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Should Dads Take Paternity Leave?

paternity leaveU.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron recently welcomed baby daughter Florence Rose Endellion to their family. Mr. Cameron has said that he is contemplating taking paternity leave.

In some circles, the Prime Minister is being praised as a role model for contemporary fathers, while some critics snipe that he’s got more important things to do than stay home with his family. If Mr. Cameron decides to take paternity leave, his deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, (also the father of young children) would take his place.

The Wall Street Journal’s “The Juggle” blog recently wrote about paternity leave saying that even though the U.K. government provides a modest stipend for it, most men don’t take advantage of it for fear it will hurt their careers.

In the U.S., our paternity leave laws are not as generous. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, with some conditions, but California is the only state that provides paid paternity benefits. I can’t think of one man I know who has taken advantage of the FMLA.

As “The Juggle” points out, it’s not just the question of money or career that keeps men from taking paternity leave.

“There’s a pervasive stigma around paternity leave that’s hard to counter,” wrote John J. Edwards III at “The Juggle,” who previously interviewed dads who took time off after baby. He noted that men who took paternity leave “weathered some puzzlement and derision from his co-workers. Even a two-week leave is often considered remarkable for men to take.”

Is staying home with a baby just not manly enough? It seems that we’re sending modern men mixed messages — they should change diapers and be an involved parent, but not if it means taking time off from their job.

In the case of Mr. Cameron, there is an additional reason he may want to spend time with his family. Last year, their severely disabled son, Ivan, died at age 6. They also have two other children.

If regular Schmoes can’t take paternity leave without getting funny looks from their co-workers and friends, how will people react to a world leader take leave?

When my daughters were born, my husband took one week of his vacation time off to be home with us. Since he worked for a small company, they couldn’t have managed without him for more time. And with a new baby and my leaving my full-time job, we couldn’t afford for him to take unpaid leave.

If we expect fathers to be involved in their children’s lives and take equal responsibility for child rearing, shouldn’t it start from day one? I sincerely hope that Mr. Cameron decides to take paternity leave — not only so that he can bond with his new baby, but also to set an example for other dads.

Do you think paid paternity leave should be provided along with maternity leave? Did your husband take paternity leave?

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Photo: flickr/Neil Gillis

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