Good news for fathers working for Yahoo Inc., Bank of America Corporation, or Ernst and Young: if there’s a newborn in the family, you can now take off six weeks or more paid leave to help care for your new addition. Fifteen percent of U.S. companies offer some form of paid leave to fathers. Sign of the times? Not so fast.
If you think paternity leave is on the rise, reconsider. Stay-at-home-Dads still account for only four percent of parents who provide full time care to their children. Change is happening at a snail-like pace, and even when a generous amount of paid leave is available, a lot of fathers are reluctant to take full advantage of allotted time. Most choose to take only a week or two off, perhaps due to underlying stereotypes that penalize fathers who do not put work first.
And it’s not just at work where men find an uneven playing ground. Tom Stocky found that even stay-at-home-mothers in his neighborhood did not quite know what to make of his situation. He posted a reflection on his Facebook page that is still public, and which went viral, about how he got comments like: “It’s too bad you can’t earn as much as your wife so she can be the one to stay home.” He learned to deal with these negative perceptions and felt that overall, his paternity leave experience was a positive one. He returned to work recently, and now he will find out for certain whether his career was damaged by his unconventional choices.
Polls seem to indicate that younger fathers have more liberal attitudes about this issue. The tide may eventually change, putting the U.S. on a more even footing with countries like Iceland, where each parent gets three months paid leave. In the meantime, a lot of fathers cope by doing telecommute, where they complete some of their job duties working at home.
The Family Medical Leave Act only stipulates that parents can hold onto their jobs if they decide to take twelve weeks off, and requires that group insurance benefits continue during that time, but there is no guarantee for a paid leave. Studies have shown that paternity leave can only benefit families. Clearly more needs to be done to support Dads, so they can achieve a positive balance between work and family.