Parental leave should be used equally

The 100 Mile Free Press’s editorial for Sept. 28

By Tara Sprickerhoff

Fathers should be as involved and invested in their child’s life as their mother — and this doesn’t just mean providing financially for the family.

With the Free Press’s editor taking some well-deserved parental leave this month, and as someone whose father was a stay-at-home dad, this issue is near to my heart.

While, generally, Canadians may assume we have achieved gender equality on a legislative level there are many instances where the reality proves it is not the case.

Under Canada’s employment insurance plan, a new mother can take maternity leave of up to 15 weeks, and either parent is entitled to 35 weeks that can be shared between them however they chose.

However, according to one Statistics Canada study from 2012, 90 per cent of working mothers reported having taken parental leave, averaging in length approximately 44 weeks.

Only 26 per cent of new fathers in the same period reported taking any leave, and what leave they did take averaged approximately two and a half weeks.

While there are many reasons for the above statistics, some related to earning differential and others to personal preference, this paints a bleak picture not only for women, but for men as new fathers and caregivers.

A study by sociologist Michelle J. Budig suggests that when women become mothers their opportunity for advancement in the workplace suffers. Conversely, men with children are rewarded as stable employees.

Male employees become more likely to get promotions often in line with their perceived ability to put work, and not family, first.

In many cases, this is justified as “for the good of the child” — a mother needs to be involved in their child’s life.

This is harmful not only for the woman, but for a father and child. Children see less of their father and the burden of parenting falls, intentionally or not, on the woman.

It also makes it harder for men to take parental leave. In a former office, my coworker, who had recently had a baby, boasted about his ability to only take two weeks off for leave, whereas there was much grumbling about a woman about to go on her second maternity leave.

If we lived in a world where men were encouraged to take the same, or similar, amounts of parental leave as their partners women’s careers wouldn’t suffer, because men would take the same time off and would come at the same cost to a company.

Additionally, I can see absolutely zero harm in having fathers and families spend more time with their children.

When we place women at the forefront of parenting, we are also saying to men that their contribution as a father and parent comes at a lower value.

Fathers love their children as much as mothers love them. Why can’t we value their contributions to parenthood as equal and encourage and enable them to be entitled to and to take the same amount of time to parent their newborns?

– Tara Sprickerhoff is a reporter with the 100 Mile Free Press.