90 percent of men would be willing, in their imagination at least, to stay home with small children instead of wives; in reality, mere five percent have taken the opportunity during nine years of parental benefit.
According to Helen Biin, an analyst at Praxis, the political think tank, reasons for male passivity are to be found in habitual gender roles: mother does the most for children, father goes to work.
No deep study has been performed to find out about the med that have used the parental leave; but, at least as suggested by the size of parental benefit, it is rather are the high-earning men that are ready to share the load at home.
«Regarding mothers, the current attitude is: they are the risk group, from time to time taking parental leave of staying home with a sick child; with men, children are regarded as something opposite – fatherhood raises a man’s value, including at wage talks,» thinks Ms Biin, an author of recent study Estonian Parental Leave System Analysis.
«In some issues, our child care system is forward-looking – the parental benefit period is long and generous, current job to be kept for a parent-at-home for three years; even so, the system is overly rigid and no longer corresponds to the needs,» said Ms Biin. «Our task was to find solutions how to make the parental leave system more flexible, and how to facilitate greater participation by fathers in caring for children.»
In the study ordered by Ministry of Social Affairs, the Praxis analysts have advised to reserve for fathers a definite time-slot of the parental leave. «How long that time should be, requires a consensus in society and more thorough analysis; right now, however, it seems a month-ling father’s month would be the easiest to be accepted,» explained Ms Biin.
Behind that there lies the foreign experience, Nordic mostly. «When in 1993 Norway established the compulsory month for fathers, over four years the percentage of fathers staying home with children rose from four to 70 per cent; and by now, it’s 89 per cent,» noted Ms Biin.
A father-month or months – three or six months have been proposed, as an option – could be used only by fathers; should the family decide that only mother stays home with the young child during the initial years, they would forfeit the parental benefit paid for father-month.
«According to development theory, it is good for children if they develop a close relationship with father early in life; on the other hand, a relationship like that is good for male health, reducing stress,» explained Ms Biin.
Ardo Ojasalu, currently on parental leave, is not supportive of a mandatory father-month. «This cannot be made mandatory, as a father cannot take the place of a mother for a young child, especially when the child is being breast-fed – a father can support a mother, but not replace her,» Mr Ojasalu said to substantiate his stand, liberal and yet conservative.
Mr Ojasalu’s wife works as a freelancer, thus mainly at home; thanks to her husband being on parental leave, she has more flexibility to arrange her work while raising the child.
The broader idea of proposals by Praxis’ analysts is reducing gender inequality – both on labour market and homework. Should men stay more at home with kids, young women would cease to be the sole risk factor as viewed by employers. As the current custom goes, it is mainly the ladies who, due to long-term absence from work, are in danger of losing their qualification and career options, to say nothing about the danger that they are no longer wanted for former jobs, instead of replacements.
«To begin with, men would take the father-month(s) as a forced duty; later, the thinking pattern would change and it would be assumed it is natural to be responsible to care for one’s child,» thinks Ms Biin. «With burden for caring for home and children distributed more equally, more children will be born.»
Analysts of Praxis studies attitudes of employers towards the father-month proposal. On basis of interviews, they detected an initial negative reaction, soon followed – after thinking things through – by the acknowledgement that rather we have to do with altering the habitual thinking patterns.
Regarding the length of fathers’ contribution, employers thought that when it comes to organization of work, one month would fit, or rather a longer time of six months for instance. «Regarding organization of work, they thought three months would be the worst,» noted Ms Biin.
While introducing father-month, a special analysis would be needed regarding rights of single mothers; also, how to make sure if a single mother is indeed single, or whether the status is related to desire to get single-parent support.
Another proposal by analysts of Praxis – the main one, according to Ms Biin – is allowing those on parental leave to work with partial load while raising a child. The change would free up parental hands to organise their lives, the more so that an aging population with a low birth-rate needs more workers and taxpayers.
«On account of that, the parental benefit payment time would be lengthened – till the child reaches three years of age, say – while the total amount of benefit i.e. the full days for which the benefit is paid, would stay the same,» explained Ms Biin.
«Currently, it is allowed to work for up to €320, without the parental benefit being reduced; at that, the work cannot be the same, and with the same employer, as prior to parental leave. This order is obsolete, even when considering our demographic situation and the shrinking workforce. A more flexible system would create better conditions for employee and employer alike.»
According to proposal by analysts, mother and father could have parental leave at the same time, to a degree, so as to have more flexibility in organising work and caring for a child.
«For the women who, having a young child, would like to work with a small load and maintain their qualification, this would be of utmost benefit,» said Ms Biin. «The woman will not disappear anywhere, for a year and a half, and will not need to start learning again when she finally comes back to work.»
«That would be prudent, for the system to be made more flexible,» thinks Mr Ojasalu. «One parent would work four hours a day, and the other also for four hours – considering we are exceedingly moving towards service-economy, this would be highly possible,» reasoned the father of a young child.