest splitting the time as well. Maybe both of you could save a week for a real vacation later in the year - the baby will be easy to travel with and you'll want some time off since you'll be back at work only midway through the year.”


“We also split my husband's time and I would do it that way again. He took 1.5 weeks off immediately following the birth. We bonded and recovered and celebrated. Then we had many visitors who came for 4-7 days each with short breaks of a few days in between for a long stretch. We really didn't need 3 adults at home around the clock do this worked well! Then he and I overlapped the week before I went back to work (at 3.5 months) which made for a lovely staycation with better rested parents. When I returned to work, he had a week alone with the baby which gave them some extra bonding and the opportunity for him to really understand why it took so long for me to get out of the house, plus we had the nanny do a couple of half days. He was around so could observe a bit and the nanny appreciated getting to know us and our infant a bit before being thrown into a 45-hour work week. Definitely second those who advise keeping a few extra days for transition flexibility.”


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Any of these arrangements might include caretakers taking leave on different days of the week:

“I took my full leave after baby was born. My husband stayed home the first week. Then when my leave was done, he had NYPFL (he didn't have anything additional from his company). We were also fortunate to have my mom nearby. so after I went back to work, they did the following:
my husband - take PFL 3 days/week (mon-wed) and work thursday+friday
my mom - take here vacation days for thursday+friday.

total we were able to stretch out to 7 months before we put the baby into daycare. It also made my transition back to work easier as the baby was with family and there was constant communication if needed, but also less fussing from baby and I knew he was in familiar hands.”


Things to consider if you decide to stagger leave:

Is you work situation flexible? If you or your partner can work from home, consider staggering leave:

“My leave is almost ending so I'll tell you what my husband and I did. I get 6 weeks semi-paid of leave plus 6 additional unpaid weeks. I took all of these weeks. My husband gets 6 weeks of full pay and 6 weeks unpaid. We staggered our leaves, so he took a week after baby was born and will be taking 11 weeks when I go back to work. This worked for us because he works from home, so if I needed help during the day, he was home to help out. Also we had our baby a few weeks before the holidays, so he was off for the holidays to help out in that first month.”


“I think it depends on what you'll be comfortable with and what other help you'll have on hand. For example with my kids, my husband took a few days off while I was in the hospital but when we got home he went back to work in part because my mom came for a week, then his mom came then we had a baby nurse so he didn't stay home until about week 4. Although, full disclosure, he has a pretty flexible work schedule and isn't tied to a desk 9-5. So he was about to be around when his schedule permitted.”

Will you have visitors helping? If you have visitors coming to help out with the baby, consider staggering leave:

“I remember the first three weeks being hard because of how new everything was. If you will have other helpers coming, you may want to stagger like we did and have the helpers come in those first weeks to help with the laundry and the cooking and those things, as you will be with baby most of the time. If you don't have help, you may want to consider having your husband with you in those first weeks.”

“The first two weeks, if you have help, I wouldn't say he take the vacation. I would suggest he save it for when all the visits slow down (if you can). The first few weeks they sleep a lot so the help is mainly for your recovery and getting back into the swing of things movement wise etc. Congratulations and best of luck!”

And from one mother who did both:

“I've kind of done it both ways.  With my first, my husband got 2 weeks and we split it up 1 week (plus a couple days) at the beginning and then saved the other week for later.  It was really hard when he want back to work - but I'm not sure that it would have been much easier after 2 weeks, either.  It's just hard when you are finally on your own with a newborn for the first time!  He took the second week while I was still on leave, so we did not ease my transition back to work.  Going back to work is always hard, but I don't think having my husband at home would have made it that much easier. 
With my second, my husband's job had implemented a new (and fabulous) leave policy, so he got 11 weeks total - 9 weeks that he HAD to take right away after the birth (or he'd lose it), and then 2 weeks that he could take any time in the first 6 months.  Because he had so much leave right away, we saved the other 2 weeks for my transition back to work.  It was fabulous to have him home for so long at the beginning - although I was still sad when he went back.  (It was definitely better than the first time, though!)  Having him home later for the transition certainly made some things easier, but it also (1) made me even sadder to be going to work when he got to stay home (totally selfish, I know) and (2) really meant we had to transition everything twice - first, figuring out how it worked when he was home and I was working, and then figuring out how it worked when we were both working.
So, all of that is a long way to say - if I had it to do again and he had 4 weeks off, I think what I'd do would be to either have him take all 4 weeks at the beginning, or to take 3 weeks at the beginning and 1 week later during my leave.  I'd probably skip the transition week, since it just adds an extra layer of transition in a time when there's already a lot of changes to deal with.” 

Whatever you decide, remember to make plans for childcare, including a Plan B or even C:

"I was very lucky to have 6 months of leave, but unlucky in that our childcare situation fell apart the Friday before my return to work. Thankfully my husband had an understanding job that let him take a week of vacation with no notice, and we are now one week into my mom's two week stay with us while we figure out a new childcare arrangement. During this time my daughter also got a terrible cold. Somethings similar happened to a friend - she had to fire her nanny during her first week back at work. Another friend's baby got sick 4 times in her first 6 weeks of daycare (requiring mom or dad to stay home a couple of days each time).
All this to say - have a Plan B for when you go back - whether it's dad's week or two of leave or relatives. Just in case. You don't want to be without childcare AND no leave of any kind available.”


Useful Resources:

Tips for Planning and Negotiating your Parental/Maternity Leave

More Parental Leave articles from Park Slope Parents