What’s Parental Leave’s Biggest Benefit? Building Confident Fathers

The state of parental leave in the U.S. is dismal. This, we know. And, often, that conversation can become a bit of a downer. If you’d prefer to talk about paternity leave from an empirical perspective, rather than an abstractly depressing one, then you will relish the work of Brad Harrington, director of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family. Harrington has spent the better part of the last decade authoring a number of illuminating studies that have quantified just how bad of a job our society is doing helping new dads connect with their babies. His work is useful and important, serving to illuminate the desire many fathers have to be a part of their family, why they feel forced into certain roles, and that, while, the legislative hurdles we must leap over, while high, lead to a better place. Here are some of Harrington’s largest points.

Dads Want to Be More Involved Than Society Allows

In one of their studies, Harrington and his team asked about 1,000 dads how they viewed their role at home, on a continuum from breadwinner to caregiver. “You heard from fathers that they wanted to be more engaged than their own fathers were,” he said. Nearly three-quarters said they saw themselves as equal parts both. “That was a more balanced view than we expected. We thought fathers would have a bias toward breadwinning,” he says. But their actual role at home doesn’t quite fit that ideal: Even though two-thirds of guys said they want to split caregiving 50-50 with their partner, only about one in three guys reported duties were in fact split. The remaining majority said that they carried out considerably less than half of the caregiving. “The disconnect in what they wanted to do and what they did was big.”

Paternity Leave Is Essential For Building Engaged, Confident Fathers

In his research, Harrington has found that only about 75 percent of dads take as much as a week off for paternity leave (and that a vanishingly small number take more than two weeks, and a depressing 15 percent go back to work the next day). Unfortunately, the dearth…

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