Equal work, equal pay, equal par­ent­ing

Some men who stay home to raise their chil­dren say a stigma re­mains

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY PRAJWALA DIXIT

An­drew, Josh, Nick and Terry are all dot­ing par­ents who seem to be en­joy­ing fa­ther­hood to the hilt.

“Right now, my typ­i­cal day in­volves mak­ing break­fast, get­ting my son ready for school, driv­ing him to school, and then I work (from home, writ­ing),” says Terry Doyle, fa­ther to a five-year-old.

Shar­ing a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, full­time par­ent and soft­ware de­vel­oper An­drew Curthoys ex­plains that he’s fully in­volved with tak­ing care of his three-year-old daugh­ter, from “get­ting her dressed, clean­ing her teeth, brush­ing her hair — any of which can take quite a long time ne­go­ti­at­ing, de­pend­ing on the day.”

Dr. Nick Har­ris is a reg­is­tered clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Me­mo­rial Univer­sity and a fa­ther to a 20-month-old tod­dler.

Par­ent­ing par­ity has evolved over time. In com­par­i­son to three decades ago, the roles are more fluid to­day, but these men are still part of a mi­nor­ity.

It is 2019, after all. But na­tion­ally, as of 2017, only 29.1 per cent of the male spouses or part­ners of re­cent moth­ers claimed or in­tended to claim parental ben­e­fits and only one in 10 fa­thers par­ent full-time in Canada, which means more ca­reer in­ter­rup­tions for women. As a con­se­quence, there is a sig­nif­i­cant gen­der dis­par­ity in wage gap and pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Speak­ing about ca­reer in­ter­rup­tions and parental leave, a hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sional with over 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the field (who re­quested anonymity for fear of ca­reer reprisals for speak­ing out on this topic) agreed that women’s ca­reers are still in­ter­rupted by par­ent­ing de­mands far more of­ten than men’s.

“My ob­ser­va­tion has been — at least in the in­dus­try that I am in — is that fewer men avail of the parental leave. In­ter­est­ingly, de­pend­ing on the level of job, for a man, it’s kind of one of those things em­ploy­ers want to say, ‘Well, we of­fer it, oh yes, ab­so­lutely.’ But if some­one says they’ll take it, it’s kind of frowned upon.”

The larger the gen­der wage gap be­tween men and women — as ex­ists in New­found­land and Labrador — the trick­ier the sit­u­a­tion.

Fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of­ten con­trib­ute to fam­i­lies choos­ing to dis­rupt the woman’s ca­reer over the man’s and, in do­ing so, feed into a vi­cious cy­cle of widen­ing the wage gap and pro­mot­ing gen­der stereo­typ­ing in par­ent­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the in­creased cost of liv­ing makes it im­prac­ti­cal for many fam­i­lies to func­tion only on one in­come.

Fa­ther to a three-month-old, Josh Smee — the provin­cial ex­pan­sion co-or­di­na­tor at Choices for Youth — says al­though he con­sid­ered work­ing as a full-time par­ent, “it wasn’t fea­si­ble for our fam­ily to get by on one of our in­comes.”

“The few weeks I had home with the baby were some of my favourite times ever — I would love to have done it more,” he said.

“I think the idea that we are de­fined by what we do — and the child rear­ing doesn’t count as in­ter­est­ing — is still preva­lent.”

An­drew Curthoys

“I think, broadly speak­ing, I do feel like I’m miss­ing some­thing be­cause I’m gone dur­ing the days. I don’t get to see all her amaz­ing lit­tle dis­cov­er­ies. I would love to be able to (par­ent full-time).”

The stigma

Eco­nomic rea­sons aside, so­cially, a stigma con­tin­ues to per­sist around full-time par­ent­ing for men, some­thing that Terry Doyle says he has ex­pe­ri­enced since he switched roles with his wife to be­come the pri­mary care­giver.

While An­drew Curthoys hasn’t per­ceived much of that phe­nom­e­non and feels so­cially in­cluded by other par­ents, he is aware that he is the mi­nor­ity in drop­ping off and pick­ing up his daugh­ter.

