Certainly the decline of the traditional family structure has contributed to this new outlook. Today, men AND women share the economic responsibility for the family. In the U.S., as in many other Western societies, the traditional family structure is now in the minority – only 20% of households in 2010 have the father at the helm as the breadwinner and the mother at home as the full-time housewife. Over the last three decades women have gained credibility in the workplace, while preserving their status as competent homemakers. But what’s happened to men’s status during this time?
Although men now share in the role of care giver, nurturer, and cook as never before, they still suffer from the stereotypical image of being forgetful and clumsy when it comes to homemaking. Society hasn’t caught up with the active role dads now play in childrearing. The UK’s Children’s Society reported that fathers spend considerably more time with their kids today than they did 30 years ago – up from 15 minutes a day to 5 hours a day. Recent surveys suggest that fathers continue to express a desire to spend more time at home.
To recognize men and women equally for their professional talents as well as their parenting abilities, maternity leave should be reframed as parental leave, recognizing that dads are just as capable as moms in raising children. Equality is a two-way street. If women can have it all – a challenging career along with a fulfilling home life – men should have it all too.
Sweden has taken the lead in showing the impact of parental leave. 8 in 10 Swedish dads now take parental leave following childbirth, which has resulted in an increase in women’s pay, lower divorce rates and an increase in joint custody. Sharing leave will also go a long way in making family everyone’s issue, not just a woman’s issue. It’s time that fathers get recognized for their contribution in the home as well as in the workplace, putting them on par with their female counterparts. Parental leave gives such recognition. Happy Father’s Day to all you New Dads!