Why do so few ‘progressive’ dads take parental leave?

·2-min read
 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale’s tweet that paternity leave is for “losers”, evoking the good old days when men responded to having babies by merely working harder, sounds to most modern people like the ravings of a fundamentalist Right-wing nut.

Even more so when you consider he was responding to discussion of US transport secretary Pete Buttigieg taking six-months’ leave after adopting twin babies with his husband. Surely the traditional childcare split is a thing of the past?

But perhaps Londsdale’s old fashioned ideas are more common than we think.

In fact, the number of fathers taking paternity leave hit its lowest point in a decade this year, with only a third taking the time they are legally entitled to. Even in companies that offer enhanced paternity packages, many men don’t take their full leave allowance.

Are Lonsdale’s dinosaur views not, in fact, extinct in my generation after all?

Even among my — nominally feminist, progressive — straight parent friends and colleagues, there are remarkably few dads who took shared parental leave beyond the statutory two weeks.

So why is this? Do my male peers secretly agree with Lonsdale that they would be losers if they stayed home with a newborn?

Studies suggest part of the problem is indeed ingrained gender stereotypes upheld by both men and women, an issue I have high hopes for Gen Z overcoming, even if it’s too late for my cohort.

Another issue is stigma, men fear being branded “weird” or loser-ish if they take time off to parent (thanks, Joe, for perpetuating that one).

They also fear career damage on their return to work. And having seen how working women are treated after they have children, who can blame them?

How can we make things better and fairer, for men and women? For starters, men need to know what they’re entitled to. They may be embarrassed to ask so some of the onus must be on companies to make it clear.

They also need role models — senior figures need to take time off too. They’ll realise that the professional world will continue to turn without them, an unsettling thought but perhaps ultimately a freeing one.

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