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Is it High Time That Men Should Get Paternity Leave from Work?

Should Men Get Paternity Leave from Work?
The debate about paternity leave is an ongoing one. New dads suffer due to the gender straitjacket prevalent in society, making true work-life equilibrium rather difficult to achieve.
Pushpa Duddukuri
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
"Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, storytellers, and singers of songs."
~ Pam Brown
I know a guy whose fears of failing as a dad was right up with shark attacks. After he became a father, he said this to me in passing at a get-together, "Fatherhood is a wonderful thing, if you ignore the gross stuff, the daily strain of raising a little human who, after years of upbringing, can turn around and accuse you of not giving him enough attention, and the fact that the allegation can actually be true." Evidently, he still needs to work on his fears. But he thinks, "he can wing it, just like his father. After all, he turned out fine, right?" Chuckle.... On that note, let me draw your attention to the role of fathers in society. Now, it has being widely accepted that the traditional role of a father that calls him to be the breadwinner and disciplinarian of the family is a little too outdated.

Modern-day children need the love and nurturing of both of their parents, even at the infant stage. So, when Gordon Brown, the ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, fervently advocated the plans of increasing the paternity leave period in the UK, it didn't come as a surprise. The current Statutory Paternity Leave and Pay in the UK allows fathers to take 2 consecutive weeks of paid leave, within 56 days from the time of birth of their child.
You Deserve a Little R&R
Happy pregnant woman with her husband
After the baby is born, much attention is given to the mother. She needs her rest, and then some. But the dad goes through a stressful phase of pregnancy as well, even if he doesn't carry the baby. His responsibilities are also enormous that require his constant and undivided attention. The new dad finds himself saddled with household chores, disrupted chores, and his own apprehensions about parenting. That's why, it's a good thing that FMLA exists. For those who aren't familiar with these abbreviations, I am referring to the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1993, the US government passed this act in order to protect people from losing their means of livelihood in case of a medical reason, including the birth of a child. The Act basically, 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 that 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?
Winning the Bread
Father with newborn baby
Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher of Rutgers University published a paper on the stigma that is attached with paternity leave and gender stereotypes. They mentioned in their paper that, men who seek balance in their work-life equation face a backlash at the workplace, more than women do. 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. Though there may be many dads who want to step forward and dig in during those first few months, the supposed gender roles keep them from getting more involved in childcare and household work.
Dispelling the Hypermasculine Myths
Paternity leave has acquired a bad reputation. In order 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. Similarly, Germany and Portugal provide women bonus maternity leave if their husband take only the minimum paternity leave. Needless to say, such flexibility is much appreciated by the new parents. Interestingly, Iceland is showing others the way, where paternity leave is concerned. New parents in Iceland 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 all these countries, a large number of dads use paternity leaves to support their domestic partners. A study by Ankita Patnaik, a Cornell graduate student, throws some light on a new pattern that emerged in Quebec, which introduced a new paid paternity leave quota some time ago. The study found that fathers, who had exposure to this reform, were more involved in parenting than those who weren't.

Paternity leave can bolster the economy. Shocked by this statement? Predominantly, it's women who take advantage of the parent leave policy. They need to, because the responsibility of nursing and taking care of the baby falls on them. However, if the paternity leave policies are reformed with a provision of getting paid during the leave period, several dads will take the opportunity of bonding with their kids and actively participate in nurturing the child. 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.

Dads can become more attuned to their parental roles when they spend more time at home with the kids. Some states, like New Jersey, California, and a few corporate, like Google, Yahoo, Bank of America, are offering paid leaves to dads from their own pockets. 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.