I’m quite bored with the term maternal instinct as it appears more to me like a societal weight on women than anything else. Some parents are fond of their children, some are quite indifferent. And believe it or not, the latter are not necessarily men. Of course it’s nowadays allowed for a man to take care of his children, to be more present, and that’s probably the best thing that could have happened.
But when a baby is born, what happens? The mother has to stay at home and learn how to take care of her baby, because no, she didn’t have a clue beforehands either. It’s just that she spent more time at the hospital and the nurse taught her everything she needed to know. And then spending time with the baby did all the rest. During that time, the father took a few days off, made sure that the house was ready, went out to get drunk with friends and family to celebrate, and ends up after a week at home with a new born nobody told him what to do with. So the mother tries to teach him, she’s exhausted and probably suffering from baby blues, so she doesn’t really have the patience, nor the time to tell her partner how to feed or change the nappy of the baby.
And it gets worse. After a couple of months, in a lot of western countries, the question of the parental leave is quickly raised. And very quickly answered. The mother is naturally enclined to stay at home and keep taking care of the baby. She probably chose a job that allowed her not to expect careerwise, she knew in her back of her mind that she would have to stop when having children and life won’t be the same anymore. Meaning that work would not be a priority from now on. Because women mostly have to choose.
Once again, even if things are evolving in the right direction, men don’t really have a choice to make. Let’s be honest and realize that a man who takes his children to the park is considered as a hero already. So they generally carry on with their successful career, leaving their partner ruining hers, if she happened to want to have one, and spend some quality time with their children.
To change that, governments are trying to modernize the parental leave to give more opportunities for the father to take some time off as well. Of course the Scandinavian countries figured everything out for a long time, so I’m only talking about the rest of the civilized world. France, for example, which natality is still quite high in Europe, had decided to reduce the main parental leave, and will offer a few weeks more, at the only condition that the other parent (meaning the father) can take it. That is a brilliant idea. But it doesn’t go further enough.
The maternity leave can’t be changed. Pregnant women need some rest before and after giving birth. But the parental leave could perfectly be divided in two period, for each parent. If the woman can’t escape to stop working, so should the father. And I’m explaining why. Like I said earlier, we often think that women are more aware of the baby needs etc because of a so-called instinct. That is mostly because the women spend some time at the hospital and the midwives and the nurse teach them everything about the baby needs. Most of the time the father is busy elsewhere and miss all that precious information. Once the baby is back home, if the father is never alone with the baby, he won’t dare to do things by himself. With a parental leave, he would have a choice but to keep his baby alive! And he will, and he will realize soon enough that he is perfectly capable to be alone with his daughter or son and do a great job. He will even enjoy spending time with them and realize that it is not an easy task. Meanwhile the mother can go back to work more quickly and stay opened to the word and not child-centered. The last but not least, if the parental leave is equally divided, a married woman in her thirties will no longer be a threat for the employer. A baby would mean some time off for a woman OR a man, no difference anymore!
So of course woman are still carrying the baby and you can’t oblige someone to take some time off. But if a baby needs some time off for a woman, why shouldn’t it be the same for men? A mandatory parental leave for each parent is what the future should bring.