13 February 2022

Gender-neutral parental leave can undermine mother's unique role

| Ian Bushnell
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Mother and child

The mother-baby bond is crucial. Photo: File.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency last week reported that three-in-five employers are now offering paid parental leave, with most making paid leave equally available for both parents.

The growth of parental leave is to be lauded. WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge said access to paid parental leave had significant health and wellbeing benefits for families and the community.

“Studies show that adequate parental leave can lead to lower infant mortality rates, increased breastfeeding rates, improved health outcomes for mothers and higher female labour force participation,” she said.

As a father who had to use annual leave to be at home after the birth of his children, specific parental leave would have been welcome.

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But the Agency’s unquestioning emphasis on gender neutrality and backing for fathers to have equal access to leave as the primary carer is concerning.

It suggests that more employers should be offering leave regardless of gender, ensuring men are encouraged to take leave as the primary carer.

And the Agency seems to lament that despite paid primary carer’s leave becoming increasingly available to both men and women, only 12 per cent of those who take it are men.

“We’re all parents,” Ms Wooldridge said.

Normalising men being more involved in the raising and caring of children is a good thing, for them, their partner and society in general.

But this increasingly fashionable suggestion that the roles of mother and father are interchangeable despite biological realities and the scientific evidence is disturbing.

It suggests that somehow a woman who has carried a child and given birth, who is the only one who can provide the best protection and nutrition for her baby and whose bond with that baby is paramount to its development of self, can be seamlessly replaced by dad.

She can’t be.

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The first few months of a child’s life are not just special in some vicariously emotional way but crucial to both their and the mother’s wellbeing.

Being there to support a partner recover from birth and bond with baby, often in mundane ways, is important, but a father cannot and should not usurp that primary relationship, unless in exceptional circumstances.

A gender-neutral approach, as the WGEA seems to be encouraging, can lead to an undermining of the mother-baby relationship, shorter not longer breastfeeding, and women returning to work prematurely with the potential for poorer health outcomes, opposite to the key benefits listed earlier which relied on the mother being at home with her baby.

There may be value in a father taking leave as a primary carer later if the mother goes to or returns to work, but the WGEA does not make any qualifications about this.

This interchangeability can be done, but that does not mean it comes without cost.

Parental leave has been an outstanding achievement and should continue to develop to meet the needs of all workers and their families, but more thought should be given to the consequences of the language organisations such as the WGEA uses.

In the quest for equity, surely we can do better than neutrality, so we can celebrate our differences and the distinct gifts we bring to our relationships and families.

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It is very sad to see the rights of biological females being ignored and pushed aside yet again and their role of childbirth and breastfeeding not being given top priority. While males are important, they do not need to ‘recover’ from giving birth and should definitely not be entitled to the same leave as females. Start respecting the rights of females. What is it with governments trying to remove biological rights and turn everyone into androgynous robots?

Excellent article. Equality between genders does not amount to equality of function. It appears that many critics do not want to even acknowledge fundamental differences between men and women and the early bonding of a child with the mother is critical. A father can be of greater use when the child is older. The other aspect that is being ignored is that both parents are often not at equal earning levels and capacity. Often it is the father who is the higher income earner and the mother takes leave to have a smaller impact on family income. The maternal nature of bringing up kids may not be fashionable with some but it is an unavoidable fact of life!

Jeremy Jones5:42 pm 14 Feb 22

This seems like a woefully uncharitable and misleading spin! Instead of lamenting mothers being “sidelined”, I would note that policies that open up *more* options for families to *act in the way they find best* can only be a good thing. No one is saying a mother *shouldn’t* take leave, if that’s what their family chooses. But breaking the stigma against fathers taking leave opens up more flexibility, to accommodate a variety of family situations that you may not be considering. Childbearing and birth are monumental wonders undertaken by mothers, but to suggest that a father / adoptive mother / other carer can provide only second-rate or deficient love, care, and nurturing… is just plain incorrect, not to mention demeaning.

Take it from this gay father of two happy, thriving children.

Someone seems a bit insecure…

Gosh how refreshing to e RW as an article that recognises the inherent differences between men and women. Of course babies need their mothers in a particular way in the early months. Most of all to be breast fed. The de-genderizing of parenthood has been a grave mistake. Allow men to fathers and women to be mothers. The babies can tell the difference.

Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned, but in my day, only the person pushing out the baby and caring for it in it’s infancy had any form of leave. Mostly unpaid too!

There seems to be an expectation that “society”, the Government or the employer should pay for everything.

Unfortunately the Riotact article leaves several questions due to brevity. It appears the Workplace Gender Equality Agency is putting forward some thought bubbles that are easily seized on and misinterpreted. The RIOTact article description is of traditional family structure (Mum and Dad), where does the Mum and Mum , Dad and Dad, single parent, found in a supermarket trolley examples go, as gender neutral is an interesting concept for workplaces, it is more difficult in family settings. Which female parent or male parent stays home in same sex relationships? Does a new partner get these conditions postpartum? How far do we go with this?

I think six months with the mother staying home, to recover from birth and breastfeeding, and then six months for the father. Both would then get to share the child rearing and share the experience, and have memories of the time spent with their child.

As a ‘standard’ position, that would be great – but as long as there is flexibility for individual couples to do what works for them, then that is the main thing.

A lot of this article is just ‘fluff; talk that takes 2 + 2 and gets 22.

If for one family that means the mother spends the minimum time at home and then the father takes over – great. if that means the mother uses it all – great. If that means they split it evenly – great.

As long as there is recognition that such leave should be available to both parents (in circumstances of course that both parents are involved) as a collective, and left to them to make a call how they choose to use it, then that is all that it needs to do.

Noise like this article trying to claim that somehow there is a ‘right way’ or a ‘wrong way’ to do things ignore the key outcome sought, which is greater flexibility that allows the individuals in question to do what works for them.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency – was there ever a more useless organisation & waste of taxpayer money – maybe the ACT Human Rights Commission.

ChrisinTurner4:57 pm 14 Feb 22

Are you on another planet?

What a fantastic contribution to respectful and constructive public sphere debate this post and its comments promises to be. Great work, RiotAct. Sit back and watch as all the local voices build stronger communities while raking in the clicks.

Applicable to Public servants, adding to their plethora of leave types

Social engineering and fluffy statements do not make things so. I took a day off each week (using a days rec leave at a time and then leave without pay ….yes I was lucky I was working in the public sector in Queensland in early 2000s) so that I could spend time with my daughter from about six months after she was born (breastfeeding was not my thing) until school age. Shared the household duties, childcare duties, doctors visits, early swimming classes etc. It was my choice and I noted that several other fathers did not share my enthusiasm for that type of fatherhood. Difficult at times but rewarding. Girl now 22 and a uni grad…yay. Couching parenthood in terms of gender responsibility and access to leave will not encourage parents to take on those roles if they do not want too. Yes we are all parents but not all parents want to get that involved. Have a look around next time you are out and about.

You seem a bit confused. Lol.

The whole point of this is degenerative push of gendered language pronouns, transgenderism is a long slow breakdown of western culture for which many are blind willingly participants either directly of indirectly.

It’s anything but natural, and if you call out this degeneracy you are labeled a bigot. Yeah so what if I’m a bigot, at least I’m not a degenerative pissing on western culture.

Wow, you mean that there are inherent differences between the genders with different strengths and weaknesses?

Or that individual choices that people make may have consequences?

You’ll be excommunicated from the progressive clique for this one, you aren’t allowed to say such things.

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