Redefining Parenting: Paid “Daddy” Leave vs The Fight for Maternity Leave.

The New York Times has a piece today about the changing role of father’s in Sweden after a 1995 law that required men to take parental leave. The results have been lower rates of divorce, higher likeliness of joint custody in the case of divorce and men re-prioritizing their lives to work/life balance as opposed to explicitly focused on career.

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.
In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.
“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Sweden ranked at the top of the list for best places to be a mother and I think we can deduce that increased opportunities for fathers to be better fathers, actually lightens the load for mothers allowing greater equality at home and at work. One thing the article mentions that is interesting is that in many immigrant communities in Sweden, men don’t chose the paid leave option as often, which I think could be economic or social/cultural, but can’t conclude without more evidence.
But the greater point stands that government support of “daddy” leave has had the impact of making families happier, moms happier and has the potential to change how masculinity is privileged in society. This is definitely something I think worth thinking about and comparing to our very family unfriendly system.

In stark contrast, Sharon Lerner has an Op-Ed at the Washington Post discussing our archaic model and historical fight for paid maternity leave in the United States.

One hundred and seventy-seven nations — including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan — have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child. But here, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides only unpaid leave, and most working mothers don’t get to stay home with their newborns for the 12 weeks allowed by the law. Many aren’t covered by the FMLA; others can’t afford to take unpaid time off. Some go back to work a few weeks after giving birth, and some go back after mere days.

Interestingly, she discusses how feminists weren’t supportive of paid maternity leave at first due to fear of losing rights gained for women against sex discrimination in the work place. This is in contrast to the fight that is happening in Sweden that has called into question the entire family model when thinking about sustainable models of paid family leave. Side by side, the inequities in the US system do certainly stick out as profoundly unjust and as Lerner says, “family unfriendly.” The US can be so good at getting it wrong sometimes.

Join the Conversation

  • gwye

    So is leave mandatory for both sexes, or just males?
    Sweden, Sweden, Sweden….so far ahead on gender issues, so far behind on race.

  • lindgren51

    Most men are still too psychologically tied up in the traditional culturally-defined roles to accept or support the idea of “Daddy leave.”

  • onlynow

    This article gives a very positive glimpse of how greater gender equality can be achieved. A key to Sweden’s success is improving the status of fatherhood in society, with generous paternity leave, increased societal recognition of the value of fathers, and more shared custody when the parents separate. As the article shows, this has resulted in gains for both women and men.
    “In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. For nearly four decades, governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.”
    Unfortunately, in the English speaking countries such as Great Britian, USA, and Australia, the gender politics are not favorable to this type of advance. Men’s and Father’s Rights activists who lobby for increases in paternity leave and shared custody are often virulently anti-feminist. The mainstream feminist organizations like NOW, in turn, slander the Father’s Rights activists as abusers who seek only to maintain control over their prey. It is hard to imagine much progress in this atmosphere of antipathy.
    Nevertheless, I think it is worth inquiring if we can emulate some of Sweden’s success. In addition to working to improve women’s status in the public sphere, can we improve men’s status in the domestic sphere? In addition to fighting against negative stereotypes of women in leadership roles, can we counter negative stereotypes of men in nurturing roles? Can we balance women’s desire for equal participation in the power centers of society with men’s desire for an equal role in parenting after a divorce or separation? Can we recognize that “how masculinity is privileged in society”, as the OP puts it, is also accompanied by how femininity is privileged in parenting?
    Unfortunately, I am pessimistic, at least in the short term. The feminist community in the English speaking world is too gynocentric, too dominated by the “patriarchy hypothesis” to be very open to the concerns of fathers. And the MRAs and the FRAs are too misogynistic to be open to the idea of cooperating with feminists, even on mutually beneficial goals. I hope that with the passing of the current generation of leaders on both sides, and the rise of a more open minded generation, we will eventually be able to emulate those equitable Swedes!

