Just like everything in life, growing a baby takes time. 40 weeks of pregnancy it’s really just a beginning. Once the baby is born, it needs constant care and love from the parents.
How to combine this new important life role with work?
It is natural for the mother to stay at home with the baby at least for some time. Many governments support this idea and offer paid maternity leave. There are countries, which lead the way, in terms of the length. There are others, who still don’t seem to grasp the idea of how important this is for young parents.
The longest vs. the shortest paid maternity leave
Estonia has the longest paid maternity leave across the globe. It’s whopping 85 weeks! It’s a year and a half! Additionally, the mother is protected and cannot be fired form her job during that time. Lucky them!
On the opposite spectrum, with no paid maternity leave at all is the United States. From the European perspective, this seems just crazy. How is it possible, that the highly developed country doesn’t have such a law in place? Is it that health and family is not important, or does everyone just care for their bottom line?
Benefits of paid maternity leave
There are many benefits of maternity leave. Both for the baby and for the mother. For start, it has been proved that longer maternity leave lowers infant mortality rate. There is also a bigger chance that a mother will breastfeed and that in itself provides many health benefits for the baby.
Studies show that if the mother returns to work too soon, it has several negative implications for her and the baby. Showing up at work after less than 12 weeks from having a baby forces the mother to reduce breastfeeding. It has been found that this could also cause behavioral problems in the baby later on.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends least six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Undoubtedly, this is the best food for the baby and it’s been proven to have many health benefits as well.
The presence of parents during children’s early years play a huge role for them in the future. Their long term health and well-being depend on it. It takes time to care and bond with an infant. At the same time, the mother needs time for recovery. No childbirth is easy and a woman’s body needs time to heal as well.
The downside of maternity leave
Providing so many benefits, could maternity leave be bad for anyone? Well, if the mother is taking long leave, she might be overlooked in for a potential pay rise or recruitment for a promotion. That is the sad truth. If you are not visibly contributing to the organization, there is no chance you will be considered.
Additionally, just the possibility for a woman to get pregnant and go on maternity leave leaves the employer with a problem to solve and position to be replaced. Some might even think of maternity leave as a bit of an
The stereotype of women in child-bearing age is getting stronger. Some of the more ignorant employers might favor male applicants for job openings and promotions vs. female ones. Men won’t get pregnant and are less likely to go on longer paternity leaves, hence, they could be considered as more valuable employees. (That’s, of course, relevant in the last century companies, with old school management, where time spend behind the desk is more important than actual achievements and work being done.)
Where are the fathers?
Hold on! It takes two people to make a baby. Why is it that the mother’s career plans and ambitions are put on hold during maternity leave, yet father is happily working on big projects and his next promotion?
You might think, it’s obvious for the mother to stay with a baby. It’s nature. She gives birth, she breastfeeds and cares for a newborn, while the father provides for the family. To some extend such set up is driven by biology.
It seems though, that the issue goes much deeper. It’s about the perception of parenthood and fatherhood in our society.
What do you see, when you imagine father on parental leave? Is it the cliche chubby house husband with no further ambition or skills. Or perhaps a super dad, doing a school runs with one hand, while feeding another baby with the other. Do you consider men who stay at home with kids less manly? Or perhaps you think they are doing the women’s job? Either way, there is something fundamentally wrong with the perception of fathers in our society.
Taking parental leaves (longer than let’s say 2 weeks) for a father is still not common. According to the Guardian, 40% of the fathers in the UK do not take parental leaves, even if it’s offered. ‘70% said they felt there was a social stigma attached to it, while a quarter thought it could damage their career in the future’.
The longest paternal leave, available to fathers in Europe is in Finland and it’s 9 weeks long fully paid leave. Truth be told, most of the other European countries have just the 2 weeks bare minimum leave available to fathers. Japan offers the most amount of paternal leaves globally – 30 weeks. Sadly very few fathers actually use it. It’s estimated that only one in 20 would take it.
It seems that men are so focused on their careers that they are too busy to care for their own kids. I don’t think the father’s job should be limited to making the baby and then provide for him.
In fact, studies have shown that fathers who take paternal leave to bond with a baby, remain more involved in child life in general. Father involvement reduces behavioral and psychological problems in kids, improves cognitive skills. Father figure is important for children, as much as the mother. It is important that fathers get an equal start from the beginning of a child’s life.
Having kids is one of the greatest experiences in life. It takes great courage, some sacrifice, plenty of time and patience, to care for a child. There must be a way for new parents to get supported through paid maternity leave so that they can focus on their families. In the end, the kids of today will rule the world in the future. It is our duty to give them the best possible start in life and the happiest childhood.
What are your thoughts on paid maternity leave? What do you think about fathers taking some time off? Join in the conversation on our social media.