Mom, dad or both?

Mom, dad or both?
While both parents are eligible for parental leave, more mothers opt to take time off than fathers. What are the reasons for this trend? And what are the advantages of sharing parental leave more equally?

While both parents are eligible for parental leave, more mothers opt to take time off than fathers. What are the reasons for this trend? And what are the advantages of sharing parental leave more equally?

The purpose of parental leave is to allow new parents to enjoy time with their baby. “I loved getting the chance to be a fulltime mom for a year,” says Tamaro, mother of fouryearold Jonathan and twoyearold Olivier. “Babies get big so quickly; I would have regretted missing out on those first months.”

“My wife and I took part of our parental leave at the same time,” says LeeChristophe, father of 23monthold Oscar and fourmonthold Félix. “It allowed us both to adjust to our new family life. My older coworkers wished they’d had the same opportunity.” The young dad also took a couple weeks of parental leave on top of his paternity leave. “I chose to have kids, and for me, that means helping to take care of them.”

Like LeeChristophe, close to 80 percent of fathers take advantage of paternity leave. But only one in three fathers also take parental leave.

About the QPIP

The Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) is intended for both salaried and selfemployed workers. The plan offers three types of leave: one for the mother, one for the father, and a third that can be shared between the two parents. Depending on whether parents choose the basic or the special plan, mothers are entitled to 15 or 18 weeks of maternity leave and fathers, three or five weeks of paternity leave. A further 25 or 32 weeks of parental leave can then be taken by either parent. In the case of adoption, parents are entitled to a shared 28 or 37 weeks of leave.

Why mostly moms?

“It was more complicated for my husband to take time off work,” says Tamaro, who took the entire parental leave. “I was also planning to breastfeed for a long time.” As it happens, studies show that breastfeeding is one of the main reasons why women take the bulk of parental leave.

Money is also a factor. In a report on parental leave, the Conseil du statut de la femme states that in 70 percent of Quebec couples, women are the ones with a lower income. That’s why many parents find it easier on the family budget when the mother takes most of the parental leave.

Another reason is the widespread belief that raising children is primarily a woman’s responsibility. Even though men are becoming increasingly involved, many studies and experts report that women are still seen as the “main parent.” As a result, parental leave tends to be seen as an extension of maternity leave.

Few couples really talk about how they plan to split parental leave. Usually, the woman will decide how much time she wants to take, and her partner will respect her choice. “Men who take a few weeks of parental leave feel as though their wives are doing them a favour,” says Valérie Harvey, a sociologist who is writing her doctoral thesis on parental leave. “Even though both parents are entitled to parental leave, fathers say that their spouses ‘gave’ them part of the time.”

“Childcare is such a huge part of a woman’s identity that I questioned whether I was a bad mother because my partner took the entire parental leave for both of our kids,” Harvey explains. “At the same time, I didn’t want to stop working for a full year.”

It’s rare for fathers to take the entire parental leave. In 2014, a survey conducted by the Quebec management board for parental insurance showed that only six percent of fathers had taken the full parental leave. In addition, they often did so only because the mother was either studying, unemployed, or on sick leave, and therefore ineligible for the parental insurance plan.

Parental leave by the numbers
  • Close to 1.5 million parents have taken advantage of the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) since it was introduced in 2006.
  • 21,526 fathers took parental leave in addition to paternity leave in 2016. This represents an increase of 53 percent compared to 2006.
  • Average number of weeks of parental leave taken by the mother: 29
  • Average number of weeks of parental leave taken by the father: 13

Source: Conseil de gestion de l’assurance parentale

Share the leave, share the work

Divvying up parental leave more evenly is better for both parents. When mothers take long parental leaves, there is a higher risk that the family responsibilities will not be equally balanced. During this period, moms often shoulder the bulk of household chores. When they go back to work, they continue to be responsible for most of the housework and childcare.

“Fathers who are involved in their children’s lives early on tend to be more comfortable with childcare tasks and to continue taking on those responsibilities down the road,” confirms DianeGabrielle Tremblay, a professor at TÉLUQ University who is studying parental leave. The bottom line is, sharing parental leave more evenly makes it easier for women to balance family and work.

Fathers who take parental leave get involved in raising their children right from the start and take on more household chores.

To promote gender equality among couples, the Conseil du statut de la femme believes that the government should extend paternity leave by three weeks, on the condition that only the father take care of the child during this time. By spending a few weeks caring for their children, fathers become more aware of the challenges involved and develop a sense of responsibility for their children’s needs.

It’s also an opportunity for parents to bond with their newborns. “Babies are demanding,” says Patrick, father to four-year-old SeanAnthony. Patrick chose to take the full parental leave because his wife was in school. “It’s a lot of work, but I loved it. My son and I are very close. I’m usually the one he turns to when he needs to be comforted. He’s a daddy’s boy.”

The father’s presence is also beneficial for a baby’s development. “Both parents have their own ways of behaving, playing, and parenting,” says sociologist Valérie Harvey. “These differences stimulate the child and prepare them for becoming part of society.”


Longer leaves on the horizon

Last March, the National Assembly tabled a bill to extend the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). If it passes, mothers who give birth to twins or triplets will be eligible for an additional five weeks of parental leave. The same policy will apply for parents who adopt a child. The bill also gives parents the option to spread their parental leave benefits over two years if their employer approves. What’s more, parents will be able to bank up to two weeks of their parental leave and use those ten days for family obligations after they return to work.


Photo: gettyimages/aleksandarkanic


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, May–June 2018
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Sophie Mathieu, postdoctoral researcher at Brock University and lecturer in sociology at the University of Montreal