15 April, 2008

Fathers, Mothers, Hospitals and the State

I was shocked today that fathers are being pushed out of maternity wards even when the mother wants them to be there!

If the couple have decided that they don't want the father there, of course he should not be compelled.

If the mother has decided that she doesn't want the father there, I believe her wishes trump the fathers as it is her going through the process.

But where both parties are in agreement that they both want both people to be there, what kind of backward Saudi-esque thinking are the maternity nurses employing bundling the fathers out?

I feel that not only do medical guidelines on the parents of babies need to be re-considered, but other guidelines do too.

Under the status quo, a woman who becomes pregnant (subject to certain conditions) is entitled to 1 year of maternity leave. Fathers of new babies are entitled to 4 weeks. I accept that in the majority of families, traditional gender roles are still happening. I wouldn't force people to change this against their will. But the current set up is an active barrier to change should the parents want a different family set up.

My solution would be to distinguish between the biological aspects of pregnancy and childbirth and the social aspects. If the mother chooses, she should be able to have roughly 6 weeks of parental leave (some to be taken before the due date, 4 weeks or so to be taken after the due date). That accounts for the biological aspects where the burden is shared solely by the woman, however supportive her partner is. The year which women currently get off as maternity leave should be re-labelled parental leave and it should be up to the parents of the new born to deicde how they wished to split this leave.

Now, what happens if the father of the child is irresponsible, refuses to take care of the child but demands his right to parental leave (ie. getting something for nothing). Well, maybe it seems unfair (but still better than the SQ) but I would say the decision for allocating the maternity leave should be legally left to the woman. In the vast majority of cases, this can then be decided jointly, but use the woman's signature to confirm the decision made. In cases where there is conflict between the woman and the man, realistically in these situations - where there is a newborn- conflict will end up with the woman taking care of the baby. It seems sensible that she should then get the childcare.

I also think that as babies are generally considered to be a social good, the burden of paying parental leave should be shifted from the employer to the government.

One added bonus of this scheme? At the moment, women are being seen as a liability by potential employers as they may get hired and then promptly take a year off to care for children. By giving both parents equal rights, both are equally risky to employers to there is no point in favouring one sex over the other.


Jak Marshall said...

I think there is very strong liberal case for this as it does seem that a freedom is being unnecessarily stripped from dutiful fathers who wish to provide emotional support or simply wish to be present closer to the time of the birth. This is the sort of issue that Liz and her blog are right to pounce on.

All I can say in return is the fuddy duddy but concerning argument that just because someone says the consent on paper doesn't necessarily mean they do and although the legal framework is there to protect from and punish intimidating fathers it is not always used in domestic cases like these.

Food for thought... but I agree with Liz.


Liz Ford said...

I can agree with the doubt bit, but in the middle of labour I'm pretty sure the woman will be quite vocal about what she does and doesn't want and sparing people's feelings will be the last thing on her mind!