By Ada Slivinski (photo by Richard Leeming)
As late as the 1950s, many fathers were not present in the delivery room, but rather were waiting in the pub for their children to be born. Now, fathers are not only very involved during labour and birth, but are taking on a larger role in caring for their children during the first years of life; and a growing number of these dads are taking extended parental leave to do so.
Canadian Employment Insurance provides 15 weeks of maternity leave for mothers – and 35 weeks of parental leave that can be taken by either the mother or father, or shared between the two.
In 2000 – a year before the length of sharable benefits was increased – only three per cent of fathers claimed these benefits according to Statistics Canada. In 2006, 20 per cent did. Of course, most dads will take a few days to a couple weeks off to welcome a child, using vacation time, sick days, or unpaid leave.
The change is part of a cultural shift toward embracing involved fatherhood; there’s also been a jump in the number of men who are stay-at-home parents.
Fathers now also miss work days for personal or family responsibilities: they went from missing 1.8 days in 1997 to 6.3 in 2007 (for women those numbers were 4.1 and 4.8, respectively), according to Stats Can.
When a stay-at-home mom friend of mine gave birth to her second child, her husband took paternity leave. He was able to take care of the eldest to help her rest and bond with the new baby. The company top-up program was generous enough that this wasn’t too much of a financial burden, and both parents say it was the best thing they could have done for their family.
Convincing companies about this, though, can often be a struggle.
While bosses often expect moms to be off for a year, dads taking time off certainly isn’t the expected course of action, and many dads who choose this route experience pushback.
In 2013, CNN reporter Josh Levs wanted to take paternity leave when his wife gave birth to their third child. He learned Time Warner, the parent company, didn’t offer the benefit to biological fathers (even though women got paid time off, as did fathers who have children through adoption or surrogacy). He sued to challenge the policy, and a year later, he won. The company put new language into its benefit guide for 2015 so that any parent can get six paid weeks of leave.
Dads who go this route say it can be tough to be the first in your company, but once one man paves the way, other fathers often follow – and say there are huge benefits.
In addition to giving them a valuable opportunity to bond with their child and offering the new mom more help and time to rest, for moms who go back to work, there are more opportunities for promotions and raises.
A 2010 study by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation found that for every month of parental leave taken by the father, the mother’s future earnings increased by 7 per cent.
Taking on more at home
Since the birth of a new baby is a time when housework is renegotiated, many experts say that when fathers get involved early, it sets a pattern for the future and they continue to take on more household tasks even after going back to work.
A mom whose husband was off for most of the year with their first child while she finished her degree said now if her son is upset, he’ll ask for his dad first, which she calls a relief now that they have two kids to care for and the baby demands a lot of her attention.
Though there can be practical challenges for dads who take paternity leave – many men’s washrooms don’t have change tables for example – the culture is changing. And for men who may think their day job is too important? Even U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, took two weeks of paternity leave when his daughter was born.