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Why We Need Paternity Leave

Jan 14 2014
Having Dad take time off sets up a more balanced family life.

This morning, I left the house early to work out. My husband Peter arose with the kids—Penny, age 8, William, 5, and Marilee, almost 3. I returned to find them in various forms of protest, insisting I make their breakfast even though their dad is equally capable of slicing banana bread and strawberries.

The morning progressed and Peter tried to help out—packing lunches, showers, getting dressed, making beds, brushing teeth—as our children continued to resist his assistance. They swarmed me for most of the time, with one break to pillow-fight with their father.

Liza Mundy's recent article in The Atlantic, Daddy Track: The Case for Paternity Leave, suggests that the parenting imbalance in our household has a specific root. I took maternity leave. And although my husband and I talked for years about sharing parenting responsibilities, he took only a few days off from work after each of our children was born.

Peter said he would stop working or work part-time so he could be with the kids and I could work more, but his job provided our housing and health insurance. What's more, as a writer, I brought in approximately $2 an hour, leaving me to find a better-paying job I didn't really want or to keep plugging away at writing during the kids' naps.

With time, it didn't seem to make sense for us to switch roles. I knew the routines. He liked his job. We secured some childcare so I could keep writing. And finally, as much as I bemoaned my life as a part-time SAHM, I also cherished what I learned from being around these little ones every day. The small decisions about who sang the kids to sleep and who changed the dirty diapers and who planned the meals all became patterns of life together.

It has worked out for us, and yet I wonder how much our children have missed out as a result of our bifurcated roles. While separation of tasks makes many decisions easier, it also comes at a cost. Peter brings different qualities to the household than I do, so I've often wished we could more fully share both aspects of adult life—the responsibilities at home and the work hours. Moreover, in his role as father, Peter can offer an understanding of our heavenly Father that I cannot. It's not to say he is a perfect parent, nor that my mothering won't provide our children with some understanding of God's character. But Jesus teaches us to pray to our Daddy, and for kids to experience the care and leadership of a good and loving earthy father can pave the way for them to better understand God's grace and truth in their lives.

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