Pa­ter­nity leave cre­ates su­per­dads

CityPress - - Voices - Grethe Koen

in their lives – dad had a lot of say in the de­ci­sion mak­ing, but the nur­tur­ing, emo­tional con­nec­tion and care­giv­ing was from mum.

Per­haps that’s why peo­ple will say ridicu­lous things like “Dad is baby-sit­ting the kids tonight” – as if the fa­ther is not re­ally a par­ent, just an out­side en­tity step­ping in to help for the night. Oth­ers will re­fer to a dad who changes nap­pies or feeds the kids as “a very hands-on fa­ther” or some­one who “re­ally takes care of his kids”. Re­ally? A fa­ther do­ing what he’s sup­posed to is con­sid­ered ex­tra­or­di­nary?

It seems that dads are at a disad­van­tage from the start. It’s as if so­ci­ety dic­tates that their gen­der ren­ders them in­ca­pable of giv­ing the same amount of care to a child as a woman would. And sure, par­ent­hood might come more nat­u­rally to some women (that might have to do with the fact that she has car­ried the child in her belly for nine months), but re­serv­ing some tasks for mum (the re­ally hard stuff ) and oth­ers for dad (the play­ing) means men will al­ways be the in­ter­lop­ers.

In fact, at times there seems to be a car­di­nal dif­fer­ence be­tween how men and women view hav­ing chil­dren. Women want a child to nur­ture, to rear, to call their own. Men want a child to prop­a­gate their seed, to carry for­ward their legacy. Could com­pul­sory pa­ter­nity leave for fathers force them to be more emo­tion­ally con­nected to their chil­dren? And could it cre­ate a play­ing field where par­ent­ing is more equal? Imag­ine a so­ci­ety where we don’t just speak about moth­ers “hav­ing it all” – but have cre­ated a tan­gi­ble sys­tem that sup­ports them to be moth­ers as well as ca­reer women.

For years we have been call­ing for mums to get more ma­ter­nity leave, when the so­lu­tion might just be to give fathers more pa­ter­nity leave.

Ac­cord­ing to The Economist, a study of four rich coun­tries – Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and Den­mark – found that fathers who had taken pa­ter­nity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long af­ter the pe­riod of leave had ended. In Bri­tain, dads who took time off at birth were al­most a third more likely to read books with their tod­dlers than those who had not.

Fathers who do more give moth­ers a chance to spread their wings. It gives kids the sense of se­cu­rity and nur­tur­ing they might have never known – and it cre­ates men who un­der­stand par­ent­ing. While the idea of South Africa match­ing wel­fare states like Swe­den in pa­ter­nity leave is very far off, it’s a pow­er­ful con­cept that makes us look at the very na­ture of fa­ther­hood. Are we giv­ing our dads the time, or even the chance, to truly be the dads the Fa­ther’s Day cards talk about?

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