“I do think my per­cep­tion of lack of stigma may be at­trib­uted to still hav­ing a “pro­fes­sion, so when some­one asks what I do, I can say, ‘I work in soft­ware, and take care of my daugh­ter’ in­stead of say­ing ‘I’m a full-time dad.’ Con­ver­sa­tions rarely con­tinue about par­ent­ing, but of­ten con­tinue with ‘what kind of soft­ware?’ I think the idea that we are de­fined by what we do — and the child rear­ing doesn’t count as in­ter­est­ing — is still preva­lent.”

Child rear­ing and do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are tra­di­tion­ally still seen as a woman’s “job” and some­thing that some­how im­pacts mas­culin­ity should a man choose to par­ent full time. Des­tig­ma­tiz­ing full-time par­ent­ing for men could, po­ten­tially, af­fect women pos­i­tively, lead­ing to fewer ca­reer in­ter­rup­tions for them and thereby tak­ing a step to­wards pay par­ity and equal­ity in pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ad­di­tion­ally, it can have a pos­i­tive bear­ing on a child’s de­vel­op­ment and the par­ent­ing choices they make as adults.

Dr. Nick Har­ris be­lieves that his­tor­i­cally there has been stigma, and to a de­gree it still ex­ists as a re­sult of tra­di­tional gen­der stereo­types.

“Pro­mot­ing the im­por­tance of fa­ther in­volve­ment in a child’s life is im­por­tant. Tra­di­tion­ally, fa­thers were not be­lieved to be as im­por­tant as moth­ers in rais­ing chil­dren; how­ever, we know now that fa­thers’ in­volve­ment in rais­ing chil­dren is very im­por­tant for child de­vel­op­ment and out­comes. Fur­ther ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic on this could be a good first step.”

Equal par­ent­ing

New changes to parental ben­e­fits that add ad­di­tional weeks of leave, firmly nudg­ing the non-birthing par­ent to ei­ther “use it or lose it” is some­thing that all three fa­thers who were in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle felt pos­i­tively about.

How­ever, they are skep­ti­cal of whether it will ad­dress the broader shift in val­ues.

“Five weeks prob­a­bly has min­i­mal im­pact. Twelve months, from what I’m told, would re­ally af­fect how the roles are viewed,” said Doyle when asked if parental ben­e­fits could help bridge the gen­der par­ity gap — in pay and op­por­tu­ni­ties — in the work­place.

Al­though he per­ceives changes to the parental ben­e­fits to be pos­i­tive, Curthoys feels the gap would be bridged only when both par­ents take the same amount of parental leave.

“This new parental leave will help, as it makes it eas­ier for men to take ex­tra time, but I’m not con­vinced many will, or will even want to; be­ing able to leave the house and go to work in an adult work en­vi­ron­ment is a break com­pared to a new­born baby,” he said.

“Or­ga­ni­za­tions that en­cour­age flex­i­ble sched­ules, job shar­ing and part-time work will be bet­ter able to sup­port peo­ple with other non-work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties (for child rear­ing or any­thing else). If these or­ga­ni­za­tions have hap­pier, health­ier and more pro­duc­tive work­forces, then this should be­come the norm, but oth­er­wise labour laws may need to change.

“Per­haps the real shift will be if cul­tural norms change to put the same ex­pec­ta­tion on men to be ac­tive in car­ing for and de­vel­op­ing their child, as women.”

AL­LI­SON DOYLE PHOTO

Terry Doyle and his 5-year-old son, Burgess, en­joy­ing a hike on a trail over­look­ing St. John’s.

PRAJWALA DIXIT/SPE­CIAL TO THE TELE­GRAM

An­drew Curthoys with his three-year old, Frances.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF DR. NICK HAR­RIS

Dr. Nick Har­ris and 20-month-old Brooke.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JOSH SMEE

Josh Smee ex­plores brave new worlds with his new­born, Tam­sin.

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