Shortly before my son was born, my wife and I made a practical decision. This was one of many practical decisions we made at the time, but one that, while practical in nature, seemed almost radical to many. While my wife’s job offered her three months paid maternity leave, we knew that at the end of those three months the job of being new parents wasn’t going to be a cakewalk, and someone would have to step up.
Considering the benefits of my wife’s job (healthcare, etc) and the fact that she actually pulled in more income than me, the writer (sorry to burst your bubble, but us writers are not rolling in dough). It was decided that I would fashion a sort of paternity leave and be the primary caregiver for our infant son. One snag, paternity leave had yet to be invented.
As of this moment, paternity leave is still a pipe dream in the United States, however the United Kingdom just approved a law that would allow fathers to take the place of the mother with six months leave (three months paid, three months not) once the child’s mother has gone back to work. The measure would allow mothers who earn more than their partners to return to work earlier, and would effectively allow couples to have a total of 12 months’ parental leave between them. The pay is about 200 dollars a week, not much, but better than nothing, which is what we paternity leave fathers get in the United States.
In 2004, California became the first state to offer paid family leave, which allows you to take up to six weeks at partial pay to care for your newborn. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for family members (including fathers) which is nice, but doesn’t address the financial practicalities of being a new parent, nor issues of job stability (if you work for a company with fewer than fifty employees, you don’t even have the legal right to take a leave at all if you are a man). To give you a bit of a comparison, Sweden (that social utopia) provides about a year of paid family leave and some time specifically reserved for fathers.
Considering the shift in earning potential and the evolution of gender roles in the modern American family, isn’t it time the U.S. government took the role of fathers and the necessity of family leave a bit more seriously? Wouldn’t a law similar to this British mandate serve to strengthen the role of the father as caregiver? For a man/father, would paternity leave be seen as a respectable career move or would it be frowned upon in the workplace and indicative of a lack of ambition? Is it time the U.S. followed suit and provided a real (paid) family leave for mothers and fathers alike? Would this be an unfair economic burden on our already flagging economy, or would it be an investment with numerous unforeseen future benefits?