  • Dena

    I was recently in Denmark, which also has paid “daddy leave”, studying the welfare state. I spoke with a lot of working mothers and they said that the paid daddy leave has helped them tremendously, however a lot of men in Denmark opt not to take it.
    We also found that this “daddy leave” is more frequently found in the public sector, not the private sector which leads to a lot of discrepancies when most women in Scandinavian countries work in the public sector and most men work in the private sector.
    I was recently talking to a friend who did not think that an implementation of the “daddy leave” would fly in America, which I disagree with. The U.S. is so far behind some other countries, and it’s due time that women stop bearing the brunt of child-rearing activities and whatnot. And even with American men stepping up to the plate and helping to raise their children, a lot of the burden still falls on American mothers which just is not right.

  • Comrade Kevin

    FMLA also has very strict guidelines and parameters. Businesses often manipulate its convoluted structure to make employees in need of FMLA either quit or jump through so many hoops that achieving leave status is difficult.

  • anon

    An examply of how paternity leave works here in the US. My husband and I are both attorneys and decided to have a baby last year. In working towards the baby’s birth, we both planned to take leave (him 4 weeks and me 6 weeks). We worked very hard to schedule our case load and other projects so we could take that time as a family.
    When the baby was born, my job was very cool and during my six weeks I was only truly bothered with work issues twice. My husbands? They were unbelievably crappy. They had boxes of documents delivered TO OUR HOSPITAL ROOM for him to review the day after the baby was born. So much for that. He went back to work the next week because it wasn’t worth it.
    They let it be known that paternity leave was not acceptable. We were both disgusted considering my husband has truly been a model employee at that firm for 6+ years….

  • stellarose

    I have had the exact same experience, also in a two-lawyer marriage. I think it is very difficult to understand the true extent family dynamics and office dynamics work together to entrench gender roles and pay/domestic work inequality until you have been in a marriage where both parties truly want to share money-making and child-reaering/housekeeping 50/50, only to have that plan be made impossible by discrimination against that family model.
    While I have been allowed by my employer to go on the “mommy track” (i.e., sacrifice a good portion of my salary and the chance to make partner in exchange for not having to work 90 and 100 hour weeks), my husband was totally denied any accomodation in light of the fact he had become a father. The result is that he makes more money than I do now, and I do more around the house. The kicker is that HE is not going to be wildly successful, either, since he has to compete with other men who have wives who do 100% of the work in the home. No one can compete with someone who has absolutely no responsibilities outside of the office, certainly not women with children, but not men with children and working wives, and not even single people.
    Its just so frustrating that these patterns get more and more entrenched, and I don’t see any way out other than a Sweden-esque system where men are given incentives to stay home and take on more of a role in the home.

  • onlynow

    The NY Times article suggests that male reluctance to take leave can be overcome with appropriate incentives.
    The key is getting a critical mass, so the guy who wants to take paternity leave doesn’t feel like an anomaly. It’s not really the inner psychology of a man that is at issue – it’s how his decision to take leave is treated by those around him. As long as society expects men to sacrifice their personal and family lives for the job, we can’t expect too many men to be nonconformist enough to buck this pressure.

  • Honeybee

    Can someone explain to me how the current system in the US works?
    In Canada parents get 1 year of parental leave – to split between mother and father as decided by the parents. E.g., one person (either the mother or father) can take 1 year off or the mother/father can take 6 months each, etc. Totally up to the parents to decide.
    We had a baby recently and my spouse took about 5 weeks off work. His work was very supportive (though he had to plan it WELL in advance since he’s not easy to replace). But I suspect his employer is much better then most, since that seems the case in general with his workplace.

  • stellarose

    We have no system. There is no guaranteed paid leave for anyone. The Family Medical Leave Act, which only applies to certain employers and certain employees, will get you something like 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth or adoption or a handful of other events. Past that, its whatever the employers decide to provide…it seems to me that most higher-paying white-collar jobs provide 6 weeks to three months, and I have heard of precious few jobs that offer more than that.
    Women who have babies biologically are eligible for disability, but only if disability is provided for other reasons.
    We are the only developed country to not provide paid maternity leave.

  • kandela

    In the same way that a lot of men see it as their role to be the primary bread winner, and feel they have failed if they relinquish that role; women feel it is their role to raise the children and feel they are not good mothers if they are not dominating the parenting.

