As an at-home dad of four years, I’ve never really put much thought into why men do or do not take parental leave from work after they become fathers. Maybe it is because, for our family, it was just what worked for us. When our son was born we made the decision together in the best interest of the family unit, weighing how it would influence our son during these crucial developmental years as well as how one of us becoming a the primary-caregiver would impact us economically.
I read some Statistics Canada numbers about parental leave recently. These showed that while 90 cent of women take both paid and unpaid leave postpartum or following adoption, only 26 percent of men take parental leave, despite being entitled to up to 35 weeks off.
YWCA Metro Vancouver views this imbalance as a problem in need of a solution, and has put forth a recommendation that parental leave be increased to 18 months, with one stipulation—that six months of this time is earmarked for dads.
Chantelle Krish, Manager of Advocacy and Public Relations for YWCA Metro Vancouver told CBC’s The 180 with Jim Brown that encouraging fathers to take a more active role at home will translate into a shift in the cultural pressures that affect men in the workplace. Meaning, more men will feel comfortable transitioning out of the breadwinner/caregiver paradigm and into a more progressive, present role at home if paternity leave becomes more common. Krish says she believes that in addition to improving the lives of children, having dad present during these developmental years will, once and for all, bring equilibrium to the division of labour in the household.
While I agree that the benefits of parental leave for fathers are many, I think that setting aside an additional six months for dads only is counter-intuitive to the balance that YWCA Metro Vancouver is attempting to achieve.
Segregating mothers and fathers further entrenches traditional gender roles in parenting and ignores the reality that parenting is not gender-based. Developing a separate segment in the policy for parental leave for fathers will not narrow the gap between moms and dads, but further isolate us through special treatment.
Fathers are not seeking special treatment.
The proposed policy change is rooted in an outdated view of parenting. Including fathers only excludes many groups such as same-sex couples and single mothers. The policy undermines a society in need of progressive programs and resources for parents for the sake of children from all walks of life. While YWCA Metro Vancouver is aware that the proposed solution is not fundamentally inclusive, amendments for improvement have not been suggested.
In my view, the demarcation between maternity leave and parental leave should be discarded instead, and categorized solely under the umbrella of parental leave. Families would have more choice on how to assign that leave following childbirth or adoption. This choice is crucial to families in their pursuit of parental leave plans that work for their unique circumstances; it’s up to them to based those decisions on their home lives, the needs of their children, and economic factors. Single parents, same-sex parents, mothers and fathers all need that flexibility to meet the best interests of their kids, and to sustain or create an enriching environment, independent of parent gender, from the moment the kids are born.
As a stay-at-home dad I would hesitate to tell another father that, unequivocally, he should stay at home with his child. I would, however, encourage him to make the best decision for his family. I’d share with him the positive experience I’ve had, and how taking the time to raise my son has benefitted all of us. And I would not fail to mention the tough parts, too, like the burden on my wife as the sole breadwinner of our family. Her sacrifice of time with our son permits us to navigate life in the best interest of our child.
When I reflect on my experiences as a primary caregiver, I do not count normalizing the division of unpaid labour in my home—a benefit that Krish points to in her interview—among them. It’s always been about our son.
The intention of parental leave is not to influence how a family weighs its responsibilities. It’s about the parenting.
However, I firmly believe that fathers should play an active role in both childcare and household duties. I agree with YWCA that there’s a great benefit to families when dads are present and engaged. And I commend their efforts to increase the number of dads who take parental leave. However, leveraging government policy to transform culture at home is not the answer. Two-parent families, same-sex couples, and single parents are ultimately going to choose the best course of action for their distinct circumstances.
Consideration should be given to extended parental leave with flexibility within all types of families. Businesses can change workplace culture by implementing equal paid leave for mothers and fathers. A shift in corporate culture can be achieved by creating an ethos that values care giving and the importance of family.
Policies need to be more generous and accessible for all.
Photo credit: Caleb Ekeroth