Amy Warren Alpert found there were skeptics about fathers taking paternity leave. That was before she had kids. Here is what convinced her they are wrong.
Over 15 years ago, I helped write the paternity leave policy for Goldman Sachs. We offered fathers two weeks of paid leave and provided flexibility as to when they could take this leave. Perhaps they wanted to use the leave for the first two weeks after the child is born, maybe they wanted to supplement the other parent’s leave, or maybe they preferred to use it a little at a time to fill in the gaps at home. By providing flexibility, we were acknowledging that every family is different. Our intention was for the policy to make sense to our employees and to assist a family adjusting to a new baby at home. Did I think two-week paternity leave was adequate? No. But it was a start, especially at a firm that made no apologies for its face-time oriented, workaholic culture.
I helped write this paternity leave policy when I was newly married and did not have kids of my own. At the time, one of our male friends expressed a strong negative reaction to the idea of paternity leave. He teased me (in a loving way of course) about the ridiculousness of paternity leave and said he would lose respect for any man who took advantage of it. Fortunately, our friend changed his tune after he married, started his own successful company and had children of his own. Not only did he establish a paternity leave within his company, he also was a role model by utilizing in the paternity leave himself when he became a father. Over time his definition of masculinity was expanded to include caregiving. This change in our friend exemplifies the larger change that is going on all around us. Men are realizing the benefits of caregiving and men, women and children, stand to benefit from this modern definition of what it is to be a man.
Reading Unfinished Business, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, I was reminded of the power of men in the women’s movement. As Slaughter points out in her book, girls have more choices than boys do today. Girls can choose to stay home, work part time, work full time etc. while boys are typically given a more singular option of providing financially for the family. Of course we are constantly seeing exceptions to this rule and the hope is that these exceptions continue to flourish. Giving men a broader definition of masculinity benefits men and women. The opportunity to provide care for our children and elderly relatives is a gift both for the caregiver as well as the one receiving care. Providing opportunities for men to be caregivers will elevate the value we place on care in our society.
Leading The Way Towards a Paradigm Shift
Same-Sex marriage (p. 78): Heterosexual couples can learn from same-sex couples regarding how to define their roles within their marriage. Same-sex couples have the freedom to design their own marriage. They can ask the following questions to guide their choices: Whose job pays more or has the best income prospects down the road? Who enjoys work more? Who has a more supportive employer? Who prefers to be the primary parent? I think it would be significant if heterosexual couples evaluated their division of labor with the same openness. Perhaps in the near future heterosexual couples will make their choices in the same way same sex couples make their decisions rather than relying on predetermined, outdated gender roles. This opens up freedoms for both men and women to evaluate their unique hopes and dreams for themselves and for their families.
Women’s increase in income
“40% of American women are the primary breadwinners in their families. That includes single mothers, but it still tracks a major trend.” (p. 49) With this fact, it makes sense for many families to revisit traditional roles. When a woman earns more than her husband, it confuses the traditional model of fathers being the breadwinners due to a higher salary. Of course this does not automatically reverse the roles because there are many factors that determine who does what within a couple, but it opens up the opportunity for a more thoughtful conversation.
What Can Women Do to Help the Men’s Movement?
“Let it Go” in the Home
Ok, this is a really big deal and I love how Slaughter captures this in her book. We women need to Let it Go at home. We need to let our husbands handle parenting and housework in their unique way. If we micromanage our husbands, we are denying them the opportunity to make a unique contribution. Slaughter talks about how women have a tendency to give men step-by-step instructions on how to handle the house when they are not home (p.150). Our husbands may do things differently, but that does not make it wrong. In the same way women want to contribute to their workplace in their own unique way without having to “act like a man”, men need to be able to contribute at home without micromanagement. If we want men to contribute equally at home, we must make room for them to express themselves their way and allow them to learn from their mistakes just as women are making their own unique mark in the workplace.
Support Young Men
What are the messages we are giving our sons? Do we tell them they can do anything like we tell our daughters? We need to make sure we tell our son’s (just like we tell our daughters) that they can be whoever they want to be. They can choose to be primary caregiver whether it is for their children’s entire childhood, seesawing career opportunities with their spouse, or they can be the primary breadwinner. As mentors, we need to ask young men to think about what work and family means for them. Women are asked constantly about how they plan to manage work and family. Men also need the opportunity to reflect on this and to ask themselves the questions about their values and priorities (p. 180). Women and men need to live lives with authenticity and integrity, but the only way to do that is to search your own soul and determine what will make you truly happy. We have worked very hard over the years to expand women’s choices; men also deserve more choices and an expanded definition of masculinity to provide freedoms and opportunities for all.