A new law in the UK requires employers to offer a “shared” 12-month maternity leave for mothers and fathers of children born on or after April 1st, 2015. The statute is a progressive push for equality with regard to maternity and paternity leave for parents in the workplace. However, an article in The Telegraph attempts to argue that the law itself will fail largely because when it comes to taking care of their kids, “it’s not what fathers do.”
As a dad with a 3.5 year old girl and an 18 month old boy, I can’t help but be distraught with this flawed analysis that includes the statement that men believe taking care of one’s child is a “low-status job.” The article presents statistics that, last year, only 1 out of every 50 fathers took advantage of paternity leave when the original law was instituted (without the shared time requirement) in the UK. The article places the blame for this solely upon the dads by stating that “fatherhood remains a conflict of interest for most men.” It goes on with an attempt to reach back to the hunter-gatherer mentality, when our prehistoric fathers were tasked with the daily chore of finding food and the mothers stayed back to raise the children, to try and support the argument.
I applaud the UK for taking the initiative to expand their paternity laws and require employers to offer enhanced pay for men taking paternity leave. While employers have complained about the lost productivity and economic impact of the new laws, it is a bold step in the right direction. I question whether, historically, the issue has really been dads not wanting to stay at home as this article suggests, or if it is more about their inability to do so and still provide for their families. Myriad social issues confound the problem, including inequality for females in the workplace, societal pressures for men to work instead of stay at home, etc. But to place the blame solely upon a false notion that us dads don’t want to spend time with our kids because of some hard-wiring in our brain is completely ridiculous.
I have had the opportunity stay at home with my kids for extended periods of time over the last 3.5 years. It is challenging, it can be exhausting and frustrating, but it has been something I will cherish for the rest of my life. It never made me question my manhood or my value to society. If anything, it was an opportunity for me to simply be present with my kids during their most important developmental times. It made me feel productive, important and it was the time when I really began to realize that being a dad is the best and most important job I will ever have. Maybe I’m the 1 in 50, but I doubt it.
Social change doesn’t occur overnight. Just because the new law is in place doesn’t mean that men will suddenly flock to take paternity leave. As previously mentioned, there are many others barriers and circumstances that play into the decision for any parent to stay home with their kids. A law like this that ALLOWS men the opportunity, with reduced financial and social consequence, to stay at home with their kids is progress. – Rex