In the United States, only 1 in 100 dads take more than four weeks off from work following a baby's birth. For comparison, about 50% of employed new mothers take the same time off to care for a new baby. In fact, working moms step out of work for an average of 10 weeks to care for a newborn.
There are, of course, many reasons more moms take family leave vs. dads. For starters, the physical components of giving birth, recuperating, and breast-feeding. I remember the day my first baby turned six weeks old. That Monday felt like the absolute earliest, physically, that my postpartum body could have managed work in addition to nighttime feedings and the exhaustion of early motherhood. And it was another six weeks before I actually managed to leave the house and get back to my desk.
Societal expectations that mom, not dad, will be an infant's primary caregiver, also weigh heavily on many couples. Some moms want to be their baby's fulltime commandant, protector and literal nurse. Sometimes the pressure to do so - plus the general chaos of early parenthood -- confuses what a new mom, and dad, really want. My husband had not held a baby until he held ours. I had two younger siblings and had been babysitting since I was 11. Parenthood, predictably, came more easily to me -- and rightly or wrongly, I felt far more qualified for the job. So, faced with the terrifying, seemingly impossible, task of keeping a helpless newborn alive, we both went with me as primary caregiver.
And then there's financial security -- someone needs to pay for all those diapers, right?
Men often feel that fatherhood puts pressure on them to work more, not less. According to Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, “Until the 1970s, being a good father meant leaving home to be a good breadwinner.” But men’s roles, like women’s, are changing. “Now, many younger men, though not all, see being a good father as requiring involvement in children’s daily lives and activities,” says Williams.
In California, the vanguard for so much of American social change, acceptance of dads as caregivers is growing. In 2004, California started offering dads six weeks of paid leave to care for a child or sick relative. The government program pays dads out of small deductions from employee paychecks. California dads now account for one-third of all paid leaves. It has become acceptable -- perhaps even de rigeur in some circles-- for dads to take paternity leave in California. One reason fathers in California appear to be embracing the paid-leave program, work-life guru Williams explains, is that it allows them to “live up to this new ideal as day-to-day nurturer and keep their old role as providers.”