We love celebrating dads on Father’s Day – and they certainly deserve it! But, if we really wanted to help fathers out, we might think about changing the way we think about fatherhood. While mothers face stigma when they take time away from children to work, fathers face stigma when they take time away from work to care for kids. Read more to learn about the research on fathering and what you can do to care for fathers all year long!
Involved Fathers are Perceived Negatively at Work
Fathers who report that family is conflicting with work, are rated more negatively than working mothers who perceive these conflicts. This is because fathers are held to an “ideal worker” stereotype, while mothers are held to an “ideal parent” stereotype. Supervisors judge working fathers against standards that assume work is their only priority. Similarly, society judges mothers as if family is their only priority.
These stereotypes are damaging because they create expectations that men will focus only on work. These stereotypes may not be conscious. This means that managers and coworkers may not even realize they are expecting men will ignore family conflicts. Additionally, just because someone is a father themselves, doesn’t mean they won’t hold other fathers to the ideal worker standard. A good first step would be to think hard about how you view working moms and dads. Do you feel differently when working moms leave work to pick up kids versus when a dad does the same? How do you think the people in your workplace see things? Starting a dialogue at work about how you and others perceive working fathers may be one way to combat negative stereotypes.
Fathers Don’t Use Paternity Leave
While paternity leave is not required in the US, as it is in many other countries, more companies are offering paternity leave. However, fathers can sense that others expect them to hide their family conflicts. So, fathers don’t use paternity leave, even if they have it. In fact, men who use their paternity leave are thought of as worse team players and less deserving of rewards. Interestingly, this is because coworkers view men who take paternity leave as more feminine.
If fathers don’t take paternity leave, it decreases the amount of time spent with their kids, and increases potential mental health risks for mothers who are spending more time parenting. Thus, it’s important to make sure that men actually use their paternity leave. But, how? First, make sure your company offers paternity leave. If possible, advocate for this leave yourself. Second, if you are in a leadership position or have influence over leaders, remember the power of role modeling. If fathers in leadership positions don’t take their leave, neither will anyone else.
Third, make sure that men who take leave aren’t rated more negatively – a risk that is even higher when the rater is also male. Advocating for training on parental stereotypes might help. Additionally, you should examine whether raters fairly judge men who took paternity leave compared to those who didn’t, to help lessen the likelihood that men will be penalized for taking leave. This might increase the likelihood that they will take it!
Advocate for Structural Changes
At a national level, longer paid leave policies lower conflicts between work and family overall. But, this is only true if supervisors are family supportive. This means that attitudes toward and policies protecting family time are important both at the national and organizational level. So, advocating that every company should be required to offer paternity leave is a great start. But, just because a federal policy is in place, doesn’t mean that attitudes will change. Thus, you need to advocate for changes in attitude within your company as well.
In countries in which there is a much stronger uptake of paternity leave policies, like Sweden, men’s strong feelings about being true co-parents and their partner’s support for co-parenting, strongly impacts whether men take leave as well. So, if you are a father or you are in a co-parenting relationship with a father, think about how your attitudes might impact your work and life. Are you honest with yourself about how important co-parenting is to you? Are you putting pressure on your co-parent to adhere to traditional fathering norms? Try to start by thinking about the family life you really want, and then go from there regarding how you act at home, at work, and with regard to the policies you advocate for.
Overall, fathers are important. We have talked about the importance of supporting working parents before. But, if fathers feel they can’t participate in their children’s lives without facing stigma, they might be less likely to take the time to do so. How do your attitudes and actions impact how the fathers in your life feel? Changing these attitudes could lead to more equal, shared parenting models that build stronger and more cohesive families.