  • kandela

    Technically wrong. Australia also has no paid maternity leave yet. There is a new scheme to be introduced January 2011, but until then 52 weeks unpaid *maternity* leave is what is available.
    Paid Parental Leave starting January 2011 (first claims can be made October 2010): is funded by the Australian Government. Is, in most cases, for mothers who have been working before the birth of their child. Can be transferred to the other parent if they are eligible, but must be claimed initially by the mother. Is paid at the National Minimum Wage – currently $543.78 a week before tax. Lasts for up to 18 weeks. Can be taken in a continuous period, any time in the first year after birth. Is also available to adoptive parents
    can be received before, after, or at the same time as employer-provided paid leave such as recreation or annual leave and employer-provided maternity leave.
    The opposition are proposing a system that will pay parents for longer at their actual wage rate rather than the minimum wage, funded by a tax on business. It’s a fantastic scheme, and is currently the only thing that has me thinking about voting for them. Unfortunately, the party leader is anti-abortion, has backwards religious views about what is acceptable for his daughters, not to mention doesn’t believe in climate change, and has sided with the mining industry to help them try and avoid a profits tax. Given all that I don’t see how I can vote for them.

  • kandela

    It certainly is problematic the way *some* feminists can’t be good allies to fathers in this cause. That’s an attitude that needs changing. I don’t think the idea that men are disadvantaged as parents is inconsistent with patriarchy though.
    Sex discrimination isn’t the same as race discrimination because of one key thing. Society can’t function without both men and women, and men like to think they are keeping women happy, they need to to keep them around. A racist society has no such requirement. In order to satisfy the requirement of keeping women happy, the patriarchy sacrifices some things of worth as compensatory mechanisms, and then claims the sexes are equal. The claim is blatantly false because the value of the “spheres” of men and women is unequal, but in order for the lie to be believable some of the things in the female sphere must have real value. Parenting is probably the thing of most worth that is sacrificed by men as a compensatory mechanism.
    It is very important for the breaking down of patriarchy that all its elements are broken down. Leave any one in place and its influence can grow like a cancer to infect every other aspect of society. Men might be slow to take it up, but it is vital that paternity leave be available for this reason. I’m not quite as pessimistic as you. I believe that if we build it they will come. Just making leave, of any form, available creates opportunities that some men will take up. And if men see other men taking the option then they start to think about if for themselves. But without the option fewer will think of it.

  • Honeybee

    Are you serious??? Holy shit I had no idea. That’s fucking unbelievable. How the heck is anyone supposed to have a baby then? You’d have to quit your job which is insane.

  • KatieChaos

    Actually, Australia doesn’t have a paid parental leave scheme either.
    There was a post recently about the US-centricity of this blog and US privilege. If you do reading around global leave schemes you’d note that Australia also doesn’t have a system (it is generally mentioned along with the US when talking about paid parental leave schemes). I doubt you left Australia out on purpose, but this kind of demonstrates the US centric nature which was debated. Come on, you can do better than that!

  • Brianna G

    I think it will be hard to overcome stigma if we implement it here, but far from impossible. If I was looking to do this, I would provide significant tax incentives for businesses where men take paternity leave at the same or greater rates than women. That way the business will not be inclined to discourage it, and might even encourage fathers to take time off. I might also provide a large tax break to families where both parents are staying home after birth.
    I would also set up a paid leave system that worked more like insurance, where a very small percentage of one’s income was paid into a common (public) fund to provide for parental leave. Obviously no paternal leave system will work as long as it’s unpaid leave, since most people can’t afford to take that much time with no income, and it would be difficult for a woman who has just given birth to go back to work so her husband could stay home.
    Our system is archaic. It’s based on an agrarian economic model where one worked near their home and went back as soon as possible because they were trying to support themselves, and extended family were available to help. In a modern society, it alienates men from their children and wives and isolates women during their most vulnerable time. It does not surprise me in the slightest that when men can bond with their children and ease the burden from their hormone-addled and exhausted wives, families are stronger.

  • timothy_nakayama

    This is so true. I find it funny how when men (or women) do something, it’s because they are “Tied to their role”, but in actuality, they choose such actions because it involves less penalties then choosing the alternative.
    In this case, the penalty for men to take leave to take care of their newborns is that this action is often times viewed negatively by both colleagues and bosses.
    At one of the big 4 accounting companies I worked for , a man could take 3 days. That’s it. THREE days paid paternal leave. And God help you if those three days happen to be during the peak months were you have to clear the end of the financial year audits. Your leave could be denied by one of your superiors if they felt like the work was more important than your newborn son/daughter.

