Give young parents a real chance to take care of their children

After extending maternity leave in 2019 and additional maternity leave in 2020 for partners, real steps are finally being taken to enable equality between parents. Starting August 2, parents can take up to 9 weeks of partially paid parental leave in the first year of their child’s life.

This is a big step that gives parents more freedom of choice in the division of tasks. But we haven’t gotten there yet. Give fathers the right to a head start as fathers and give mothers equal opportunities in paid work.

Child fine, parental burnout and the #squatforchange campaign to empower paternity: These are words and initiatives for the problems that arise now where parents want to share care and paid work equally. It is not surprising that we know more and more words for this. Our society has not yet adapted to equal parenting. Both parents report that they are happy when care responsibilities can be combined with paid work.

So many couples want to divide roles in a less traditional way. But in practice, these intentions often evaporate. It seems that only half of the parents who want to divide the tasks of care succeed. How is this possible?

French example

Two important answers to this question are: politics in the Netherlands and culture. We are certainly not the pioneers in Europe. The Netherlands differs from a number of other European countries such as France, in that it is normal for women to work full time.

This difference arose during the First World War. Every effort must be made in the countries concerned. Women took their place in the factory. We are still working to bridge the cultural gap in the field of equality.

Several feminist waves have had their influence. However, there is still a jump in inequality when a man and woman have a child together. Suddenly a woman with children loses an average of 39 percent of her income over the rest of her life compared to a woman without children. Parents rarely deliver anything. This is also known as “baby fine,” a word that applies only to women.

At the same time, it is often believed that fathers are inferior as parents: about a third of men and a quarter of women are convinced that women are the best at caring for children.

This is while both men and women seem to be good teachers, as long as they have the same opportunity to get to know their child. Especially if the children are cared for alone for periods while the partner is working. In the field of parenting, too, it seems again: Practice makes perfect. And once you’re really good at something, well, you often really like it.

A good father-child relationship turns out to be good for the father’s happiness, but it is also good for the whole family and the children’s development. For example, girls seem to become more assertive and boys more attentive if fathers take on more care tasks.


However, our maternity ideology persists. This is reinforced by political choices, such as leave arrangements, where fathers are still treated unequally. To date, mothers have been granted paid leave of 16 weeks (maternity and maternity leave). The couple got one week of maternity leave and the option to take an additional 5 weeks of paid maternity leave. After this maternal head start, gender stereotypes became ingrained in no time.

Now that nine weeks of parental leave has been partially paid from August (for both parents), this gives partners more opportunities to build a good relationship with their child right away. However, this is not enough to correct the inequality between men and women, fathers do not always take the full number of days off. Men are still expected to be the “ideal employee”. In addition, it is sometimes the choice in families that the higher-earning partner (often the parents) works the most hours. Sometimes additional maternity leave is not taken for financial reasons and childcare costs can be a barrier.

If we truly believe that men and women are equal, give them equal opportunities to be associated with their families and to get a job. So there are enough opportunities for both parents to learn about family responsibilities through adequate leave arrangements: fully paid with some pressure on parents and employers to use that as well. For example, according to the Swedish model, where only the parent concerned can take part (90 days) of a joint wide leave (480 days), otherwise it lapses.

In addition, access to quality and free child care is a prerequisite for being able to make real choices in the division of tasks. In this way, children receive the care they deserve in the frail early years and families can begin to divide the tasks they have in mind immediately after birth. Then this becomes the pattern that wears out. Let’s put a line between the words “baby okay” and “parent fatigue” and make the #squatforchange initiative obsolete.

Read also:

Cabinet will increase parental leave benefits

Minister Karen van Genneep (Social Affairs) wrote to the House of Representatives this year that the entitlement to paid parental leave will increase from 50 per cent to 70 per cent of daily wage.

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