When dads get praised for taking carer's leave

"In our culture, it's so foreign for men to be considered capable and willing carers that we don't even have a word for ...

"In our culture, it's so foreign for men to be considered capable and willing carers that we don't even have a word for it," writes Kasey Edwards. Photo: Stocksy

Last week, both my daughters had chest infections and were unable to go to school and childcare. They're fine now, thanks for asking. It was a work day for me - I work part-time, my husband works full-time - so Chris took carer's leave to look after the girls.

Given the praise that was heaped upon him, you'd think I married a saint who had selflessly donated a lung to each of his girls.

His sacrifice was still being discussed days later when we returned to school and childcare. I was met with looks of wonder and envy from other mothers, and even some staff. Some women were shocked that Chris would even consider staying home so that I could work.

People were flabbergasted that a man would think that his wife's career was just as important as his own.


There's a long history of women's jobs being relegated to the status of hobbies, pin money or something to keep them out of mischief until it's time for school pick-up.

Rather than being considered critical to identity, self-worth or quality of life, as men's jobs are, a woman's job is a little side project so she can buy herself something pretty.

Some will argue that the lack of importance attributed to women's careers is a simple matter of economics. Men often earn more than women so therefore men's careers should take priority. This is especially the case when the woman works part-time.

But I know of several families where the woman out-earns her male partner, but it's still assumed that she will take the time off work when the kids get sick. Even when you take the family budget out of the equation, the woman's job is still often deemed to be less important.

What's really going on here is the devaluation of women's time. A woman's time is almost universally regarded as less important than a man's. Or, it's only valued when it's in the service of others. And therefore it's the first to be sacrificed or rescheduled.

The reason so many people remarked on Chris taking the time to care for his kids is because it is remarkable.

In many families, dads aren't even the back-up carer. They're the last resort after every option of female friend, female family member or female neighbour has been exhausted.

Aside from the praise and awe, Chris's decision to care for our girls was also met with cynicism and incredulity. One friend suggested that Chris must really hate his job to scam a day off work.

But shouldn't this be normal? After all, that's what carer's leave is for. The notion that a man will care for sick children is so bizarre that the only conceivable reason for it is that he couldn't be bothered going into the office that day.

I admit that Chris is fortunate to have a job - and a female boss - where taking carer's leave isn't career-limiting. It's not always the case that men don't want to care for their children; it's that they are unable to do so without penalty.

But mothers also pay a professional price to take time off work. But somebody has to do it, so more often than not, it's them. Mummy track, anybody?

In our culture, it's so foreign for men to be considered capable and willing carers that we don't even have a word for it. Unlike 'maternalistic', which conjures images of love and nurturing, to be 'paternalistic' is to be domineering and oppressive, which is a long way from caring.

Within this context, it's hardly surprising that people reacted the way they did when a caring father was actually a caring father.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of Thirty-Something And Over It.