A recent Unicef analysis reveals that India is among 90 countries in the world without national policies that ensure new fathers get adequate paid time off with their newborn babies. India and Nigeria are nations which have high infant population without a national paid leave policy and this is not something to be proud of.
Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children; they are capable caretakers and disciplinarians. Studies show that if your child’s father is affectionate, supportive, and involved, he can contribute greatly to your child’s cognitive, language, and social development, as well as academic achievement, a strong inner core resource, sense of well-being, good self-esteem, and authenticity.
A noted sociologist, Dr David Popenoe, one of the pioneers of the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood says, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”
A study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal last year examined the potential contribution of father–child interactions at both 3 months and 24 months and they measured the child’s cognitive development at 24 months. Results indicate that father-child interactions, even from a very young age may influence children’s cognitive development. The study highlights the potential significance of interventions to promote positive parenting by fathers and policies that encourage fathers to spend more time with their young children.
Thus, knowing this association, we need to address the importance of a paid paternal leave policy that can enable fathers to bond with their infants.
With the nuclear family set up being almost like the norm today, men also feel the deep need to support their spouses during and post childbirth. Immediately post childbirth is when the mother needs the most care and support in adjusting to the changes that a baby brings into the home and that’s when a paid paternity leave can be a big boon. It can help make the transition smoother and can enhance the father’s initial bonding with the child.
In the past centuries, a father’s role was primarily to serve as a breadwinner and be a disciplinarian to his children. However, in recent decades, the changing economic role of women has greatly impacted the role of fathers in the family.
Between 1948 and 2001, the percentage of working age women employed or looking for work nearly doubled — from less than 33% to more than 60%. Their increased financial power made paternal financial support less necessary for some families. Today’s fathers have started to take on roles vastly different from those of previous generations. Their roles are no longer traditional and have evolved into multiple aspects, including caregiving.
Historically, research on child development always focused more on the sensitivity of mothers to fulfilling their children’s needs. However, in the last 20 to 30 years, research has increasingly focused on fathers and their importance in bringing up children.
Findings suggest that the influence of father love on children’s development is as great as the influence of a mother’s love. Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional and cognitive development and functioning. Moreover, children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioural or substance abuse problems.
Another aspect that separates fathers and mothers is that men encourage more risk-taking behaviour in their toddlers and that is good in the long run. They also use a very different vocabulary with their children, often using complicated words whereas mothers tend to adjust their language to be on a par with their children. This helps to broaden a child’s vocabulary.
In India, women are entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave according to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017. While it is mandatory that a woman take leave for childbirth, the father is important and his role needs to be acknowledged and he should be entitled to a substantial, if not equal number, of paid leaves.
In a move to build family-friendly policies, our country, which has one of the highest infant populations in the world, is proposing the Paternity Benefit Bill for consideration in the next session of Parliament. This is a move in the right direction if taken seriously and it could also be a sign of acceptance of the role that fathers play in their children’s lives in this age.