Parental leave luring more dads

Fathers taking time off with new baby find it easier than moms to get back to work: report

Shannon Proudfoot, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2007

More Canadian fathers are taking time off work after the birth or adoption of a child, but they return to work much sooner than mothers and find the transition easier, a Statistics Canada report released yesterday has found.

The proportion of mothers taking leave after the arrival of a child remained stable at nearly 90 per cent between 2001 and 2006, but during the same period, the share of fathers who stayed home rose to 55 per cent from 38 per cent. This might be due to extended leave benefits of up to 35 weeks, the report speculates, making mothers more inclined to "share" leave time with their spouse or partner.

While 62 per cent of mothers found the transition back to work stressful and one-fifth of them described it as very stressful, nearly two-thirds of fathers (65 per cent) said it gave them little trouble.

"We have a bit of a double message going out to parents," says Donna Lero, Jarislowsky Chair in Families and Work at the University of Guelph. "We know and recognize that a father's involvement is very positive. But when it comes to parenting babies, there is a unique responsibility which is (thought to be) the mother's and a lot of the debate about child care and staying at home is really about moms, not about dads."

Low fertility rates are a significant concern in Canada, she says, but government policies don't make it easy for anyone to juggle child care, career, finances and family life.

Eight in 10 parents admitted they would have stayed home longer if finances had permitted. Reasons for returning to work were similar for men and women, except that more men (40 per cent) worried about losing their jobs, while more women (26 per cent) felt isolated at home.

In spite of the challenges, 86 per cent of those polled told Statistics Canada they were ultimately satisfied with their return to work.

Even so, nearly one-quarter of parents (23 per cent) didn't go back to work at all, with more than half of them citing a desire to raise their children themselves. Another 24 per cent did not return to the workforce because child care was too expensive and eight per cent remained at home because they lost their job or their employer wasn't offering the position they wanted.

More than 3.2 million Canadians welcomed new children by birth or adoption between 2001 and 2006.

Ottawa government worker Tim Stupich took seven months' parental leave after his son, Cameron, was born in February 2002, while his wife, Catherine Francis, took a year's worth of paid and unpaid leave. When Mr. Stupich eventually returned to the office, he felt better knowing their son was with Ms. Francis rather than a babysitter.

Even so, he faced a different sort of stress among co-workers and business associates: "I felt there still seemed to be a stigma about fathers staying home. I would take a lot of joking about that and it was something that of course would never be done for a woman after returning from having a baby. But I think that attitude is changing."

After the April 2006 arrival of Sabrina, the couple's second child together (they have a blended family that includes seven children and a lot of soccer games), financial considerations kept Mr. Stupich from taking more than a week off.

"It was a stress that lasted for a long time, because every day I was at work and I was feeling that the bond wasn't developing there as quickly as I would have liked," he says.

The Statistics Canada report shows 35 per cent of parents did not take any paid or unpaid leave from their jobs following birth or adoption. Four in 10 said finances got in the way, 37 per cent blamed their working conditions and 25 per cent said they didn't want to compromise their careers.