As most people now know, 31-year-old Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently became a first time father. His wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, gave birth to a daughter named Max in early December. Great news from a very happy, very wealthy, young couple.
For many people, the bigger news is that Zuckerberg is now taking two months’ paternity leave and has used his personal media spotlight to highlight the importance of dads’ involvement in their children’s earliest days, and to support other men in taking parental leave.
Zuckerberg is right on: woefully few men actually take paternity leave, even when their companies offer it. Only one-third of American dads take two weeks or more off from work when a child arrives. In my experience, many fathers want to take time off to spend with their newborns; like Mark Zuckerberg, dads today prioritize time with their children, spending on average over three times as much time with their kids on a daily basis as their own fathers did.
However, the majority of men don’t take parental leave. The reasons: either their companies are too small to offer parental leave (the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to offer parental leave, doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 50 fulltime employees) or because they are afraid that taking time off might hurt their careers or damage their professional reputations.
So what Zuckerberg – and other less famous men who take parental leave — is doing shows great leadership, benefitting both male and female employees, our children, and our society at large. Men who take parental leave send society a highly public message that raising kids is important work. Dads leaving work to care for children removes the gender issue from maternity leave, so that becoming a parent no longer penalizes working women as much as it historically has. It’s hard to relegate women to a less prestigious “Mommy Track” if dads are on it too. Dads on parental leave also help moms make the often difficult transition to working parenthood; and their weeks at home can help older children adjust to a new baby at home. Lastly, dads on parental leave give themselves and their children the greatest gift of all: time together.
The other big Zuckerberg baby news is that, in honor of daughter Max’s birth, the Facebook CEO and his wife created a foundation that will disperse an estimated $45 billion in Facebook holdings. Most parents send out a birth announcement: this letter to Max is more like the Zuckerbergs’ own personal Superbowl ad. Many have hailed the couple’s generosity as philanthropic leadership. I see it differently: at best, it’s thinly-veiled marketing, on par with Zuckerberg’s famous $1 per year salary. (He’s a billionaire many times over, so he doesn’t need anything as pedestrian as a weekly paycheck.) At its most nefarious, the establishment of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative constitutes a self-promotion of a child. Whether to encourage philanthropic generosity, or enhance a parent’s self-image, children should never be used to enlarge a parent’s ego. Never. Not even for $45 billion.
Consider the pressure the vast scope of The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative puts on one small baby. In sheer monetary terms, the gift outstrips Lebanon’s GDP. In pretentiousness, few project missions can top the Initiative’s tagline of “Advancing Human Potential and Promoting Equality.” All in honor of one child’s arrival on the planet.
Welcome to your world, Max Zuckerberg. Despite their immense wealth and impressive IQs, the Zuckerbergs have made a rookie parenting mistake: confusing love for a baby with grossly misplaced parental expectations. How can one child ever live up $45 billion in parental anticipation?
My hope is that after changing a few hundred diapers, the Zuckerbergs will absorb the tough lesson that children rarely conform to parental visions, no matter how lofty, and that the greatest gift parents can offer children is the freedom to have their own private, personal dreams, wholly separate from Mom and Dad.