In my last blog post, I wrote about how corporate cultures and ideals can override national legislation. Employees may have legal rights to certain things but are sometimes still dissuaded or simply not permitted by their employers to act on these legal rights. One example I gave was paternity leave.
After I published my post, I was asked by one of my readers if I have, in my research, asked any of the men who have been prohibited to take paternity leave if they were secretly relieved that they couldn’t.
Well first of all, no, I haven’t. I’ve researched men who have opted out of high-powered careers, not men who have opted out of other things to stay in these high-power positions. Also, I have conducted in-depth interviews so I simply don’t have the numbers to make any generalizations. That’s why I rely on research conducted by other people for statistics and trends and to understand issues on a broader front.
But even so, I have to honestly say, the question is kind of missing the point. Let me tell you why.
First of all, I know that there are men who, for whatever reason, feel relieved over not having to take time off to care for children. Heck, there’s a whole book written about it. In Men Can Do It! The Real Reason Dads Don’t Do Child Care and What Men and Women Should Do About It, Gideon Burrows, a man who has taken time to stay home with his children while his wife worked, argues that men are just as capable to take care of their children as women are, and the reason they don’t is that it is tedious and they simply don’t have to.
What Burrows says is true. Research has shown again and again that men are just as capable to care for children as women are. The idea that women have a biological advantage and intuitively know what to do isn’t true. Mothers may be very attuned to their children’s needs, but it is an acquired knowledge that comes from hours and hours of taking care of their children. Hours that most fathers don’t get since they don’t generally spend as much time alone with their children, being the main caregiver. (You can read more about this in my book Men Do It Too: Opting Out and In (Chapter 5))
What he says about childcare being tedious is also true. Those of us who have stayed at home to take care of infants and found ourselves up to our elbows in breast milk, baby food, diapers, baby pee and poo, or spent hours on end on the edge of a sandbox making row after row of sand cakes, knows that it can feel pretty tedious. But we also know that it can be hugely rewarding. The rewarding part is the connection and the bond between parent and child. It’s good for both the parent and the child and has a huge (positive) impact on both. This is something that fathers (and mothers for that matter) who haven’t participated in the care of their children in this way probably don’t even know that they are missing.
But even that isn’t the point here.
The point is, what would you say if a woman decided she didn’t want to care for her child because it is tedious?
Society would be shocked and call her a bad mother.
But when a man does it, it’s okay?
So, no, I’m not really interested in how many men are relieved that they aren’t able to take paternity leave. Those of us who bring children into the world need to take care of them, whether or not it is tedious.