Equal work, equal pay, equal parenting
Some men who stay home to raise their children say a stigma remains
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.”
“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).”
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.”
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.”
Terry Doyle and his 5-year-old son, Burgess, enjoying a hike on a trail overlooking St. John’s.
Andrew Curthoys with his three-year old, Frances.
Dr. Nick Harris and 20-month-old Brooke.
Josh Smee explores brave new worlds with his newborn, Tamsin.