  • kandela

    +1 to you and the Parent post. Well put.

  • Rosie’s girl

    It’s about 8 or 9 years old now, but I highly recommend reading Anne Crittenden’s book “The Price of Motherhood.”
    She covers in depth the problems with our current economic system and parental leave, and the consequences of what she calls the ‘mommy tax.’
    She also devotes a whole chapter to the magical land of Sweden, and how the parental leave policies there have led to improving the lives and careers of both men and women.

  • Suzann

    I have my own business in LA. (Well, am self-employed, it’s a business of one.) I cover a computer program and fill in when there are employee shortages. Last year and the year before that I made *most* of my income ( over 75%) covering maternity leaves. (The rest were either rush periods or one case of an employee quitting on no notice.) Looking at my records, the amount of time off went from a short arc of just over a month to the longest time off which was July-to-December (and would have gone longer had I not the economy gone bad.)
    Conclusion? I can reach no conclusion. Other than, it depends where you work and what you can negotiate. It also depends if the company is doing well enough to pay a double salary. (Both me and the person who is out.)
    Personally, I think that being away for long periods DOES damage job skills – and would prefer the option of bringing kids into work rather than keeping mothers out. But that’s just me – and just in theory. (Hey – if anyone listened to me I’d be out of a job. )

  • inallsincerity

    I live in Sweden and I have also lived in Denmark. In Denmark there are no Daddy leave months. Denmark has parental leave that can be split between both parents any way they choose. Daddy months are different. Daddy months can ONLY be taken by the father. Those months can’t be used by the mother. This means that she is either taking her months at the same time and they’re both home or he takes his daddy months after she goes back to work.
    One commentor wrote that Sweden is far ahead of the US on gender issues. That is not the case at all. Sweden is far ahead of the US on CISgender issues. The situation for transgender people in Sweden is ABYSMAL. Trans people MUST be sterilized,all frozen eggs and sperm destroyed and be unmarried before receiving a new gender marker. Trans men must have facial hair and trans women must receive breast implants. Genital surgery is also a requirement for trans women but not trans men. Trans people can’t even get access to hormones if they don’t do a 1 year ‘real life test’ or if they say they are not interested in surgery.Trans people are then subjected to an invasive review by bureaucrats including an interview to determine if they are really ‘trans enough’ (meaning how well they pass) before they are ‘allowed’ to be sterilized in order to get a new person number. Trans people under the age of 18 are not allowed to legally change their name, even with permission from their parents.
    Non-Swedish trans people living in Sweden you have to get your gender marker changed on your passport through your ‘home’ country’s policies before Sweden will recognize your gender identity.And it is possible that this will cause a forced divorce from a Swedish spouse which may or may not affect visa/residency issues.
    As a non-Swedish citizen who lives in Sweden and will soon be married to a Swede who is transgender and is transgender myself– I’m not about to put Sweden up on a pedestal when it comes to gender stuff.

  • jule

    When I had my daughter 3 years ago I took 6 weeks off from work. Bear in mind, this wasn’t Maternity Leave, exactly, it was classified as short term disability. Consequently, you don’t get paid at all for the first week you’re off work, then you get 1/2 pay for the remaining 5 weeks. Also, despite the fact that I delivered at 41 weeks, you’re not technically “disabled” until you give birth, so I worked all the way to my delivery date.
    Now in my husbands case, it worked a little differently. He took FMLA leave, which, because America is the greatest country in the whole world, etc, meant he was off for a month for NO PAY. He was, however, guaranteed that he could not be fired while he was off, which is the only meaningful thing FMLA is good for.
    My Mom could not understand why I didn’t take 6 months off after the baby was born. No reason, Mom, just a mortgage to pay.

  • Audentia

    “Trans people MUST be sterilized,all frozen eggs and sperm destroyed and be unmarried before receiving a new gender marker.”
    Um, holy shit. I have no words.

  • onlynow

    I was relatively lucky last time – by U.S. standards – the big computer company I worked for at the time gave fathers 2 weeks. It was a new policy at the time, and I took it. As a manger, I wanted to set the example that it was expected that guys SHOULD take the time!

