On Sunday, Tom Stocky, a manager at Facebook, wrote a post on his um, Facebook about his experience taking paternity leave at a company that actually allows its employees to take a respectable paternity leave. The result is a totally unsurprising look at the ways that men are discouraged by those around them from taking time off to care for their children, even though the emotions they experience are strikingly similar to those of women raising their kids.
Facebook has a very generous parental leave policy, one that allows mothers and fathers to take four months paid leave, plus gives them $4,000 for every child. Despite wanting to take advantage of his leave time, a glance at the mixed responses Stocky received from those around him indicate that for many, it's difficult to grapple with a man who wants to spend time with his children and doesn't worry that more time with them is a poor career move.
Stocky describes going through waves of emotions that sound pretty gender-neutral: at first, he felt exhausted and wanted to return to his old job. But after two months "a switch flipped...when I could more easily imagine myself being happy doing this full time." That didn't mean, however, that he felt like he was accepted amongst female-dominated support communities:
"I didn't like being the only dad at the playground, getting cautiously eyed as moms pulled their kids a bit closer. It probably didn't help that I tried to lighten the mood the first time by saying, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to nab your kid, I already got this one.' I felt awkward at the mid-day baby music class, like I was impinging on an established mom circle, so I switched to the 5pm one that had more dads."
Stocky acknowledges that it makes sense that many child-care groups and activities are largely full of mothers because women are usually the primary caregiver, but his experience is definitely not rare. What he had a bigger issue with was what he calls "the double-standard for fathers when it comes to childcare":
" I experienced it predominantly in three forms: (1) low expectations for fathers, (2) negative perceptions of working mothers, and (3) negative perceptions of "non-working" fathers."
Stocky had outsiders shower him praise for doing basic tasks that parents, regardless of gender, do to care for their kids so they don't die and stuff. These same individuals would also comment on how great it was that he was able to "pick up the slack" for his wife who was working. And there were the people who would assume that he was the back-up parent:
"I remember one unusually direct comment from a women who told me, 'It's too bad you can't earn as much as your wife so she can be the one to stay home.' I don't mind the assumption about earning potential, but I do mind the one about my wife being the preferred at-home parent."
The entirety of Stocky's letter is worth a read; as he concludes, the only things that will drastically change the inequality between the genders when it comes to parenting are if a. more dads start choosing to take advantage of their paternity leave (one study indicated that new dads often take less than a week off when a child is born) and b. if more companies start offering the option in the first place.