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Kathryn E. Livingston Headshot

Princely Paternity Leave: Why Are We in Awe?

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So, Prince William is taking a two-week paternity leave, with everyone oohing and aahing at how awesome this is! Awesome, perhaps, but I also think it's rather sad that we still need to comment on it (well, here I am commenting, I admit), which just goes to show that it's still not the norm. I am amazed, at times, at how little certain things have changed since I gave birth to my first child 30 years ago.

Yes, it's better now. But when I look out into the sea of women still pushing strollers and giving up their work or if they do work, doing "second shifts" at home after hours, I wonder, what's the hold up? More than a dozen years ago, I co-authored a book called Parenting Partners with psychologist Robert Frank PhD, then a stay-at-home dad. The book was about sharing parenting "equally," or as equally as possible. There's no doubt that dads do more than they used to when it comes to raising the kids... but equal is still a long way off (and may never happen). I just bet Kate will be changing more diapers than William (even with a nanny), and that she will be the one to arrange little George's play dates.

Here's the thing. When men (and especially princes) take two weeks off to take care of their newborns, everyone applauds. But when an "ordinary" mom takes two weeks, two months, two years or 20 years "off" to raise her first, second, third, fourth (and hopefully no more than that, but what the heck) child, no one (or very few) bat an eyelash. It is still expected that mom will make the adjustments and sacrifices (as well she should! My beef is that more dads need to make them, too).

As a stay-at-home working mom (I chose to leave my full-time job when my first son was 1, after my husband had done a year stint as a SAHD), I have no argument with either stay-at-home or "working" mothers, or with stay-at-home dads or "working" dads, for that matter. What does bug me still... after all these years...is that a dad who makes the decision to give a few weeks or a few months to his infant is still seen as an oddity or hero. This, folks, by now, should be no big whoop. He's taking two weeks off? Snore... so what?

I'm impressed that the UK has the option of two-week paid paternity leave, of course, and wish we had more support for dads who want to stay home in our own country. But how many dads actually take advantage of what we do have? (i.e. The Family & Medical Leave Act.)

I'm a proponent of mom power, attachment parenting and breastfeeding ad infinitum (Dr. Sears, anyone?), and I also think dads (when one is in the picture) are perfectly capable of nurturing babies. What matters, as I see it, is that when fathers step up to the home plate, they get the same applause that moms do (and that means basically no applause). Being a parent isn't about getting kudos. It's about raising your kids, whether you are the mom or the dad.

Yes, someone has to bring home the bacon (though in the Prince's castle, I doubt that's an issue). But in this day and age, when so often, both mom and dad have jobs outside the house, there's no reason why fireworks should explode when dad makes the choice to stay home, prince or not. It's pathetic enough that we have to get excited because royal post-partum mom reveals that she still has a belly (jeez, I've had one for 30 years now!). Sadder, that we're still down on our knees to a dad who takes two weeks off (though it's sure better than nothing). Certainly, there are plenty of fathers who can't afford to take time off. But when a dad can afford it, why not show the world that parenting can be equally shared from the get-go?

When it comes to equally shared parenting, we've come a long way baby, but not far enough. Personally, I'd like to see William take two months or even two years off to be with little George.

Now, that would be princely, indeed!