  • Furiousfemale

    That’s awful. My husband’s company let him work from home after we had our daughter and he used some vacation time immediately after the birth so he could room in with us at the hospital and help at home. Things got hectic though and he had to go back to the office 2 weeks after I gave birth. I was worried too because I had “baby blues” and because of my history we were worried about me developing full blown PPD. Fortunately through his company i was able to get 3 free counseling sessions and any subsequent ones were covered by his health plan

  • RandomWhatnot

    My company offers paternity leave.
    I have to admit: I find the concept of taking it to be odd. I’m not entirely certain, that when the time comes, I will actually do so.
    I just don’t see a reason for me to be home. I’m obviously not breastfeeding, I’m not in need of physical recovery, no parts of my body would have been torn or stitched back together, so, why do I need to take time off work?
    I think you’ll find a lot of men’s attitudes match this.
    It’s nothing so complex as “I feel I’ve failed as breadwinner!” or “My colleagues will think I’m effeminate or emasculated!”.
    It’s largely (at least from asking coworkers) a matter of “But why do I need to be home? I didn’t DO anything!”

  • onlynow

    I accept your qualifier of *some* – I’ve been hanging around here long enough to appreciate the large diversity in opinions of those who identify as feminist. But my impression is that *none* of the major politically active feminist organizations is friendly to fathers – just the opposite from what I’ve read of their policies and positions. If you think this is a misconception, I would be happy to be informed otherwise.
    If patriarchy in all of its elements is to be broken down, then it essential that the compensatory matriarchy that you describe is broken down too. Men be allowed and encouraged to claim their share of the domestic sphere as compensation for relinquishing their monopoly on the public sphere. Parenting is indeed a thing of great worth for for those of us disposed towards it.

  • timothy_nakayama

    “I think you’ll find a lot of men’s attitudes match this.”
    I sincerely hope that this is NOT the case.
    That’s just YOUR guess.
    MY first instinct in regards to new Fathers is….dude, their wifes just gave BIRTH, created a new being, a new human. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few days/weeks with their babies????? It’s your Child! Plus, you might not lactate, but there are OTHER things to do besides breastfeeding when a new baby comes around……
    The fact that you equate the birth of a new baby as YOU not doing anything during the birth or even consider the possibility that your wife or your child might want you to be around, speaks volumes about the dominant culture where child-bearing and taking care of newborn baby duties always goes to the MOM and that Dads just don’t care.
    Plenty of men want to spend their time with their newborn babies. An anomaly in your world? Maybe….not in mine.

  • kandela

    To be honest I haven’t really paid any attention to what the major feminist organisations stated policies are. My feeling for what the attitudes of feminists are is informed by blogs and discussion forums like this one. I’ll defer to your knowledge with regard to how the established feminist organisations need to change.

  • kandela

    Don’t you want a chance to bond with your new child?
    Aren’t you worried that if you don’t get up to speed on the baby stuff, you and you’re wife won’t be equal partners in their raising?

  • Lissla Lissar

    It’s your CHILD. Why wouldn’t you want to take some time to spend with them?

  • RandomWhatnot

    Most men that refuse paternity leave don’t do so out of feeling like they’re less of a man for taking time off, or not as much of a breadwinner. They generally assume “nothing is wrong with my body, why do I need to be at home?”
    As to your second part, because you will generally be spending the next 18 years with them? And you will see that child every night after work anyway?
    To your third, my point is, if my body is undamaged, why do I need a month off work? And, it’s not dominant culture, of course women do all of the childbearing. Men don’t have wombs. Or ovaries. Maybe you meant child-rearing though.
    It also doesn’t change the fact that post-work each day, I’d still be coming home. So, it’s not like I’d suddenly disappear from existence.
    Infants don’t bond with adults that early. Common misconception. Humans don’t imprint. The “bonding” that early is entirely for the parent, and not the child.
    No, I’m not worried. She knows more about raising a child than I do anyway.
    Lissla: As I said above, it’s not as though the child simply won’t be there when I return home from work.
    Spending time with an infant generally involves sitting there looking at it, anyway. I can’t really see myself doing that, day in and day out for 6 weeks.
    Couple days, maybe. Who knows.