Sunday, 2 December 2012

Men are parents too!

My husband read my blog and said I wrote about the juggle of parenthood with my career as if I was a single Mum.  This and a few prompts from twitter colleagues has prompted this blog.

Why single out women in the juggle of parenthood and careers?  I answer that by saying that it is usually the women who take maternity leave & hence the break from their careers (breastfeeding is a woman’s domain despite it apparently being possible for men's nipples to be stimulated to produce milk…).  It is also usually the women who take the brunt of the childcare – going part time, and taking off time if the kids are sick.  However childcare does not have to be the woman’s domain.  I do know some couples where the man goes part time or even cares for the child(ren) full time.  In fact, my husband and I agreed that whoever got the permanent job first would be the main breadwinner, and the other would be the main child-carer.  But I found myself being unsatisfied with this thought – I wanted to do it! In the end I would rather take the hit on my career.  Is this selfish?  In fact, I suspect that of some of the (few!) couples I know where the man is the main child-carer, the woman would rather at least share the childcare if not be the main child-carer rather than the breadwinner.  I’m sure this is not always the case though!  So for me, we were lucky – my husband got a permanent lectureship which meant (a) we had the security of a permanent income to have a family and (b) I got my way being the main carer for our children.

Is this fair?  Are there a lot of Dad’s out there who would like to be the main carers?  I know a full time Dad who wouldn't want it any other way (I’m not sure how his wife feels about this, but there may not be another option financially for some).  It is more difficult for men – the laws do not let men take more than 2 weeks paternity leave* (and in fact in the university where my husband works the men only got statutory pay i.e. severely reduced pay for those two weeks, whereas women get a few months at full pay – how is that fair? My husband took leave instead of paternity leave but still had all the work to do when he came back – delayed stress).  There is a definite need for the laws to change (aka Germany/Sweden/Norway) so that maternity leave can be divided equally between parents, and there needs to be a stronger culture of encouraging more flexible working. I would be interested to find out what difference this legislation has had on women being retained in science (or elsewhere) in countries like Sweden and Norway - do they have better female representation because of this?  You'd hope so!  I would be happy to share childcare equally with my husband – say both working 4 days a week rather than me working 3 days a week and him full time).

And to plug my husband’s efforts – I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who will look after the girls at weekends when I need to work, or take time off to look after the girls when I have meetings on my non-working days when the girls aren't in nursery.  (At which point I should also plug my mother-in-law who comes to look after the girls at the drop of the hat when my husband can’t take the time off – especially when I have overseas meetings to go to). And as to single parents… I have no idea how you do it!

*Addendum: apparently men can take up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave if the child's mother has returned to work (in the UK) - though as it was pointed out by a friend who discussed this option with their partner, if he had gone for this option it would have been to the sacrifice of his career - 'laughed out of the building' was the expression she used :(  It would be interesting to hear from any men who have taken this option... encourage others & a new culture?

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