Changing the law won't make men access parental leave

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Finland’s step in equalising the parental leave entitlement for both parents is a step to be applauded and something I dearly hope happens in Australia in the near future, however… a policy change is the easy step. The rubber really hits the road with the cultural and attitudinal shifts that need to take place that will allow men to embrace these changes. Please note: I’m using 'men' as a catch-all term for cis-men and people who identify as male.

I had a baby about 18 months ago and while I tried to include my husband in the pregnancy goings on (the scans, the check ups, the baby app that compares your foetus size to fruit etc.), he just wasn’t jumping on board the baby-town express. It was such an unreal concept to him that at the end of the pregnancy journey would be an actual small person.

I was listening to The Guilty Feminist podcast the other day and they were discussing the topic of fatherhood. A male panellist mad a comment along the lines of ‘for most women, motherhood begins the moment they discover they’re pregnant. For most men, fatherhood begins at birth maybe, but sometimes not until months after.’

This is a critical issue that needs to be tackled. From birth women are raised to be nurturers and carers. From marriage we are bombarded with questions about the pitter patter of tiny feet in a way that men simply aren’t. And once you are pregnant, you receive 1000 pieces of advice a day (not all welcome to be honest) and answer about 1000 questions about the pregnancy, the journey to pregnancy, your expectations post-pregnancy... Talking about motherhood and its impact on your life is natural for women, we’ve done it all our lives!

Men simply don’t have the same experience and it puts them at a disadvantage. I think public classes should be offered to all expectant dads that challenge their values and beliefs about parenthood. Classes that go beyond 'how to change a nappy' and delve into:

  • What are you expecting parenthood to be like?

  • What kind of dad do you want to be?

  • What impact will being a dad have on your job?

  • What kind of flexibility can you access that will support you to be the dad you want to be and what options do you have if your employer isn’t open to flexible working?

  • How much time are you taking off? How will that interact with your partner’s leave?

  • Are you confident in being the primary carer?

  • What are the benefits of dad’s being around infants (for the infants and the dad’s)?

I posed a number of these questions to my husband before and after our baby was born and again recently when I was due to return to work and sadly the answers haven’t changed much. It’s mostly a shrug, an ‘I’m not sure’ and a ‘my job is busy, it can’t really be that flexible’.

Don’t get me wrong, my hubby does a pretty good job, but we are far from 50-50 when it comes to the care of our son. When I asked him to consider a 4-day work week or accessing his months of Long Service Leave to allow me to get back into the workforce he just stared at me incredulously as if to say ‘but, but I’m the dad?’.

Asking men to consider and discuss questions like those listed above has the power to shift thinking and change attitudes. And they need to form part of the family planning discussion, not once a baby is already on board!

Until the prevailing male perspective on parenting fundamentally shifts and they see themselves as central to the raising of children and management of a household the usage of ‘paternity’ leave will remain low, regardless of the legislative entitlement.

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