By Danielle Givens, Head of Operations
Coming from the non-profit sector and having worked with various organizations that focus on maternal and child survival internationally, it has been eye-opening to see how their staffs are actually treated when it comes to parental leave: paternity, maternity and breastfeeding support. Externally these organizations’ taglines are filled with support for equality and leave for all but when it comes down to it I have seen fathers ostracized for trying to take time off to support their partners. Over and over I have seen staff leave organizations in response to unsupportive policies. Ironically some of these staff were running programs focused on maternal and child support; they were running million-dollar programs to support mothers in other countries to learn the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding beyond 6 months and here new mothers were being told to travel for weeks on end away from their own newborns. It doesn’t add up. Similarly, the idea that fathers don’t need to be home because there is supposedly a larger, more important problem in the world that requires their immediate attention seems hypocritical and disingenuous coming from NGOs that support child development and familial health. They promote the exact policies they do not provide for their own staff.
“The idea that fathers don’t need to be home because there is supposedly a larger, more important problem in the world that requires their immediate attention seems hypocritical and disingenuous coming from NGOs that support child development and familial health. They promote the exact policies they do not provide for their own staff.”
As a mother who was working during both of her pregnancies and post-births with a freelancer husband, we flipped the scenario on its head. For my firstborn I was working in NYC commuting an hour each way and my husband stayed home to watch the baby after my maternity leave. He would work at night or when the baby was asleep and for the most part put his career on hold. This was in part due to pure economics—I had the better job with insurance and he was more flexible. But one of us was clearly giving up our career, or at least putting it on hold for the greater benefit of the family. A sad reality in NYC If you both are not making top dollar. But also, interestingly enough, I was able to gain the perspective of my own parents, who were in the reverse situation. I was not familiar with the baby’s nap patterns, what he did all day during the week. I was able to see the loneliness that my husband was experiencing, especially in Brooklyn where there were no other Dads at home who he could hang out with, and at the park it was all nannies who just smiled at him but didn’t engage.
Many of my friends were in similar situations: they had to return to work while their husbands had the flexibility to stay home with the baby. The husbands were there during maternity leave, but were in fact taking “paternity leave,” but only because they had flexible schedules and it was unpaid. Many workers would not have the option to take this time off without strong paid paternity leave programs supported by their employers.
Dads’ presence in the household during maternity leave is incredibly helpful and should be valued as such. It builds confidence for both parents and one is not stuck doing it all. The mom can transition back to life not feeling like it all rides on her, and dads become integral parts of the family and child’s life. The baby becomes comfortable with both parents.
But Dads are still not supported to take leave. When men take leave or become stay-at-home dads they are looked down upon by the older generations, and old-fashioned thinkers of all ages. It is still not common for companies to offer paid paternity leave, and even when they do men hesitate to use it. Even in jobs that supposedly promote child health, I have seen dads not supported. They are given the cold shoulder and are seen as bad employees if they need to support their wives. Their jobs are still viewed as more important than their families.