Should Dads Stay Home to Take Care of Kids?

Photo by Dasha Petrenko-Shutterstock
Photo by Dasha Petrenko-Shutterstock

Today the Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that he will be taking a two-month paternity leave when his daughter is born. As he says, “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families.”

He’s not the only high-powered CEO debating how much leave to take. Marissa Mayer, the 40-year-old CEO of Yahoo, announced in September that she and her husband, investor Zachary Bogue, are expecting twin daughters this December. (See Forbes magazine’s “The Last Days of Marissa Mayer?” from November 19, 2015.) After the birth of their first child in 2012, some people criticized her for taking an abbreviated maternity leave of 14 days before returning to the office. Even now her plans for a “limited time away [from work] and working throughout” are raising eyebrows. As Claire Cohen, Deputy Women’s Editor for The Telegraph says in her article “Women can be CEOs and mothers. But Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave is a bum deal,”

She clearly feels no need to make full use of the California-based company’s offer of paid leave for 16 weeks for new mothers – a perk she introduced after having her first child.

Some people, though, have used Mayer’s example to highlight another issue: How few men take time off of work–or quit their jobs–to take care of their children.

When men take paternity leave, they can bond with each other, too.

 


More on the topic:


 

Kathleen Gerson, a professor at New York University and author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family, told Fortune with regards to the Mayer debate in 2012:

If a man could set an example that it’s important to take time to be with a newborn — not to mention your children at any age — that would send a much more straightforward message. What we need are more people, especially men, who can make that counterintuitive and somewhat braver choice: to give family the equal place it deserves, even in the highest levels of the economy.

And that brings us to a fantastic article in the October 2015 issue of The Atlantic by Andrew Moravcsik titled “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First: The well-being of children, the status of women, and the happiness of men will depend on whether more fathers are willing to take on primary parenting roles.”

Photo by Samuel Borges Photography-Shutterstock
Photo by Samuel Borges Photography-Shutterstock

 

Moravcsik is married to Anne-Marie Slaughter, who wrote an op-ed (also for The Atlantic) three years ago titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Slaughter was the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department–a challenging job for sure. As she says in that piece:

Yet the decision to step down from a position of power—to value family over professional advancement, even for a time—is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, “leaving to spend time with your family” is a euphemism for being fired.

She also says:

I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.

When Slaughter wrote the article, she’d recently left her job to spend more time with her sons–and relieve her husband of being the lead parent. Yet, Moravcsik notes, that very op-ed made his wife more prominent nationally and “reinforced my role as the lead parent of our two sons—a role I continue to fill today.”

His article, as he puts it, is “the other half of our family’s story”–and, we think, one worth reading in conjunction with hers. Together they paint a fascinating portrait of home life with two working parents–an often stressful scene that so many of us know well.

After taking a brief initial paternity leave, Moravczik assumed he could knuckle down at work and become “more efficient” so he could still be very involved in home life. Theirs was a rosy fantasy: The two parents equally sharing the responsibilities for the home while supporting each other’s needs to travel for work and meet deadlines. He says:

We had bought into the prevailing wisdom among other dual-career families we knew: 50–50 parenting was not just desirable, but doable.

Eventually reality caught up with them, as well as the stress. They decided that he would become the lead parent–i.e., the first responder on all child-related fronts. One of the conclusions he comes to is sobering and all-too common:

Even when family-friendly policies are in place, dads face subtler psychological, cultural, and social obstacles. In many cases, studies show, they are stigmatized for taking advantage of such policies.

He then goes on to describe all the benefits that men can experience staying at home with kids, including a better marriage, more chances to teach what you know, and a more fulfilling life–a life, he adds, that he will never regret.

Photo by Frederic Legrand - COMEO-Shutterstock
Photo by Frederic Legrand – COMEO-Shutterstock

 

On Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page where he announced today his decision to take two months of paternity leave after his daughter is born, the response has been positive–and other fathers have come forward to share their feelings. Here are are some of the highlights:

I agree whole heartedly, i took the first two months of my daughter’s life off from work and not only did it help mummy but it cemented the bond that my daughter and i have. – Chris Nickels

I wish I would have taken more time off when my kids were first born. There’s never enough time, and grabbing the moments you can are priceless. -Mike Johnson

Knowing how complicated of a decision it has been for me, I can’t imagine how challenging it is for you. Thank you for taking this leap. -Ben Chiaramonte

Enjoy. It’s the best thing ever. -Jonathan Ehrlich


Do you think mothers and fathers should take parental leave? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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