Why Working Mothers Need Paternity Leave

dad and babyLately I’ve been asked to share advice about maternity leave: how to tell your boss your’re pregnant and how to plan for your time out of the office. But some of the best advice I’ve heard from other women is to make sure your spouse takes paternity leave – separate from your leave.

The women I’ve met whose husbands took leave after the mother returned to work report some of the highest levels of satisfaction at home. By taking leave at different times, both parents gain an appreciation for what it takes to care for a baby and manage the house. “It has to be a real leave,” one woman told me. “Not a few days off and working on a home improvement project.”

It makes sense. The skills and understanding each parent gains while home alone with the child will carry over when those parents go back to work and will help to even the workload at home. And getting to equity at home helps women reach pay parity at work. In her article “Which Policies Promote Gender Pay Equality?” Joya Misra, Professor of Sociology & Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, points to research that shows women’s caregiving responsibilities are a contributing factor to the gender-based wage gap.

Misra also notes, “mothers’ employment and wages are boosted when leaves are of moderate length and paid well, and also when some leave is reserved for fathers. … While relatively few countries have excellent paternity leave policies, we see very beneficial outcomes for mothers where these policies do exist.”

So the next time someone asks me how best to plan for maternity leave, my answer will be start by scheduling paternity leave.


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6 comments for “Why Working Mothers Need Paternity Leave

  1. June 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I read this with interest, particularly as my latest show (about women and the workplace) actually focuses on men, and the last few minutes are taken up with discussions of men’s roles as caregivers (http://www.thebroadexperience.com/listen/2013/6/7/episode-20-the-man-show.html). Paternity leave comes up. I read this piece in the Toronto Glob and Mail a few months ago on paternity leave (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/career-advice/life-at-work/would-more-men-take-a-use-it-or-lose-it-paternity-leave/article11156542/) and I think it’s well worth reading the comments. Sure, there’s the usual misogynist nonsense but also plenty from more balanced people saying in many cases mothers don’t want their husbands/partners taking paternity leave because it eats into their own time off with their baby (certainly in many cases one workplace will not grant paternity leave unless the other parent is working at the time). This is one of those under-discussed issues. Yes, on the surface it would be great if more men took paternity leave, but I wonder how many households are made up of couples where the woman doesn’t want her partner to encroach on ‘her’ time off with her baby? I know someone for whom this was the case. He got 3 months paternity leave but his wife was not at all happy about him taking it.

    • June 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks for the comment and the link. It seems we’re talking about two different issues: maternal gatekeeping and corporate policy. Regarding maternal gatekeeping, I have to wonder if the women who engage in that would be more comfortable sharing the caregiver role if they saw more of a role for themselves outside the home? One has to look no further than the Fox talking heads last week freaking out about the rise of women breadwinners to know many women still face an uphill battle at work.

      Regarding policy, another workplace issue. Businesses stand to lose a lot if they don’t let go of outdated gender roles and start creating parent-friendly policies.

  2. June 12, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I agree about businesses, and that they stand to lose out if they don’t alter their policies. That said, this all ties in to what you state about women and their roles – perhaps you’re right that the mothers in question don’t see a fulfilling role for themselves outside the home, but I believe the women cited in the Globe and Mail comments all had jobs, though of course we have no idea whether they actually enjoyed these jobs or whether they just had to pay the bills. I posted about this in a LinkedIn group I’m in – the Catalyst group, perhaps you’re also a member. There’s a thoughtful response from another group member: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=248864827&gid=2710104&commentID=143775027&trk=view_disc&ut=24QAJGITGJH5M1

    The more I work on my show the more I realize how complicated and nuanced all this is. On the one hand many women love their work and want to go back to it…but the same women can be very controlling when it comes to their kids and their homes. This has come up multiple times in the interviews I’ve done. We don’t even realize we’re doing it most of the time. It’s part of what the Catalyst commenter calls our deeply ingrained roles – centuries of homemaking and childcare.

    • June 13, 2013 at 7:51 am

      I just listened to a few of your shows. They’re great. I really wonder about women enjoying their work. When you have t work so hard outside of the office managing family and house, and then you face both subtle and overt biases in the office, how fulfilling is that? And if that’s the case, where do you direct your energy?

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