I finally had a chance to read this smart, snappy, and heart-warming article on the Megabus to D.C. this week. The piece was written by Ryan Park, the husband of a fellow Goucher post-bacc and friend. One of the highlights of the holidays was getting our girls together–although they still kind of suck at sharing, it’s pretty sweet to watch toddler girls attempt at play together–and commiserating about the joys and challenges of balancing parenting with our careers.
In reading the comments, it’s frustrating how many people seem to miss the point. There’s a lot of criticism regarding Park’s background and how his opportunity to stay home is rather exceptional. But he doesn’t shy away from this fact and, of his many arguments, I don’t think he states that men should be stay-at-home dads. Instead, he articulately defends Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s statement, “gender lines in the law are bad for everyone: bad for women, bad for men, and bad for children,” using legal history, comparisons with the legislation of other countries, and personal anecdotes.
There are so many excerpts that resonate with me, I had a hard time not copying and pasting the entire article (maybe I should have). But to select out a few…
I could not agree more with the decision to take a year out:
My wife, without really even considering doing otherwise, had already taken almost a year off from medical school after Caitlyn was born, partly to support me during a challenging clerkship, and partly because she believed it would be good for Caitlyn’s development. But mostly it was for my wife herself. She valued motherhood and wanted to experience it fully, for as long as she could without jeopardizing her professional goals.
Yes. Full body nod:
At the close of my 20s, it struck me that any success I had managed to achieve would not have been possible without a certain single-minded devotion to my studies and work—to the exclusion, at times, of healthy habits and relationships. A few weeks shy of my 30th birthday, when I met Caitlyn for the first time, single-mindedness dissolved as a viable life plan for my 30s. Amid the sleep-deprived excitement, frustrations, and frenetic activity of those first months as a father, my new reality sank in: For the foreseeable future, balancing my family with my career would be the defining challenge of my life.
The fatherhood bonus also dissipates when men become more involved at home. Drawing from data tracking the lives and careers of more than 12,000 people over 28 years, Scott Coltrane of the University of Oregon found that both men and women pay persistent and severe financial penalties when they step back from their careers. In fact, men seem to fare slightly worse. Men who take time away from work for family reasons experience a 26.4 percent reduction in future earnings, whereas women experience a 23.2 percent reduction. And men who decrease their work hours for family reasons suffer a 15.5 percent decline, while women’s salaries decline by just 9.8 percent. In other words, having a family helps men in the workplace only if they submit to their traditional gender role.
What the data show, I think, is that “having it all”—even at different times, as the Boss suggested she was able to do—may well be impossible for most people. For every Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who famously suffered no ill career effects from taking a five-year break from her career to raise her children, there are many more women and men who’ve found their professional trajectories forever circumscribed by similar life choices. But it’s just as true that every person who learns of his child’s first word the way I did—via text message during a late night at the office—has sacrificed immensely at the altar of professional success and financial necessity.
Sweden’s cultural expectations mirror its laws. T.’s wife knows a Swedish cardiologist who returned to work after his requisite 60 days at home. Despite his joy at becoming a father, the drudgery of life with a newborn didn’t sit well with him. His wife, a doctor at the same institution, agreed to stay home for the rest of the couple’s allotted time. But on his return to work, the hospital’s leaders pulled him aside and delivered a stern lecture on the poor example he was setting. He was soon back to changing diapers and warming bottles, and the couple redistributed their leave more evenly.
Not surprisingly, a wide body of research shows that children who have engaged, supportive fathers are better socialized, have stronger cognitive and language skills, and are more emotionally balanced. A 2007 study by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health also found that taking parental leave was good for men themselves over the long run: Those who did it lived longer than those who didn’t, perhaps because it caused them to moderate traditionally masculine, self-destructive behaviors. And it has been shown that mothers’ incomes rise about 7 percent for each month that a father spends at home with the children.
On the other hand, when men don’t have the opportunity to take parental leave, women’s incomes suffer. As economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn have found, the cost and disruption associated with generous maternity leave “may lead employers to engage in statistical discrimination against women for jobs leading to higher-level positions.” In other words, why invest in a woman’s career if you fear, reasonably, that she might leave for a year at 80 percent pay when a similarly qualified man doesn’t have that option? There is also some indication that unequal leave harms the family unit as a whole. Divorce and separation rates, which were rising in most parts of the world, fell in Sweden after the initial institution of a “daddy month” in 1995 (it was extended to the two months in 2002).