Fathers Count Too

Why parental policies that leave out dads hurt us all

By Natalie Devitsakis

My husband and I can’t wait to meet our daughter in 15 weeks.

I’ve never changed a diaper, and my husband, George, has never been woken up in the middle of the night by a screaming newborn. We’ll probably have to Google how to bathe an infant. (Actually we’ll probably be Googling a hell of a lot more than that.)

So far, this journey with our daughter-to-be has been shared between my husband and me. Our family is growing. We are going to be parents. It’s us, the people reading the books, scanning the parenting blogs and preparing to deal with someone else’s bodily fluids and sleeping patterns for years to come. Yet, George and I are already contending with the systemic and structural discrimination against men as fathers and caregivers — discrimination that makes both of us having the opportunity to be equal caregivers and parents a near impossibility.

Why? I am one of the 13% of people working in this country fortunate enough to have access to a paid parental leave policy that will give me the time I need with our newborn daughter. My husband, on the other hand, has access to only a couple of weeks of paid paternity leave — leave which is not enough for us, but is still better than what is provided to the majority of U.S. employees. In fact, of the 60 largest employers in the country, the overwhelming majority give fathers significantly less parental leave, or leave paternity leave out of the equation entirely.

This is a problem.

Leaving men out and diminishing their ability to be present, active parents and equal caregivers is a systemic problem caused by outdated, restrictive, gendered narratives of family and caregiving that continue to define how we talk about parental leave. An equal and inclusive national paid family leave policy for all people working in the US must address and combat this problem to help us move beyond outdated distinctions of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ caregiving that serve to perpetuate gender biases at home and in the workplace.

My husband’s role as a caregiver is already being defined as ‘secondary’ (or even worse, ‘babysitting’). My husband’s role in our household is being directed toward the well-trodden path which has been proven, time and time again, to carve out a path for a lifetime of inherent inequality in family caregiving responsibilities.

We know from data, case studies, international examples, and anecdotes about improved developmental, emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children as well as better parent-child relationships, improved physical and mental health for both children and fathers, and reduced gender inequality in the workforce and the home, that come with robust, equal and universal paternity leave policies. Yet, here we are in 2016 — and the outdated, heteronormative, gendered distinctions of family and care-giving continue to dominate both legislative and corporate policy narratives.

My husband and I don’t accept that I will be inherently better at changing diapers or mixing formula because of my chromosomal makeup.

We don’t accept the President-elect’s proposed “parental leave scheme”, which focusses solely on birth mothers.

We don’t accept a system that continues to perpetuate systemic and structural inequality on the basis of gender.

We need a national paid family leave policy that is equal for all parents and caregivers. Or else, all of our daughters and sons, sitting in front of their iPhone 27S screens, will be fighting the same inequality and injustice when their time to be parents and caregivers comes along.

And we don’t accept that.

Natalie Devitsakis is the Digital Program Manager at PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States.