This report on paternity leave in the United States is really fucking depressing.
Only fourteen states and the District of Colombia have gone beyond the rather bare-bones provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act. FMLA is the only act that helps Americans balance work and family, which is both praise for FMLA and a shameful point for the American government. However, the leave that FMLA provides for in the event of the birth of a child is unpaid and only available to half the nation’s workforce.
Many, many parents cannot afford to take unpaid leave when a child is born; they live paycheck to paycheck and three months without one parent’s income would destroy them. Even those who can afford to take leave often can’t afford for both parents to take leave. Their finances are stressed enough by one parent taking three months off, they can’t afford for both parents too. In heterosexual couples, the parent who takes time off to be with the children is almost always female, which means that fathers do not get to play an equal role in the parenting process.
What’s worse is that the unequal roles that only one parent taking leave lead to tend to perpetrate themselves. Studies have shown that when fathers take leave after the child’s birth, they’re more likely to be involved in the direct care of their children long-term. Admittedly, there’s a pretty major confounding variable here– fathers who want to be involved in their children’s lives may be more likely to take leave and to be involved in the care of their children long-term– but the point stands. If you set up the mother as the primary caregiver and the father as a glorified babysitter, that pattern may continue to perpetuate itself throughout the children’s lives. Not only is that unfair to mothers, who have to work a second shift taking care of the children once they get off the job, it’s also unfair to fathers, who don’t get the pleasure of a primary role raising their children.
However, there’s a solution here: paid leave policies. In California, which has paid leave, paid leave policies doubled the chance that a father takes leave and tripled the average time that a father takes off after the birth of a child to eight weeks. In addition to improving finances so they can afford to have both parents take off time, paid leave tends to make taking leave more acceptable to men: after all, if you get paid for it, it counts as a valid life choice! Although that’s a pretty terrible aspect of male social conditioning, we might as well take advantage of it.
Despite the advantages, many men do not have access to paid paternity leave. Only 14% of men in states where paid leave is not mandated have access to paid paternity leave. Even if they get paternity leave, the leave they get is often depressingly small: the hundred best companies for working mothers (i.e. the leaders of the pack in terms of helping parents) offered, on average, only three weeks of paid leave for new fathers. Three weeks! Don’t look towards laws for help, either: only three states– California, New Jersey, and Washington– offer paid family leave, and only Washington offers job-protected paid family leave.
That’s nasty. Men are parents too. Men deserve to be able to take time from work to take care of their infant children and bond with their babies. That shouldn’t be a privilege: that should be a right.
Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.