Why Equality Of Child Care Is A Mens Rights Issue
Even though Finland consistently ranks among the top gender equality countries in the world [GGGR], early child care is still predominantly handled by women. Finland currently offers parents ~12 months of paid parental leave that is allocated 4 months to women, 2 months men and 6 months shared as decided by the family. So it would be possible for men to take an equal role in child care, but they still only use 9% of the parental leave [KELA]. This is a problem both for women, who have to carry most of the responsibility, and men, who are missing out on one the great experiences in life.
Why do men still do a small part of the child care
The “50’s man”-fallacy
It’s still a strong mental model among men to be like the “50’s man”, the head of the house that works hard, provides for the family and leaves the family management to the wife. This seems attractive especially to young men, being authoritative and respected rather than loved. However this movie based image was probably not that great even back in the 50’s, requiring longer work hours and offering poor work-life-balance. Also even if you would do that today, the status will not be there. Women do their part of the family income and are not dependent on you (even if you’d make more money). Also societies are less authoritarian and respect of your children needs to be earned by being present and spending the hours.
The “diaper hell”-fallacy
We've all seen the movies, a man is unexpectedly left taking care of a baby and all they do is gag at the diapers and struggle to do the homework. This is wrong in many levels, starting from the fact baby poop doesn't start smelling until you are well into solid foods, closer to the toddler era. Also in the beginning the house work is mainly cleaning up after eating and picking up some toys which is still a few minutes at a time. Given that babies take a couple of naps during the day, there’s plenty of time to do some pending housework and still have personal time. In any case taking care of your own kids (at least when they are healthy) is certainly less demanding than any normal job and no-one should be afraid of it. Hardest part of the work of the stay home parent is typically the positive problem of figuring out games to play on a rainy day.
Another strong preconception is the somehow magical nature of motherhood, women having superior innate ability to take care of children. The implication of this is that it’s something that men lack and therefore are not able to achieve same results regardless of effort. However current research is showing that there is no fundamental difference in the ability of men and women to bond with their children [BIPS] or to recognize their needs [NATURE].
Historically this probably had a factual basis, i.e. while boys did field work with their fathers, girls helped the mother in house including taking care of the larger set of siblings. Unlike men, when women got their own child, it was most likely not the first time they cared for a baby. But today most mothers and fathers have an equally limited experience in child care and have to learn on the job.
Also it’s good to note that in order for a man to stay home with children it’s not necessary for a man to “become the mother”. You can have different games, hobbies and routines that fit your personality and not just repeat the thing the mother has done. You can be the parent you are and discovering the basis of your relationship with your children is the central reason why spending this time is important. After the parental leave life is more hectic and there is a lot less free time to get know each other and it will take a lot more effort to do the same.
Why equality of child care is mens rights issue
It’s a benefit that men should utilize
Starting from the selfish end, your half of the ~12 months of paid parental leave is the biggest monetary benefit you will receive from society in your adult life and you should not waste it. It’s also a unique opportunity to take a break from almost five decades of continuous work and reflect upon your life. When you get your children you usually have years of work experience and taking a short break can offer a unique perspective to sort out your career options and life priorities. Also given that you’ll end up working for decades, taking a couple of 6 month breaks will not significantly alter your career and there is very little to gain by not doing it.
It’s good for your kids
There is a lot of research how also having an involved father is highly beneficial to children. Having actively participating father improves the cognitive, emotional and social development of the children [FIRA]. Putting aside potential differences in skills between men and women, it’s very intuitive that being able to observe and absorb influences from two people allows you to learn more and develop a wider set of skills than from just one person.
Risk of getting sidelined in the family
Taking care of your children is a skill like any other skill, and you’re as good as the number of hours you put in. Learning this gets harder as children get older and more emotionally demanding. The hard part is not the feeding and cleaning, but intimacy and trust to comfort and resolve problem situations. If you don’t start this process early, it becomes harder and harder and not being involved becomes the easy path. If you are not pulling your weight in child care, you don’t get a say how it’s done. And being the less involved parent can lead to getting sidelined in the family, just contributing financially but not in the actual content of the family life.
It will make you a better person
Most people nowadays have children between 30–40y, which is a period when you've likely developed a collection of bad habits and a slightly overinflated image of yourself. Babies will have none of that and will quickly disarm you of any bullshit that might have developed. They will only respond to genuine affection and reward you back with a ton more. In the middle of the hectic and selfish modern lifestyle this is an extremely healthy reminder of how we should live our lives and love honestly. It’s an experience that will transform you for the better and something everyone deserves in their lives.
What should be done
We need more discussion about this from the mens rights perspective. Even if womens need for equality is as important, it’s probably not as compelling to young men to think it’s something they have to do to help women. Instead it should be highlighted how it’s a benefit for men and hear about the positive experiences from other men.
Also the parental leave model should also be updated to an equal 4+4+4-model similar to what was introduced in Iceland. In 2000 their situation was similar to Finland that men used only ~3% of the parental leave, but after it was divided equally in 2001 the share of men increased to 32% in three years [KELA2]. Incidentally according to WHO and Unicef studies, children in Iceland are one the happiest in the world and have the best relationships with their fathers [YLE]. Also similar effect of increasing the fathers allocation improving the total share has been recorded also in Norway, Sweden and Germany [NEWR].
Equality in child care really is a win-win-situation for both men and women. Both parents will benefit from not being the sole responsible for both child care and financial support. Both will benefit from the social interaction with children and a work community. Even as such, men are starting from a lower platform and will have more to benefit and should be the ones demanding this as their natural right.