In the United States paid paternity leave is still seen as unacceptable, and it’s time for that to change.
Although there is inequality among men and women in American society, giving priority to one parents’ role in raising their child over another doesn’t help children, it hurts them.
Children need to have both of their parents present during their first couple of months of life. Maternity leave, while still significantly undervalued in the U.S., is valued more in health care than paternity leave. Twenty-two percent of employers provide paid maternity leave, but only 9 percent provide paid paternity leave, according to a 2014 study from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
If people want to change the way paternity leave in the U.S. is limited, then it’s important to start by understanding how masculinity is defined.
“There’s this ideology that men are the breadwinners, that men are the ones who are bringing in the income, which is not an accurate ideology. Masculinity in the U.S. is based on power, so we need to deconstruct that,” said Pablo Alvarez, adjunct lecturer in women and gender studies at Cal State Fullerton.
About one in seven Americans believe that paternity leave shouldn’t be provided by the workplace at all, according to a 2017 Pew Research study. LGBT couples face even greater disadvantages in getting paid parental leave.
This is a problem, because becoming a father can be burdensome and disruptive for many in this country due to the nature of the U.S. capitalist economy, which leaves men more focused on profits rather than the importance and value of family.
Politicians don’t seem to be very concerned with fixing the problem, making numerous attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that maternity care is a part of every insurance plan.
The U.S. is far behind the rest of the world in terms of paid parental leave, especially paid maternity leave when compared to 181 other countries, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Attempting to get time off to care for a newborn is even more difficult for fathers. Only 14 percent of employers within the U.S. offered paid paternity leave options, according to a 2014 study conducted by the Family and Work Institute.
Critics may argue that enforcing federally paid family leave will add to the national debt and that the U.S. has a policy in place for families with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
But the act only offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and to be eligible for it requires candidates to work for a company that employs at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius for 1,250 hours for at least a year.
In California, the opportunity to take paid time off to spend with children is much better than other states in the U.S. because men are given a maximum of six weeks for paid time off to spend with their child.
But once again, there are stipulations. To be eligible for this compensated time away, employees must have welcomed a new child into their family in the past 12 months either through a partner’s pregnancy, adoption or foster care. They also must have paid into State Disability Insurance in the past five to 18 months and not have taken the maximum six weeks of paid family leave in the past 12 months. Those eligible can break up their six weeks.
Men are expected to go back to work immediately after their child is born because it is taboo for men to inform their employers they want to take significant time off to spend with their child. Even when they have time off, it is frowned upon by a hyper-masculine workplace culture where women are seen as the primary caretakers and nurturers of their newborns.
In an article in Slate Magazine titled, “Americans Love Seeing Swedish Dads Out With Their Kids,” American men often experience a culture shock when traveling to European countries like Sweden where they see tons of men with babies and toddlers pushing their strollers.
In Sweden, parents are given 480 days of paid parental leave and each parent is given a minimum of three months to spend time and care for their child, with the goal of incentivizing men to take the rest of the time off with the use it or lose it model. Sweden gives single parents the full 480 days for them to use.
Perhaps it is worth noting that Sweden identifies as a feminist country.
It is extremely unfortunate that the U.S., one of the largest industrialized nations in the world, does not federally mandate that citizens receive significant paid parental leave.
“We really need to look at the priorities of the country and the priorities of the nation. Is the priority of the nation keeping families together or is it keeping families apart?” Alvarez said.
Being a father can be one of the most intimate and important parts of a man’s life. There are so many fathers who are involved in their children’s school plays, karate classes, ballet, Christmas concerts and recreational-youth sport leagues.
It should be a fun and highly-rewarding experience. Hopefully, the U.S. will get with the times and start looking out for fathers. Children deserve both their parents when they’re born, not just one.