Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Use It or Lose It

If our government ever succeeds in establishing a paid parental leave policy, my biggest fear is that it will be scoffed up by mothers. We fathers will be left with crumbs, just like the paid leave policy in New Zealand that allows mothers to share all or part of their 14 week parental leave with fathers - only 1% do so.

And where will we be if mothers take all the paid leave? In some ways, worse off than we are today. Parenting will be just as mother-centric as ever, and mothers who get, say, 8 weeks of paid leave will just be that much more financially able to take more leave after the 8 weeks are up. More leave equals more time as the sole parent with a couple's new baby - which equals more expertise by the mother. A father has no chance to catch up!

I much prefer a "use it or lose it" parental leave policy. Take Iceland's for example. Here mothers get 3 months paid leave, fathers get the same, and the couple gets an additional 3 months to divide as they wish. The result? Fathers take 35% of the parental leave. That means they are taking their 3 months and just a tiny bit more. Mothers are still hogging the shared leave time, but those fathers have 3 months of parenting under their belts. A beautiful thing!

So, if someday we are awarded 8 weeks of paid parental leave, I would portion off at least a few of them to the guy as "use or lose." Even crazier (and probably not possible), I'd make the paid portion of a man's paternity leave only valid if taken sequentially (not simultaneously) with his wife's leave.


Blogger ED said...

For the most part, I like it. It has the features I most want - time for both parents, and the ability for at least one parent to be home at a time for up to 9 months . . . although I would prefer a year. I definitely think fathers deserve their own chunk of time.

However, I do disagree with this: "I'd make the paid portion of a man's paternity leave only valid if taken sequentially (not simultaneously) with his wife's leave."

I think some parenting labor divisions are established in the early days. If fathers need to return to work in order to earn a paycheck while the mother initiates BFing, then we are discouraging fathers from being completely available for their share of parenting during those first critical weeks. Throw in complications like the mother recovering from a difficult birth or NICU time, and such a policy almost rewards the father for being absent during the difficult early period when moms most need support in order to be present later. I think giving the couple flexibility is the right option in this case.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Marc on this one, though I hear you Ethel on needing support during the first weeks. I think Marc's focus is on using at least a chunk of leave to get Dads (or non-nursing moms, like me) up an running *independently* so that they are able to truly develop the expertise that will make them able to function independently as a parent, without needing mom (or bio-mom) to "manage."

We had a luxurious leave/flexible job situation, with both of us able to take two months off completely, followed by me doing the majority of home care for five months, and then my wife for five months. I can say from direct experience that I did not fully learn how to "work" the baby until I was solely in charge, despite our being highly conscious of sharing parenting. If those first two months had been my only leave, with my wife home also, it would have taken much longer for me to come into my own as an equal parent. Also, when you're both home, pressure is on Dad/Non-nursing mom to do chores, cooking, and feeding of nursing mom, not form a relationship with the kid. Yes, that support is needed, particularly if there are health complications (which we also had), but it doesn't really help you develop a relationship with the child, whereas independent parenting time really does.

11:08 AM  

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