The single most important thing you can do is this: talk about parental leave with the men you know.
Men need to be made aware of what's possible, why it's important, and encouraged to actually take the time.
Talking to Raise Awareness
Men today overwhelmingly agree that fathers should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. And like mothers, most fathers today wonder how they’ll manage the tension between parenthood and career.
But if gender equality is going to be more than just aspirational, men need to take action. Unfortunately, when the big moment arrives, most new fathers still fall back on stereotyped ideas of family responsibilities: caregiving moms and breadwinning dads.
Why? In part, because men simply don’t know where or how to begin. Men are given few resources and there are few examples to follow. As a result, they feel overwhelmed and alone. The idea of confronting deep-rooted professional stigmas and cultural identities of fatherhood is seems impossible.
That’s why talking about parental leave with men is so important. It opens up a path forward.
Takethetime.net is full of stories about the amazing, life-changing impact that parental leave has on fathers and their families. But incredibly, over 50% of men don’t even know that options like parental leave exist. Just putting the idea in a man’s mind can be game-changing.
In our experience, this idea is particularly powerful if it’s brought to a man’s attention by a woman that he respects (spouse, sister, friend or colleague). It’s hard to ignore the fight for gender equality when you’re talking with an important woman in your life.
Talking to Share The Load
Our view is that it's important for parents to discuss the role of dad at home. He need space to get involved and take responsibility. It's the best way for him to create a special bond with his child.
We recommend that, in dual-income households, the father takes at least part of his parental leave after maternity leave has ended. If mom is back at work and dad is alone with the baby, he’s automatically got much more freedom to do his own thing, establish his own routines and build his own bond.
(Sidenote: Unfortunately, in countries like the UK and Canada, government-sponsored parental leave policies make this more difficult because mothers must effectively give up maternity leave so that fathers can take time at home. This is a lot to ask of even the most progressively-minded mothers. As a result, many parental leave champions advocate for a dedicated amount of leave for fathers.)
Whether mom goes back to work or stays home, it’s important for both parents to talk openly and honestly about caregiving roles. Some mothers aren’t ashamed of being fiercely protective of their role as lead caregiver, and that’s ok as long as it’s a conscious choice taken together by both parents.
For those who want to create space for dad at home, TheBump put together a helpful list of tips and tricks:
- Leave the house. Getting out into the world while your partner or trusted caregiver is watching your child can help you gain perspective.
- Read together. Do you read certain parenting websites, message boards or Facebook group feeds? Invite your partner or other caretakers to take a look so they’re up to speed on what you’re thinking. Or, if you’re reading a book, share it and discuss it so you’re both on the same page.
- Focus on safety. If your partner is mixing formula in the wrong ratio or buckling the car seat incorrectly, by all means show them how it’s done. But if they’re changing up the bedtime routine by singing a song before reading a story, or putting on a short sleeve onesie instead of a long sleeve onesie, you may want to back off. “I always tell new parents to think: What’s the worst that could happen? When it comes to health or safety, step in. Otherwise, let them do their thing,” Clancy says.
- Take a class. Nothing puts you on the same page more than learning the same information. Going to a class with your partner is a good way to get on equal footing, especially if they’re not likely to read an article or book that you give them.
- Share your schedule and contact info. Write information on a central calendar or shared digital calendar. And instead of offering your personal email address to daycare or the pediatrician, create a new one like “MollySmithsParents@gmail.com” that you both agree to check once a day. The more you have equal access to the same info, the more you can both take responsibility.
- Divide and conquer. Instead of assuming things will shake out to 50/50, talk about specific responsibilities you can take on. “In my house, I do all the cooking and cleaning,” says Ari Yares, PhD, a psychologist and parenting coach in Potomac, Maryland. “Anything having to do with food, like bringing in treats to a kid’s class for a party, falls to me.” Take a 360-degree view of your lives and routines. For example, do you have a boss who values office facetime while your partner’s work routine is more lax? Then have them be the primary contact person for daycare in case of an emergency.
- Be respectful. That hilarious pic of your infant with his legs in the armholes of a onesie? Hold off on posting it on social media. “Being a new parent is a vulnerable time for both of you, and joking or making fun of someone’s attempts can be seen as disrespectful,” says Crystal Clancy, a therapist with a private practice in Burnsville, Minnesota, and executive director of community engagement for Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota, a nonprofit that supports maternal wellness. If you do find yourself laughing about something your partner did, or complaining to friends about the way they handle your child, consider going right to the source and having an honest conversation. As Clancy explains: Even if it seems like a minor issue, any amount of ridicule could make people feel incompetent and disrespected, and that could eventually lead them to lose their trust in you.