Fathers are important too!

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By Craig Nudelman

My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in October, and now I am a father of two!

I don’t know how Jessie will react to Livi Rae, but it’s going to be an exciting time in all of our lives for the next few months. Mass adjustments have to be made for all of us in our new home environment. However, I cannot be there for the entire adjustment period, in a manner of speaking. I have to go back to work after five days of ‘family responsibility’ leave. I have five days to assist my wife and daughter in this adjustment period and I am expected to go back to work, with the full knowledge that this massive change is taking place without me being there.

I am upset by this. I only get five days (which is more than the legal requirement of just three days!) to keep watch over my newborn; to try bond with her and create a relationship in that brief period of time. For your knowledge, ‘family responsibility’ is not limited to the birth of a child — it is not equivalent to what one might say is paternity leave. Labour law stipulates that “This kind of leave provides for an employee’s responsibility towards his/her family and can be taken when an employee’s child is born and when a child is sick. In addition, Family Responsibility Leave can be taken in the event of the death of an employee’s spouse/life partner, parent or adoptive parent, grandparent, child or adopted child, grandchild or sibling”. Now what do you think about that? Is that fair? Does it fit into the reality of what it is to be a father in the 21st century?

There are multiple reasons for the advantage of paternity leave (or parental leave). I believe the first has to do with the father’s mental health. I was broken when I had to return to work and resume my regular day-to-day functions. The exhaustion that you face as a new parent is intense. This can lead to a reduction in productivity for the father, as isn’t able to do his best at work. I know that my mind will still be back at home with my wife and daughters.

As mentioned above, productivity is a large factor, and essentially leads to an economic disadvantage. Liza Mundy, in her 2014 article, “Daddy Track: The Case for Paternity Leave” states that paid paternity leave is important for the economy, not just the benefit of the father. In fact, she states that paid paternity leave is more beneficial to women in the workplace. She explains that women who can advance in the workplace ultimately benefit the country. Mundy’s theory stems from a World Economic Forum report released that year, which commented, “countries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to further women’s careers, close the gender pay gap, and keep women tethered to the workforce after they become mothers”.

Recent studies have shown that a child’s cognitive development is higher in newborns up to the age of three months who have had a large amount of time spent with their father. In a study published by Infant Mental Health Journal, “researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University looked at how fathers interacted with their babies at three months of age and measured the infants’ cognitive development more than a year later.” They saw that the relatively unexplored link between infant-father relationships may be more important than most people realise. “Professor Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial and who led the research, said: “Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before””.

It is important for the child socially, too. A child’s emotional and social development is highly influenced by the father figure in a child’s developmental stages. Dr. Ditta M. Oliker, in a 2011 article in Psychology Today, states how a child’s confidence in a social environment grows. Quoting from a report on ‘Fathers and their impact on children’s well-being’, she links that “(e)ven from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.” A father’s playful attitude also has an important aspect on the afore-mentioned development. Oliker states, “The way that fathers play with their children (…) has an important impact on a child’s emotional and social development. Fathers spend a higher percentage of their one-to-one interactions with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers. From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behaviour.”

I hope that in the future, men can get the opportunity to be a part of this enormous developmental stage for longer than five days. But for now I want a chance to experience things with Livi Rae, getting to know this little thing a little more every day.

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