News of a renewed push to legislate paternity leave into law in Singapore — anything from 2 weeks to a month or even more (you wish!) — made the headlines yesterday : see report.
One of the groups advocating for such leave, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), was reported to have said that such a policy would provide a more supportive environment for Singaporeans to have babies and help reverse Singapore’s declining birth rate. A survey commissioned by AWARE also found respondents claiming that paternity leave would allow fathers to be more involved in parenting, with up to 75% of fathers saying that they would take paternity leave if there was such an option. (Who in his right mind would refuse paid leave ?)
I am a father, and I am not convinced that legislated paternity leave will have the magical effect of inducing procreation. Two weeks, or even a month, of paid paternity leave after the birth of a child, isn’t going to make me or, for that matter, Joyce, want to have another kid.
Such leave would allow fathers to spend more time with their newborns and wives. That is a good thing. But it does not automatically make me a better / more involved father or husband. To be brutally honest, do men relish the option of staying at home for extended periods of time looking after their newborns and / or wives ? I suspect that some — maybe a fair number — would not. Therefore, more critical than the leave, is the need for a change in the male mindset.
Men also need to consider if they are prepared to suffer the "collateral damage" from having or exercising the option of taking extended paternity leave, such as : being passed over for a job or a promotion because your wife is pregnant, not being graded for job performance in the year that the child is born, not being paid a performance bonus or increment in the year (or year after) the child is born, etc. issues which women currently face in the workplace. It’s not fair, but it exists, and it is impractical to legislate against such practices because of the near impossibility of enforcement.
Personally, more than paternity leave, I believe it is important for there to be flexibility at workplaces to accommodate employees who are also parents. From time to time, kids will fall sick, hurt themselves, throw tantrums, fail to sleep through the night, etc. and need a parent’s physical or emotional care and support. If workplaces could grant parent-employees the flexibility to turn up later for work, or time away from office to attend to their parental responsibilities (eg. send kids to school or to the doctors), from time to time, that would help tremendously. Again, such flexibility cannot be legislated; it requires a change in mindset of an organisation’s senior management, as well as of its junior managers / supervisors and non-parent employees who may have to shoulder the additional workload when their parent-employee colleagues are away.