by John Hoffman
The federal government recently floated the idea of changing Canada’s parental leave policies to include “Daddy Days.” That’s a chunk of paid parental leave that can be taken only by fathers. I’ll gladly add my voice to those who want to see the feds follow through with this policy.
Daddy Days is an idea whose time has come for Canada. Most developed countries now offer at least some father-exclusive parental leave, everything from an amazing whole year in Japan and South Korea to one day in Italy. Right now in Canada, while all dads can take paternity leave, only Quebec offers parental leave that only fathers can take.
Why does this matter? Why not keep parental leave flexible and let families decide how to divide up (or not) parental leave?
For me it’s about gender equity. Designating some parental leave exclusively for fathers sends an important message about gender equity, in both the home and the workplace. We’re steadily moving in the direction of greater gender equity, but there’s still a ways to go. Fathers’ family responsibilities need to be supported and recognized in policy just as policies were put in place to recognize and support mother’s roles in the world of paid work. A Daddy Days policy would, say, in effect, that fathers’ responsibilities in the home are important and need to be supported by government and employers. That’s a nudge in the right direction.
How much difference will it make? The biggest impact will be the number of men who take parental leave. Almost 80% of Quebec fathers take parental leave compared to 9% in the rest of Canada. That’s a huge difference. It shows that when either parent can take the leave, families usually opt for mom taking it. Canadian research has actually shown that both women and men tend to see gender-neutral parental leave as “hers,” something for Mom to “give” a slice of to Dad. Not all parents feel that way, of course. But the experience of Quebec and many other countries is, if you offer Daddy Days, guys will taken them.
Sure, it’s just a month or so, but, creating policy that puts more fathers in the home at a critical point in family life (after a child is born or adopted) helps to normalize an important idea: fathers share parenting responsibilities and do hands-parenting.
However, studies from different countries suggest that we should not expect Daddy Days to have much more than a modest impact on the mother/father division of child care work in Canadian households.
One study compared the amount of time Quebec moms and dads spent doing child care and housework before and after Daddy Days were introduced in Quebec. After Daddy Days came in, Quebec fathers increased their housework time, but not child care time. Quebec mothers actually increased the amount of time they spent on child care after Daddy Days were introduced. I find that pretty interesting, but I’m not sure what we can conclude from that. I think it may tell us something about the strong sense of responsibility mothers still feel for child care. But that’s a discussion for another day.
In the workplace father-exclusive parental leave will help to create a mindset that it is normal and expected for dads to take leave, not only after the birth or adoption of a child, but also when kids are sick, or need to be taken to an appointment. More and more fathers are taking this sort of short-term parental leave. But if you ask around, you’ll hear that it’s still hard for many guys to get their bosses to approve of taking short-term leave for family reasons. Today’s families need the kind of flexibility that allows either mothers or fathers to take family leave.
In the end, the thing that will really drive more gender equity in parenting will be more and more men and women seeing and experiencing its benefits. And there are benefits. For starters, gender balance in the (two-parent, heterosexual) home can reduce mothers’ stress and support their earning potential, while encouraging fathers to build caregiving and home-making skills. This gives families lots of flexibility because either Dad or Mom can assume the primary role for child care, home-making or bread-winning according to the families’ needs and wishes.
So, Mr. Trudeau and colleagues. Bring Daddy Days on! It’s the right thing for Canadian families.