Before my daughter was born we investigated our parental leave options. Unfortunately while my workplace had a parental leave provision, it proved more a gesture than anything else. It seemed to be written as a compromise to parents who were adopting (specially same sex couple) an equivalent of maternity leave, which while important, but well short of anything that could be regarded as true parental leave. It wasn’t a policy that regard both parents as equal, and like so much beurcracy, it assumes that there is this mystical “primary care giver”.
I don’t really understand that term. Can only one parent provide care? What’s kind of proportion qualifies you reaching a “primary” status? 51%?
Despite the insistance that we’re a progressive society gender roles and responsibilities are still deeply entrenched. My wife and discussed gaming the system, but in the end we went along with the status quo – she took leave, I kept working full time. When my daughter was born my wife was provided with 6 months maternity leave, and a part time position when she went back to work. I got 10 days off. Sure I could have used my anual leave, but 4 weeks doesn’t go very far, particularly when you have the idea of your wife returning to work in 6 months and a child needing care two and a half days a week. In this way being a Dad is something that is defined for you. Your not available 5 days of the week. You’re not provided the time to truly adjust to having a new person in your life. Your not able to really cope with sleep loss and the consant preassure of keeping up at work. Your not able to help or care as much as you want. As a new parent you have to cope with doing it with one arm behind your back. You don’t get into the rhythms of your child, you just have to adjust to their impact. You don’t get time to work out who you are now and what kind of relationship you have with your family and the world. You become “secondary care giver” whether you like it or not.
And then there’s work. Work becomes your alter-ego. Professional Dad needs to put in more effort than ever becase you’ve been defaulted to the role of Bread Winner. As the bread winner the impetus isn’t only on you bringing in the regular pay check, it’s keeping that job too. You have to play it safe, follow the rules, give 110%, do everything that’s expected, give a little bit more, don’t complain, put up with it, keep your mouth shut and comply. The job isn’t an outlet or an escape from family but a distraction, and sometimes a trap.
Let me just say – I’ve always wanted to give my daughter (and my wife) more time and attention. Some Dads don’t. Some are happy with the status quo, but I’m not. I’d like to find a better way of raising families. I’d like to dispell gender roles and divisions that things like “primary care giver” enshrine. I’d like parental leave – leave made available to parents, not arbitrary roles. I’d like parenting to be treated as a space for equality – regardless of gender, sex or sexuality.
I write this not to bemoan the plight of Dads, nor denigrate the role of Mums. If we want change we have to engage in the disucssion. We cannot reach anything like gender equity or the related cultural change if we don’t talk about men and the roles that have been defined for them. We can’t change if we can’t discuss what needs to change in a more expansive way.