Dads and childcare: the benefits for women

Yesterday Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, wrote an article for the Financial Times about how companies could do more to encourage men to take paternity leave.

Some of the reader comments at the bottom of the article really made my blood boil.

Many were along the lines of women being born to do childcare and men being born to provide. Some implied that men were unfit to do childcare, or shouldn’t have to. One even suggested that most childcarers are women because they are pre-programmed to choose partners that are superior to them, and that men’s dedication to work is what makes them attractive as a mate. 

Needless to say, I don’t believe any of this. 

I drafted my own comment in response, but it turns out you need to pay money to comment on FT articles. So I’ve posted it here instead.

Changing attitudes to parenting and gender roles is not a sop to feminists or an attempt to engineer human nature, as one FT reader put it.

Aside from the benefits to dads, it’s a good thing for the tens of thousands of talented, qualified women who, every year, are forced out of promising careers or out of the jobs market altogether because they are expected to take total responsibility for caring for their children. While some women might prefer childcare to work, that choice is not available to most: a domestic role is the only real option available.

Women are as entitled to a career as men are. It’s just plain wrong to say that they should pick up the childcare burden by default.

Whatever you believe about human nature, breastfeeding, recovery from labour, etc. they are feeble attempts by men to excuse themselves from domestic duty. There is no reason a man can’t look after a baby, particularly after it’s a couple of months old.

No one is saying that all dads must take paternity leave and all mums must work. But all families should at least consider and have a conversation around whether it makes more sense for the dad to do some of that domestic work – rather than the automatic presumption that the mother will do it. And Justine is right that employers should do more to encourage men to take leave.

My wife and I had that conversation and decided that I would take six months out of my job as a senior manager at a management consultancy to look after our second baby. I also took four months off for the first.

It means my wife can maintain her career as a lawyer. It also means that I get to build a relationship with my children. I intend to return to my career at the end of my paternity leave. Anyone who tells me I am lazy or not serious about work is just wrong.

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