Parents around the world want to give their children a better life. David Freed and James Millar want their children to grow up in a more equal world, and they’ve written a book calling on fathers, mothers, employers and policymakers to join the cause.
Their new book “Dads Don’t Babysit: Toward Equal Parenting” is a powerful read about parenting and fatherhood. It presents a vision of fully-engaged dads (and moms!) thriving in today’s working world. The key to transforming that vision into a reality? More men need to take shared parental leave.
The central argument of this book is that shared parental leave gives men time and space to become equal parents. This isn’t opinion; it’s rooted in evidence-based research and complimented by real-life anecdotes, interviews, and the authors’ own personal experience of fatherhood in Britain. Specifically, the book identifies a “the family hat trick” of benefits created by parental leave: healthier and happier families, increased gender equality at home and in the workplace; and thriving businesses.
Here, the authors are in good company. The positive outcomes of parental leave are also being advocated by a host of pro-parenthood non-profits, governments (for example, the United Kingdom’s “Share The Joy” campaign), and progressive companies who are leading the charge on work-life balance. But the book’s main contribution to the parental leave debate lies elsewhere.
Specifically, the book comes into its own when it begins deconstructing the barriers preventing men from taking actual responsibility for child-rearing. Writing thoughtfully but without shying away from the hard conversations, the authors explore social stigmas (“parenting isn’t a man’s job”), workplace resistance (“what will my boss think?”), financial uncertainties (“I can’t afford it”) and psychological barriers (“can I do this?”).
These are difficult subjects that are rarely discussed in public, in large part because they challenge traditional notions of masculinity. For example, the authors acknowledge research showing that adults who care for children experience drops in ‘male’ testosterone hormones and increases in ‘female’ estrogen hormones. Does that mean that involved dads are “losing their manliness”? No, the authors argue, not at all. Rather, they ask why society continues to hang onto outdated ideas of gendered science:
“We need to get more comfortable with saying to dad that his hormones let him form a special bond with his baby, that his hormones give him that irresistible urge to tickle his kids into hysterics, that sometimes his hormones are ‘all over the place’, and even that they give him that special parental instinct to care for and nurture his kid.”
The idea of championing ‘parenting’ hormones is just one of the ways in which the authors reframe common and often deeply-rooted notions of parenthood. They rightly point out that there is a lot of bad science underpinning today’s parental roles, and they systematically debunk many popular myths.
Of course, these myths --- and their consequences --- are not confined to any one country. The majority of men living in OECD have access to shared parental leave of some variety, yet men’s uptake is still depressingly low. We’re talking below 10% almost everywhere, outside of Scandinavia. The stigmas facing the men of London are the same as those facing men in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York, Sydney or Zurich. Similarly, there’s no geographic constraint to the amazing upside of fully-engaged fatherhood: it’s going to be good for you and your family, no matter where you live.
As such, one of the book’s limitations is that it has a distinctly British tone, focus and bibliography. No great surprise, perhaps, given that the authors are both based in the UK where lawmakers are still grappling with how best to support working parents. But it does risk distancing readers, especially those less familiar with the National Health Service (NHS), Westminster’s Women and Equalities Committee, Michael Gove, Jo Swinson or other references to British life. Similarly, the extended discussion of UK’s shared parental leave policies, shortcomings and suggested improvements are highly relevant to British families, but more discussion of the challenges facing fathers in other countries would have been welcome.
What is appreciated, however, is the authors’ understanding that it’s not enough to tear down negative stereotypes of fatherhood. To create a more equal world, they need to offer a vision of how fatherhood should be and could be transformed. Moreover, the authors recognise that men themselves must do much of the hard rebuilding work. Why? Men are the ones who (largely) created the outdated systems of power and cultural norms that continue to push fathers out of the home, and keep mothers in it.
This book’s main takeaway --- and the one that most closely resonates with the views of this reviewer --- is to challenge fathers: they call it “manning up and making it happen”. To help men turn words into actions, the book offers “a manifesto for a better fatherhood and more equal parenting”, with three simple steps:
The power of these three steps is that they’re doable. All it really takes is little bit of education, and a little bit of courage.
And so now comes the part where men have to be brave. We have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. We have to embrace a new definition of masculinity that includes --- and makes space for --- caregiving. To quote the title of the second chapter of the book: “it won’t be easy, but it sure as hell is worth it”.
Alexander von Rosenbach is the Founder of Take The Time, a new movement of fathers helping fathers take parental leave.
A researcher and analyst by trade, Alexander has developed a strong interest in technology, innovation, and social entrepreneurship. He is also a proud husband and the father of a delightful little girl.
In 2017, Alexander left his job to provide primary care for his daughter, supporting his partner's return to work. Inspired by his positive and negative experiences of fatherhood in today’s workplace, he started Take The Time. His vision? To create a world where dads are able and willing to take parental leave. You can read more about Alexander’s journey here.
Offering information, inspiration, tips and a platform for advocacy, Take The TIme helps men overcome barriers --- personal, professional and cultural -- and empowers them to become fully engaged fathers.
Please visit takethetime.net to learn how parental leave transforms lives, creates happier and healthier families, and builds a more equal world for our children.
Disclosure: The reviewer was sent a pre-release copy of the book and asked to provide an honest review. The reviewer does not receive commission or compensation for any book sales or referral purchases.
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