Who Cares for Sick Junior? Working Father Confronts His Sexism.

sick kid

I’ve been led by a sexist culture to believe that men don’t take care of sick kids. That’s what Moms do.

That’s the conclusion one working father came to when his son had his first real illness, and he was faced with the decision to stay home and care for him.

madrigalAlexis Madrigal is the author of an article this week on this issue and deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, a place he described as work-life receptive. He wrote about his child care dilemma, revealing something few modern men would dare.

Madrigal looked in the mirror and realized, it wasn’t his employer, his job, his need to bring home the bacon that got him wondering whether he should take time off or not. It was something even bigger—his preconceived sexist notions.

Alas, it’s just the “realities of who takes time off,” said Dr. Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at Families and Work Institute.

The Institute’s most recent research on the issue shows that 36% of men and 73% of women in dual-earner couples are the ones who stay home when a child is sick and both partners/spouses need to work.

But, Matos points out, “Who takes time off is a much bigger decision than just who gave birth.”

“There are economic concerns about pay and job flexibility,” he continues. “There are personal concerns about power and satisfaction in the relationship. There’s also the child’s willingness to be cared for by one parent or the other (and not all kids call for Mommy when they are sick).

Indeed, in Madrigal, his almost one-year-old son was clinging to him instead of his mother.

For some reason, and for the first time in his life, he decided that he could not be more than three inches from me at any time. Eating, he sat in his high chair, holding onto my shirt. Nursing, he wanted to dangle his feet onto my arms. Sleeping, he crouched next to me and laid his head on my belly, before scooting up onto my chest and drifting into dreams as he had as a newborn. 

When we make the decision by gender, Matos says, “We lose out on the opportunity to make better choices that might optimize outcomes for everyone. For example, if a father has the more flexible job and the child won’t go to sleep unless he’s nearby, why in the world would you have the mother (or the other father) stay home?”

Unfortunately, he adds, much of the existing employer policy was written to facilitate the working mother (with mother being the only real consideration, not the dual roles many women found themselves in).

What we need today, is more employers stepping up and reworking their policies and their cultures to support families where each person may be both a full-time employee and a full-time parent, Matos stresses. “For example, gender neutral parental leave and sick leave policies that include caring for children would make it a lot easier to be a good parent and a good employee regardless of gender,” he explains.

Many of the employers Families and Work Institute have honored in recent years through our When Work Works award and partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management realize this.

For example, at Legion Logistics, a third-party freight logistics company, male employees are given four weeks of paid paternity leave when they welcome a child into their lives, whether through birth, foster care or adoption. The first two weeks are at 100% of their pay and an additional two weeks can be taken at 60% of their pay.

Reaching out to men, as well as women, will go a long way in helping us all get beyond our work-life preconceptions.

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