Metrolife: New dads want more time off

Meghana Naidu with family.

The role of the husband in looking after a newborn child is generally overlooked or played down. A petition doing the rounds on social media currently seeks to end this ‘parental imbalance’ by asking for a two-month paid paternity leave for fathers.

Traditionally seen as just the providers, men are socially not expected to do more than indulge in the occasional midnight cravings of their pregnant wife or provide emotional support during childbirth.

Which is why most companies, even the progressive MNCs, don’t give more than 1-2 weeks of leave, which is hardly enough, say dads.

Prakash Kumar, general manager of KisanKraft Limited, who is expecting his first child soon, says, “Paternity leave is an important yet underrated issue in India. I am lucky that the company I am working for gives seven days of paternity leave. It is a life-changing event to have a child and fathers need to aid their wives in the initial period. Often there are medical situations and household issues to deal with — a process which takes time and is equally stressful for the father too.”

Abhishek Sircar, product manager with a software company, says that the one week he got as paternity leave was definitely not enough when he had his son, around eight years ago.

“Work from home would also be a good option for new fathers as they can still be around to provide support to their wives. But most organisations don’t have such an option. And since the dates keep varying, one can’t really plan the entire thing.”

“If you have your parents or in-laws with you during that period, it is manageable. Thankfully, my wife’s parents were here to help out. But many young couples who have migrated for better prospects find themselves in an alien place and it is not feasible to expect the wife to manage everything on her own at that time,” he adds. 

Arjun Das, director, IBM India, father of a two-year-old, says, “I got about a week but I would definitely have liked a couple of weeks more. In the absence of the father, you need external support with a new baby which is why I had to go and drop my wife and newborn baby at my in-laws’ place within a couple of weeks. This is a common practice with IT professionals; I have seen around 8-10 fathers who had to do the same thing.”

Meghana Naidu, Director of Operations, Bangalore Birth Network (BBN), says that men are now very involved in all aspects of the pregnancy. “At BBN, we have a number where pregnant women can call to access resources. At least 20-25% of those calls are initiated by fathers. In some of the calls, I don’t get to talk to the mother for a very long time. It’s amazing to see how hands-on the fathers are.”

But society refuses to evolve. “Many hospitals don’t allow fathers into the labour room. The alienation is perpetuated that early on. Also, other women in the house don’t give them the space to do more. They say ‘Leave this to us, go take care of your work’, thereby creating an unequal balance where the brunt of parenting falls on a mother.”

She adds that men go through the same amount of emotional, mental and physical pressures when the baby is born.

“Post-partum blues in fathers is not spoken about but it exists, maybe because they don’t have the space to connect with the baby. They usually have to go back to work 5-10 days after the baby is born and this is 
very upsetting for the entire family unit.” 

“Ideally, the three of them, along with their older children, should be able to stay indoors till they reach that new normal. There are men who choose to take sabbaticals or resign but it affects their careers adversely and not everyone can afford to do this,” she adds. 

It’s our loss...

Female employment rates in India saw a consistent decline of 5% every year during 2005 to 2015, according to a World Bank report. A major reason is young mothers dropping out to take care of their children.

A recent report on gender equality by the Mckinsey Global Institute (MGI), the consultancy’s research division, shows that India is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the Asia-Pacific in terms of labour force participation by females and the contribution of women to GDP, based on figures from 2016.

The Paternity Benefit Bill, 2017, backed by Congress MP Rajeev Satav, pushes for equal ‘parental’ benefits for both the mother and the father. At present, the All India and Central Civil Services Rules allow central government employees 15 days of paternity leave. Various corporate offices also give paternity benefits to their employees. The bill hopes to not just extend the duration of the paternity leave but also extend it to all workers, across sectors.

 

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Metrolife: New dads want more time off

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