Thursday, March 23, 2006

Parents vs. Employers II

Blogger Elana Centor reports that "about 6 million Brits have taken a career break (an unpaid sabbatical) -- that's from research provided by Direct Line, a British Insurance Company. The concept is so popular in the UK that... 20% of UK companies include Career Breaks as part of the employee benefits package." Centor's post is full of great information, so check it out. Interestingly, parenting doesn't seem to rate as a reason for taking a Career Break.

And as long as we're talking about Brits, my friend Susan Godstone sent me this account of the life of a "househusband" in the U.K., where about 200,000 men choose to stay at home with their kids. (Compare that to the 150,000 in the U.S., whose population is literally fives times the size of the U.K.'s. Imagine one million stay-at-home dads in the U.S.) He concludes:

A recent conversation with a full-time-turned-part-time househusband friend of mine flushed out the fact that he felt "demasculinised", as he put it, by the whole thing; leaving the wage-earning role to his wife had left him mildly unsettled. Me, I have no problem with any of that. In fact, I do remember, even at 5.30am, that working in an office involves stresses, strains and uncertainties that I don't miss one bit. That may partly be the erosion of the self-esteem thing, though. After 18 months at home, the thought of going back into the workplace is genuinely scary. My brain feels atrophied. Once upon a time I could be told a phone number and write it down the next day. Nowadays, I have to look up my postcode.

When I do get ground down, when it feels really relentless, I have to be reminded that this is not for ever. Housewives once went from school into marriage and had little hope of doing any interesting work even when their children had left home. I've spent an inordinate amount of time in higher education, and had not one but two careers. I hope at some point to have some sort of third career, and I just about cling on to enough self confidence to find that prospect exciting. When I remember all this, I remember that my househusbanding is a huge privilege. This is the (extended) gap year that I never took; I'm travelling emotionally, if not geographically. I'm learning about myself, developing the patience and sympathy that I never even thought I lacked. Best of all, Jack and I like each other. I'm always pleased to see him. We spend nearly every waking hour together, yet when I'm not with him I miss him. I know what "poi" and "sha" mean. I do get some time off, courtesy of my girlfriend, to go fish or meet friends. Above all, I know in every bone of my body that I will never regret this. I will not lie on my deathbed and think, oh, how I wish I'd spent less time with my son.

In Britain, BTW, fathers are now entitled to up to six months of paternity leave; in Germany, companies are required by law to give all employees up to three years parental leave and guarantee their jobs on return. Here in the U.S., only workers in California have any kind of automatic paid family leave and wage replacement; nationwide, only one in five jobs provide any kind of family leave. I've asked it before, I'll ask it again: Americans, why do we choose to live the way we do? I learned on Playground Revolution that there's movement in New Jersey to win paid parental leave. Let's hope they succeed.

For more on parental leave policies and dads at home in the U.K. and Europe, see this article from the international edition of Newsweek.

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