It was refreshing to see a couple of articles in The Economist about paternity leave, and how the advantages of offering time off to dads brings long term benefits to the whole household. Moms are better off by staying longer in the workforce, receiving better pay and sharing with their partners the “second shift” of house shores. For children, dads’ involvement transforms through the years from changing diapers to educational. And dads (in my opinion) get exposed to more happy moments with their children, which translate to a happier and fuller life!
From a legislation standpoint, the United States is behind other countries on maternity leave. Corporations tend to compensate by offering benefits. Although it is not optimal, it’s something. We can also do our part to increase “men equality” and by doing so creating a stronger family.
As we know, women are usually responsible for the majority of the household work and child related shores. But, Why is that? Why don't we have equality at home? Due to traditions, machismo, lack of support from society, etcetera, etcetera, we (women) create a set of standards and responsibilities that we (women) believe are our obligations. I’m generalizing and mostly talking on my experience, but I’m sure some of you can relate. As a mother I feel responsible for what my children wear, eat, how they behave, their development, etc., and this is not only in front of strangers but also in front of my husband. I caught myself responding for my children and translating for them when my husband asks them a question. What is wrong with me? My husband asked our girl a question and I should let HER answer. He will make sense of her response. I don’t NEED to translate.
The following story is a classic example of how my behavior perpetuates the lack of “men equality”. This anecdote was a wake up call for me.
When our second child was about 6 months old, I took my first overnight trip for work since his birth. The nanny was in charge of covering my duties of taking them to daycare in the morning, picking them up in the afternoons, feeding, bathing and taking care of them until my husband got home from work. The father of my children was in charge of the night shift. I left that morning knowing that everything was going to be ok, but also second-guessing my choices of traveling for work and leaving my children behind. I tried not to overthink my choices; went on with my work responsibilities, and after a day of travel and work, I went to the hotel and had the best night of sleep in years. The alarm woke me up at 6am. I looked at my phone and had a missed call from my husband from 3am in the morning. OMG! Is everything ok? You can only imagine where my imagination took me, and the feeling of guilt that sunk my heart. I called him right the way. He told me everything was ok and shared his story. The night before, the baby woke up crying asking for milk around 1am. My husband was ready with a warm bottle and put him to sleep again. The baby felt sleep for a while but he was missing “the boob,” so he cried again. My husband, half asleep, grab the bottle again and took what he thought was the cap out but in reality was the nipple. He proceeded to feed the baby (with a bottle with no nipple) and pretty much "water boarded" our baby with breastmilk. The baby was all wet so my husband looked for clothes to change him. He didn't know where the baby's clothes were (in my closet). He found a change of clothes in the diaper bag, changed the baby and fed him a new bottle. The new bottle leaked and the baby's clothing got wet again. My husband could not find more clothes so he called me at 3:00 am. I didn't respond; I was having a great night of sleep! He gave up and dressed the baby with some of his sister's clothes.
What did I realize? My husband is not snooping around my closet when I’m not around (which is good to know), but also that for six months I never let him change, bathe or dress our baby. It was not his fault he didn’t know where the baby’s clothes were; I was the one hiding them in my closet. Since then, I changed my behavior and I don’t get on the way between my children and their father. He loves to spend the time with the kids and watch them grow. After all, he is their father!
Here are some of the tips I keep in mind to achieve “Men equality.” Feel free to use the ones that you find useful and share with us others that work for you.
DADS: In addition to applying the same advice, you should also be patient and don’t give up. If you ask the mother of your children for help and she responds with “I WILL DO IT,” say “No, I will. Please show me how.”
Also the books: The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be (New Father Series) and The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year are two good reads for dads from a dad.