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Why fathers should take paternity leave

While some new dads take time to care for their wives and newborns, others do not see the need. Ahead of Father’s Day this weekend, we explore the importance this precious moment has on the whole family

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

Yvonne Ndungwa’s two pregnancies were smooth. She gave birth to her first baby girl, Zarya, through normal delivery, but dire stress to her second born, Ziah caused by drastic drop of her blood pressure forced doctors to book her for an emergency Caesarean section.

This put her out of commission for weeks. While she could easily go back to performing normal chores with her first baby, doing the simplest things days into the birth of her second baby were near-impossible.

Thankfully, her husband, David Karianjahi, stayed home for a couple of weeks and stepped in seamlessly. He helped feed the baby, rock her to sleep when Yvonne’s body hurt too much to sit, and he managed their household while she rested and recovered from surgery.

“When we got news that we were having a baby, all I could think about was how I could not afford to miss a heartbeat, a single clinic appointment, the birth, a first smile, even her first bath, everything mattered to me and I wanted to be a part of it,” he says.

Karianjahi notes that a dad’s role is as important to the mother as it is to the child. “During the first few months, my wife needed an extra hand to help burp the baby, pass the liner or get the bits and pieces sterilised or even put baby to sleep whilst she had a shower.

We did not have a housegirl, my mother-in-law and I were the only help around the house,” he says. Yvonne fondly remembers how Karianjahi would literally sleep on the chair next to her hospital bed and he would hand the baby over to her to breastfeed it every time he cried. He bathed the baby throughout the hospital stay.

Empowered fathers

At home, he would stay with the babies while she took a long relaxing shower. Karianjahi remembers her words one day when she stepped out of the shower, “The nine minutes are like eight hours in a working day, thank you’. Those words brought tears to my eyes,” he recalls.

Caesarean sections aren’t the only reason dads should take paternity leave. Paternity leave can empower men as fathers. Allowing a father to stay home with his child for a few weeks means that father is able to get to know his newborn. Some fathers who can’t take paternity leave can feel left out as the mother takes over and knows the child intimately.

Paternity leave gives fathers the chance to know the ins and outs of parenthood and understand their child’s likes, dislikes, and habits as he or she grows. Human being are social beings, and therefore, babies learn about their environment as soon as they are born. So this is the best moment for dads to bond with their children.

While some fathers will take time off or sign paternity leave at their work-places, it turns out many barely do this and if they do, the leave has nothing to do with caring for the newborn.

John Simiti, a father of three, says he did not take paternity leave for his last two children because of the unspoken disapproval and questions about  his commitment to work that can come with a long leave. “The stigma of being the guy in the office who takes the maximum amount of leave haunts many of us.

I could have taken the two weeks off after my second born son, Jayden was born, but I had been on leave five months earlier and had travelled twice for work out of the country. I did not want to seem like I just want to stay at home,” says John, a corporate accountant. “You know, people, especially male bosses will get sarcastic about you taking paternity leave,” he explains.

However, Ernst & Young’s global generational survey showed employees who receive paternity leave are far more engaged and trusting of the organisation because they can live a full life as they want to have impact at home as well as at work.

Still, there is another crop of men who use paternity leave to attend to other business other than the baby. “My husband despite taking paternity leave was never home, he would just drop supplies and go out to hang out and drink with his friends in the name of celebrating the birth of his son,” sneers Joselyne Khamati, a mother of one.

Karianjahi agrees that paternity leave is indeed an opportunity for a man to relax because it is time off from work. However, while relaxing, men should ensure that they support their wives emotionally and physically.

He notes that paternity leave should be extended. And aside from the 10 days granted to fathers in the labour laws, one should be allowed to leave work early so they can get home early and bond with their children.

Supporting studies

While pregnancy and labour trigger caregiving instincts in mums, a father needs quality time with his child for his brain to shift into daddy mode, says Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked.

One study found tuning into his infant’s cries connects pathways in father’s brain related to social perception, bolstering his ability to forge and maintain relationships.

For the baby, early time with his or her father is linked to better cognitive development. In another study, six-month-olds who shared regular playtime with their fathers had more advanced vocabularies by the time they turned three years old than those who played only with their mother.

There’s the sense that parental involvement is a social good that men want to support. Studies have shown fathers who take two or more weeks of paternity leave are likely to continue to be more involved in feeding, diapering and other child care duties.

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