Alexis Ohanian, aka Mr. Serena Williams, on why parental leave is good for men

Most women are the ones who give birth and breastfeed their babies, and so women are often left to choose between recovery from birth, proper care of their newborn, or getting a paycheck. It’s a choice that few would want to make, and yet the vast majority of new moms are put into this situation and struggle. As a result, women are more likely to get angry, and therefore more likely to be vocal.

But men will also benefit from paid parental leave. Spending time with the child and partner in the early days can have psychological, physical and even professional benefits in the long run. Paid leave should be their battle, too.

CNN spoke to Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder, venture capitalist and advocate for paid leave — also known as the husband of professional tennis player Serena Williams, and — about why leave is beneficial for men, why they should fight for leave, and why they are holding back. about it. Speak out loud.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

CNN: Paternity leave can help men form family relationships. How did it help you as a parent?

Alexis Ohanian: I didn’t grow up with any younger siblings, I was never around a baby, and I never imagined being around a baby, until I became a father. Paternity leave is the way I trusted being around children, because I was spending that time learning, making mistakes, and figuring out.

Now, even with my 4-year-old, I’m seeing the effects of this in even the most subtle of ways because I know we’ve been able to get through that period when they were newborns and we can’t tell you how they feel. Having this early experience makes each of the issues going forward seem more manageable, because I was able to develop confidence that I would never have had otherwise.

CNN: What kind of positive effects has paternity leave had on your marriage?

Ohanian: The arrival of a child is a time in our lives when everything we know is upended. And while we don’t hold or breastfeed the baby, there is a role for men to play. Even in the best case scenario, with a perfectly healthy pregnancy and delivery, it allows you to be there for your partner, supporting him emotionally and physically.

My wife had a very open and difficult pregnancy, and in these scenarios pregnancy is vital. She was recovering from a number of surgeries after the birth of our daughter. And while we are in a position where we have tremendous access, privileges and support, it has still been a very challenging time. I am very grateful for the fact that I was able to spend time not only with our newborn, but also for my wife. It was indispensable.

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But again, even if all goes well, those first weeks are when you find out how life is now, and what your new routine is. Having more time to spend together, being supportive, and being able to really empathize with each other goes a long way in relationships. It’s still very challenging, but taking parental leave helps ensure that you have the best chance of getting off to a great start. It’s the kind of thing that has a ripple effect.

CNN: How can paternity leave benefit men professionally?

Ohanian: If your home is in a good place when you go back to work after the baby is born, you can be more productive. It’s one of the reasons I offer paternity leave as an employer and one of the reasons I really pay for male employees. There is value in spending the time making sure the castle is in top condition and the family is well set up, because then you can do your best work.

There is no such thing as work and life separate. They are quite interconnected, and it is in the best interest of employers to have employees who can take time off when they need to. Paid vacation can pay dividends for years and years and years to come.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and CEO of Reddit, speaks during the annual Non-Fully Token (NFT) event in New York, on November 3.

CNN: How can the experience of childcare change men?

Ohanian: You should ask my team if you are more empathetic or empathetic. I don’t know if I can answer this question, but one thing I see among the leaders is Type A, alpha type men across industries, including sports and entertainment. Taking time off and using this time to be a caregiver for your child or partner is a humbling experience.

As a guy who’s been obsessed with this profession his whole life – and I still am, I love the work I do – but I really thought it was the center of my being. I made many life decisions based on my career, then became a father and the switch was flipped. And I hear this over and over again from other men. I have this family that I know will be my actual legacy, considering how important those moments are with my family. My family is what I will actually remember by the people I really care about.

Why becoming a stay-at-home dad was the best decision I ever made

I don’t think that makes us any less competitive. If anything, I think I’ve become more competitive since becoming a father. But I look at all my decisions through this lens, I’m having a future conversation with my child, and I want her to be very proud of what she’s done, the decisions I’ve made, the risks of which are now my legacy.

CNN: How did you get into the paid vacation business?

Ohanian: It started right after our own experience. After I went through this with Serena, I realized: We got through this really well, and it was still painful. I can’t imagine all Americans having to go through this without any kind of relief. No American should make the decision between staying with their spouse or child in the NICU and their job. This is just unreasonable. I started talking about it more and more and then in 2019 I went to Hill with a bunch of other dads with Dove Men + Care and the US PL + team, and it really helped us get 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees signed into law.
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CNN: Why don’t you think more men are advocating for paid parental leave?

Ohanian: I think the tide is changing. More and more successful parents are talking about it, posting on social media how important it is for them to be involved in their children’s lives, and it’s a huge step forward from a generation ago just when my parents took a day off work after I was born. Back in the ’80s, not to mention the ’50s or ’60s, it was unimaginable that a father would come to terms with the idea of ​​having a life outside of work.

We are experiencing a cultural shift, and a lot of successful men are normalizing behavior that will make it easier and easier for insecure parents to say “no” to work because being with their family is important to them. I think there are a lot of dads out there who want to take paternity leave, but don’t get it and aren’t in places to talk about it. But again, the tide is turning.

Elisa Strauss Covers the culture and politics of parenting. Her book on the radical power of parenting and caregiving will be published in 2023.


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