In the article “When Dad Stays Home Too: Paternity Leave, Gender, and Parenting” by Erin M. Rehel, Rehel argues that fathers experience the transition into parenthood in very similar ways to mothers, and when they experience paternity leave, they start to perform parenting in very similar ways to mothers. Paternity leave is the time or when fathers have the most time to to develop or learn parenting skills and feel the sense of responsibility that makes them active co-parents instead of parent helpers to their female partners. Since, according to Rehel, “the birth of a child results in a gendered division of labor for most heterosexual couples” (Rehel 111), paternity leave creates a more gender-equitable division of labor because we would be getting rid of the “manager-helper dynamic which often develops between new parents: Mothersare primarily responsible for child care and related matters, while fathers serve as helpers when needed and asked” (111). Rehel demonstrates this by conducting her research by comparing fathers who took prolonged time off following the birth of their child to fathers who did not take time off. Rehel highlights the fact that research on parenting always finds that heterosexual couples “respond to parenthood by adopting a gendered division of paid and unpaid labor” (112). Other research data from the United States and Canada show that there is a steady increase in the number of hours that men spend in child care and domestic labor and men’s involvement in their children are selective; men are more likely to participate in the “fun aspects of child care, aspects of domestic labor that suit their tastes and interests and highly visible, or public, fathering activities” (112); whereas, mothers “continue to do the more quotidian, labor-intensive tasks, such as meal preparation and bathing” (112).
This is explained by three theoretical approaches: time availability, gender ideology, and relative resource time. Time availability and relative resource time rely heavily on the economics theory which “emphasize rationality in the division of paid and unpaid labor, positioning housework as something undesirable that both men and women attempt to avoid” (112). The relative resource time refers to the idea that whoever brings the most resources, in terms of income, have the most power in the relationship; this enables the partner to “opt out of unpaid labor.
” The time availability approach refers to the idea that child care and domestic labor should be the responsibility of the person who has the most time available; in other words, the person who spends more hours doing paid labor work performs less hours doing unpaid work. The gender ideology approach refers to the idea that the attitudes around who should be doing what in a relationship shape who does what in terms of paid and unpaid labor within couples; these beliefs in a way explain why women are most likely to do certain tasks in a relationship and men are most likely to do other. It is important to note, however, that both men and women now “spend more time in child care than any previous period since the 1960s” (112). Rehel states that “the days, weeks, or months new mothers spend with their newbornsfollowing birth, often in the absence of other adults and free of work obligations, is when what is colloquially referred to as maternal instinct develops” (113).
Mothers in this period develop a sense of great responsibility in which they develop patterns, needs, and cues to better care for their baby. Fathers, since they might not have this time to develop the same sense of responsibility, do not. This period, according to Rehel, “establishes parenting patterns that are both difficult to undo and difficult to discern as they become naturalized overtime” (113). This, however, does not necessarily mean that men are unable to develop this sense of responsibility. Research have shown that when parents share their parenting responsibilities and tasks from the very beginning, men become more confident and develop skills that encourages them to become more involved. Other research have shown that if men are required to take on all of the mother’s responsibilities, they are able to do so.
In a nutshell, “the gendered division of labor that occurs when men and women parent together is far from biologically inevitable” (114).