Dads ditch the briefcase to change diapers

Globe and Mail Update

A growing army of new Canadian fathers are taking a brief break from work to spend time caring for their bundles of joy, according to a study released Wednesday.

Nearly 90 per cent of new moms take a leave of absence from work, a ratio that was unchanged from 2001 to 2006, Statistics Canada said in a report titled Navigating Family Transitions. However, the proportion of dads who took some form of leave for the birth or adoption of their child, including parental leave, climbed from 38 per cent in 2001 to 55 per cent five years later.

The rise comes in the wake of Ottawa's 2001 move to increase eligibility for benefits and extended parental leave from 10 to 35 weeks, Statscan said. The total duration of maternity and parental leaves also rose from six months to one year.

“This relatively high level of participation of fathers who are taking leave places Canada ahead of a number of countries, but ranks it well behind those where parents benefit from paid, non-transferable parental leave as in Sweden and Norway,” wrote the co-authors, Pascale Beaupré and Elisabeth Cloutier.

Although more new fathers are taking time off to bond with junior, more than two-thirds returned to work within a month of the child's birth or adoption while nearly half of Moms are away from the office for between one and four years.

Roughly one-third, or 35 per cent, of parents did not take any sort of pause from working, either paid or unpaid. Of this group, 40 per cent said they could not afford to stop working while 37 per cent cited working conditions that did not allow them to take the time off. A quarter of parents who kept working did so because they “did not want to compromise their career” while just 3.5 per cent said their employer rejected their request.

The Statscan study noted that 25 to 35 are the prime years for establishing a successful career, the years when professional efforts tend to be most profitable. “Thus, professional demands may be incompatible with the task of caring for a child.”

The types of leaves taken by parents varied between the genders. Four-fifths of new moms took maternity leave between 2001 and 2006, compared with only 9 per cent of men who took paternity leave. Instead of paternity or parental leaves, fathers usually took a few days of vacation or other paid - or unpaid - personal leave.

“This may be because some organizations still show resistance towards requests from young fathers who want to get more involved in their new family,” the study said.

Making the leap back into the work force was tougher for women, with 62 per cent of Moms saying the transition between leave and work was stressful. One-fifth described it as “very” stressful.

On the other hand, roughly two-thirds of fathers rated the transition was not too stressful, or not stressful at all.

“Despite numerous measures implemented by government to support parents, concerns persist, particularly with regard to accommodating professional and family schedules,” the Statscan study found.

Nearly half of all new parents said finding a work-family balance was a main source of stress once they were back at the office, followed by 20 per cent who cited family-related concerns and 12 per cent who cited child care.

However, nearly one-quarter of new parents who took leave did not return to work, the report found. More than half of these parents said that decision was driven by a desire to raise their child themselves while others indicated that they stayed at home because of the next pregnancy. Daycare proved to be another major obstacle, with nearly a quarter of parents saying that child care was too expensive to be worth the cost.

More than 3.2 million Canadians, about 12 per cent of the population, either had a child or adopted one between 2001 and 2006.