Opinion

The New Maternity Leave Bill is Great, But What About Dads?

We need to step up our diaper-changing game.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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We don’t remember the first months and years of our lives. The long sleepless nights our parents spent trying to figure out why we were crying uncontrollably. The time dad wasn’t quick enough to catch us and we fell off the bed. The million times we unsuccessfully tried to communicate that we were hungry, sleepy or wet. So, perhaps it’s good our older selves don’t consciously remember any of it. None of it really matters. What does matter is the invisible bond that’s formed between parents and infant.

There’s that feeling that’s familiar to all new parents. The moment your baby is released from the hospital and it’s just the three of you on an uneasy ride home filled with both anticipation and dread. It’s those first few hours, days and weeks in which a new father finds out a few things about himself. The early days with your newborn are immensely precious and ask for your undivided attention. Without sufficient paternity leave this time is cut short.

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The new Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2017 is a significant step forward. It gives mothers 120 days of paid leave—and, surprisingly for a conservative Catholic country, 150 days to single mothers—while guaranteeing that moms can return to their jobs. There’s one provision that’s crucial for new fathers: The law also increases paid paternity leave from seven to thirty days. But, even though the law says one thing, implementation is another.

Most progressive European countries offer substantial maternity leave and to a lesser extent, paternity leave. In Austria, for example, mothers can legally take up to three years of maternity leave, at reduced pay, while fathers are allowed one month. While society sees no problem with women being absent from the labor force for three years, employers do look down on men going on parental leave, even for a few weeks. Clearly, the law is one thing, and acceptance by society another.

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In Norway, new parents can choose to share a combined 49 weeks of fully paid parental leave, and there’s less stigma attached. (A friend recently met a Norwegian couple in Siargao travelling the world with their baby. Imagine that.) Meanwhile in the United States, some public-school teachers, who receive zero days of maternity leave, have no choice but to plan giving birth around their summer school break and need to save up vacation and sick days in lieu of maternity leave. Sadly, in the world’s richest country, the government does not value helping young parents.

Just because we’re not rich doesn’t mean our country can’t afford to provide parental leave, as our government has recently decided, and there are studies which confirm the economic benefits. Of course, the benefits to families, the basic building blocks of society, are what matter even more. And although in our culture, and virtually all others, a mother’s job as a caregiver is assumed, we need to re-examine the role of fathers in the family, and how they are perceived in society.

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Young Filipino women generally thrive in their role as mothers, championing breastfeeding and education, while taking on a larger share of child-rearing responsibilities. Men, however, haven’t been as quick to catch up. It’s a missed opportunity, and one that cannot be recaptured. That first ride home with a sleeping newborn can be the start of an amazing, natural transition to fatherhood. All dads need to do is step up, roll up their sleeves and change some dirty diapers. Take pride in taking the night shift and give their tired wives a break. Tell yaya that you can handle putting the baby to sleep. But first, tell the boss you’re taking your thirty days of government-approved paternity leave.

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Christopher Puhm
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