For paternity leave, two weeks isn’t enough

Writer Theodore Ross got his first crack at parenting the same way most fathers do these days: During a two-week parental leave. His wife, using maternal leave, got 90 days.

Writing on Al Jazeera today, Ross says fathers deserve the same opportunity to bond with their children that mothers get and America’s workplaces should extend paid leave.

Mothers reading this story may not sympathize with my early parenting anxieties. That period when the menfolk trot blithely back to work? It’s a vacation compared with the maelstrom of diapers, screaming, and mom-group comic-opera to which they are subjected. What’s more, most American women don’t have the option of leave, as my first and second wives did — I have a son from my first marriage and two daughters with my current wife — to figure out this whole child-rearing business. Ours remains the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee mothers some form of paid leave after childbirth, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. We are, in that regard, united with the high-minded folks in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea. As for the states, only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island require paid family leave, but not, mind you, at full pay.

Ross says a recent survey showed only a little more than half the U.S. corporations offer some form of paid maternal leave; only 14 percent provide the same benefit to fathers.

To be fair, women have ample reason to be skeptical of our good faith; fathers haven’t exactly leaped at their meager opportunities. A 2012 study found that 88 percent of fathers turned down paid paternity leave when it was offered. Just 32 percent of women did. Another 2012 study, my favorite, was conducted among professors at the University of Virginia and noted that even when both mother and father took paid family leave, only three out of the 109 male participants actually performed an equal share of the child care, even in homes with an avowed gender-neutral ideology.

Developing the necessary skills, rapport and confidence won’t be achieved through paternity leave alone, Ross says, but it’s a start.