The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted

Boston College’s Center for Work and Family just released a new study titled The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted.

In its survey of fathers who work for Fortune 500 companies, the report finds new information on fathers’ views of work and caregiving, use of leave, flexibility, feelings of conflict, and more. Specifically, here are some of the key findings for fathers taking family leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child:

  • Most fathers took some time off, but very few took even a small extended leave.
  • ¾ of fathers took a week or less off after the birth of their child (16% took no time at all).
  • Only 1 in 20 took more than two weeks off.
  • Only 1 in 100 took more than four weeks off.
  • Among those who took leave, 92% said it was a positive experience. More than 75% of fathers said they would have liked to have had more time off.
  • Fathers’ work lives were overwhelmingly unchanged after the birth of their child. Only 6% of fathers negotiated a formal flexible work arrangement after the birth of their child.

The authors conclude, “Collectively, these findings highlight a noteworthy gap between what fathers desire, and what they seem able to do to adjust their work lives after their children are born, both in an immediate sense (e.g., through taking leave) and an ongoing sense (e.g., through using flexible work arrangements).

Finally, the authors explain the importance of family leave in developing a strong parenting skills, particularly for new dads:

Fathers need time to develop parenting skills, but in the United States, they don’t have it. The fact that men don’t bear children is obviously an unchangeable biological fact. The fact that men don’t rear children is not.

People are not born with the gene that teaches them all they need to know to be effective parents – neither women nor men. From the first days and weeks after childbirth, many (we hope most) women have the opportunity to spend time with their children, which facilitates both bonding with their newborn and developing competencies as new parents. In contrast, few men are provided with an opportunity to spend significant time with their young children.

In our study, only 1% of the fathers took more than 4 weeks off to be with their children after they were born, and only 1 in 20 fathers took as much as two weeks. Parenting is a skill that must be learned. If men are not afforded the opportunity to take the time early on to become intimately involved in caregiving for their new children, then they may never feel completely comfortable or competent in doing so.

In many parts of Europe, most specifically the Nordic countries, men are encouraged and incented by government policy to take paid leave in their children’s earliest days. In addition to helping fathers, this also contributes to the goal of attaining greater gender equity in those countries where such policies exist. In the U.S. no such government support exists, and the majority of fathers do not take the time off.

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