You Deserve a Little R&R
After the baby is born, much attention is given to the mother. But the dad goes through a stressful phase of pregnancy as well, even if he doesn't carry the baby. His responsibilities are enormous that need his constant undivided attention. The new dad finds himself saddled with household chores, disrupted chores, and his apprehensions of parenting.
So it's good that FMLA exists. For those who aren't familiar it is the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1993, the US government passed this act to protect people from losing their means of livelihood due to a medical reason, including birth of a child. The Act covers both maternity and paternity leave.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees are eligible to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. To be eligible to take leave under FMLA, the employee must have worked for his employer for at least 12 months and should have logged at least 1,250 hours in the past year.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule too. While interpreting the law, the clarity between maternity and paternity leave blurs. The fact is that some men do take a leave from work when their spouse is at home, incapacitated due to childbirth or pregnancy; however, there is a string attached to it.
According to a study done by the Department of Labor in 2000, 42.6% men didn't avail the benefits of FMLA, as they were concerned about their job advancement taking a hit. Moreover, 31% were afraid of losing their jobs if they didn't come to work for 12 weeks. The very thing the Act aims to provide - job security, is beyond the scope of this law to offer.
In short, men believe that taking paternity leave robs them of their masculinity in the eyes of others. Is there some truth to it, or are these just baseless fears?
In other words, they are believed to be more in tune with their "feminine" side, and are more likely to face demotion or get downsized, compared to other men. This definitely seems unfair. But the gender stereotypes that are ingrained in society, since centuries, play a major role in workplace ideology.
Talking about ideology at the workplace, let's discuss what makes an ideal worker? He is someone who begins working in his early 20s and slogs for the next 40 years with dedication and determination. He is a provider. Interestingly, this is not only the description of an ideal employee, but also portrays how we see a father.
The stereotypical dad is the breadwinner of the family; he goes to work in the morning and comes home late at night. The balance always tilt towards work instead of the family. No wonder, paternity leaves go largely underutilized.
Dispelling the Hypermasculine Myths
Paternity leave has acquired a bad reputation. To rectify this, some European countries, like Sweden and Norway introduced the concept of paid leave, which can be availed by new fathers. If they don't, they will be leaving money on the table. Germany and Portugal provide women bonus maternity leave if their husband take only the minimum paternity leave.
Such flexibility is appreciated by new parents. Iceland is showing the way, where paternity leave is concerned. New parents get 12 months of paid leave, 5 each for both mom and dad, and the couple can choose to share the remaining two months between them. The tiny, idyllic Iceland ranked first in The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report of 2012.
In these countries, many dads use paternity leaves to support their partners. A study by Ankita Patnaik, a Cornell graduate student, throws light on a new pattern in Quebec, which had a new paid paternity leave quota some time ago. The study found that fathers having exposure to this reform, were more involved in parenting than those who weren't.
Paternity leave can bolster economy. Shocked? Mainly, women take advantage of the parent leave policy. They need to, because the responsibility of nursing and taking care of the baby falls on them. If the paternity leave policies are reformed by getting paid during leave period, several dads will bond with the kids and participate in their nurturing.
Whereas, it will free up the women, and allow them to go back to their respective jobs. Evidently, it will level the field and help to balance out the gender roles. Without getting sidelined in their careers due to motherhood, women can get more time to grow in their professions and thus, contribute more to the economy.
Since times are changing, and the entrenched social norms are slowly fading away, one can no longer say that the work-family conflict is a woman's domain alone. Dads need to lean in towards their homes, to focus on the all-round needs of a newborn. The paternity leave, more specifically a paid one, will effectively balance this tilted scale a bit.