Paternity leave is only weird if we let it be

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BB and his foster kittens
BB and his foster kittens

July 7, 2013 was a Facebook employee’s last day of a four-month paternity leave. Tom Stocky wrote of his leave in a – what else? – Facebook note. He wrote about the stuff anyone on paternity leave can relate to: “I had thought her two naps each day would serve as breaks, but instead that time was mostly used for showering, feeding myself, washing bottles, cleaning up her high chair and toys, and doing tasks around the house that would be more difficult when she was awake.” He also made some interesting points on people’s reactions to his decision to take paternity leave.

That’s typically followed by surprise that I’m actually taking it — why would I want to subject myself to that torture (from parents), why would I want to sit around and do nothing for 4 months (from non-parents), or why would I want to do what is surely a career-limiting move.

That last one was especially interesting to experience because in some ways people said to me what they didn’t feel permitted to say to women. Would my project still be there when I got back? Wouldn’t my ambitious coworkers use this as an opportunity (maliciously or not) to advance themselves at my expense? Wouldn’t I be viewed as being less committed to my work, thus stunting my own advancement for the foreseeable future? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I viewed this as an important enough experiment to find out.

I can’t speak for all mothers, but no one was shy to ask me these same questions. Maybe the opinions, questions and comments like the ones Stocky receive are well-intentioned, but they come off rude and ignorant. Adults aren’t great with change; so faced with a biggie like parenthood, things can get sensitive. Things are confusing enough.

When it comes to paternity leave specifically it is disheartening to read how the father felt isolated in a sea of mommy groups, “I didn’t like being the only dad at the playground, getting cautiously eyed as moms pulled their kids a bit closer.” I’ve seen this happen to the lone dads at drop-in play centres and playgroups, and that sucks.

Paternity leave is being used more often in Canada. In Quebec, fathers can get five weeks of leave, unpaid, in addition to their paid parental leave. A September 2011 Canadian Business article says nearly 30 percent of fathers took leave, at various lengths. Paternity leave needs to be accepted as a norm so more fathers will use it.  A parent is a family member, nothing gender specific about that.

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