Paternity leave in focus: The precious time with daddy

Written by Solveig Flatebø
Proofread by Gabriella Óturai
Published on 12.04.2018

Image: colourbox.com

Recently it has become more and more common that infants stay home with their dad, and not just with their mother. Paternity leave makes it possible for fathers today to spend more time with their children in their first year of life. We are now past the time when one thought that children spending extra time with their father could interrupt their attachment to their mother. Society and gender roles have changed over time, and both mothers and fathers have become more involved in the early years of their children’s life. Today’s fathers have a better opportunity to make even stronger emotional bonds with their children, without being bombarded with former attitudes that saw pushing a pram in the park as a threat for masculinity.

In our Scandinavian countries, we have had good opportunities for paternity leave for a long time, and Norwegian parents could already in 1977 divide 12 out of 18 weeks of parental leave between the two of them (Hamre, 2017). Later, in 1993 Norway was the first country in the world to establish paternity leave by allocating four weeks of parental leave exclusively for fathers. The number of weeks has changed over time, and for a while in 2013 it was 14 weeks. In 2014 it was reduced to 10 weeks, which is what we still have today (Hamre, 2017). According to a literature review about fathers’ usage of paternity leave in Norway and the other Nordic countries (Halrynjo & Kitterød, 2016), there is strong support for paternity leave in Norway – for example, over 95% of Norwegian parents who were asked in 2012 thought that it was good to have this kind of paternal leave arrangement. Paternity leave is frequently used among fathers in Norway, and according to new calculations from Statistics Norway (Hamre, 2017) 33% of fathers took paternity leave for 10 weeks, and 37% of them took even more. Only around 25% of all fathers did not take any paternity leave (the reasons are not included in the statistics).

The time a father spends at home with his child is valuable, but according to new findings of a study conducted at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, the quality of the time spent together is just as important (Nordahl, 2013). In this comprehensive “dad-study” interactions between ca. 800 Norwegian fathers and their infants were examined in the infants’ first year of life. The researchers observed how fathers’ different parental behaviors affected different behavioral outcomes of their children at 2 and 3 years of age. The researchers found that children who had less sensitive fathers at the age of 1 year had more externalizing behaviors at the age of 2 years. Furthermore, they found that less intrusiveness and less coerciveness in fathers’ interactions with their one-year-olds were associated with higher social competence at age 3. Nevertheless, it is not just a sensitive dad who provides positive developmental outcomes in children. Another study (Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera & Lamb, 2004) suggests that sensitivity is an important trait in both mothers and fathers. In that study the researchers found that 24 and 35 months old children who had more sensitive parents also had higher cognitive scores.

What do fathers themselves think about staying home with their children? A Norwegian book about paternity leave mentions a qualitative study (Bungum, 2013) that examined fathers’ reflections about staying home with their children during paternity leave. Several fathers reported experience of strengthened caregiving competence after having some alone time with their children, when not interrupted by other tasks related to childcare. A Norwegian research study (Farstad & Stefansen, 2015) asked Icelandic fathers about how they interpreted their own role in the caregiving for their children. Iceland was evaluated by the researchers as a “father-friendly” country, since both of the parents there get one third of the leave, and they can split the rest as they wish. In the interviews fathers also mentioned that it was important for them to prioritize family time and to experience emotional closeness to their children. The fathers did not think that their masculinity was threatened by spending more time with their children, and several of them thought that they not only spent more time at home with their children, but they were also more present in the home compared to their own fathers.

And what does research say about the effects of fathers staying more at home with their children? According to a meta-analysis (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid & Bremberg, 2008) of the effects of fathers’ involvement on children’s developmental outcomes, several studies have found positive outcomes in children whose fathers had taken paternity leave. Fathers’ being more active in their children’s life from the start can result in less behavioral problems in boys and less psychological problems (such as depression) in teenage girls. Furthermore, a study on premature infants found that children of more engaged fathers had higher cognitive scores compared to less engaged fathers. A meta-analysis (McWayne, Downer, Campos & Harris, 2013) of the association between fathers’ involvement and children’s early learning suggests that children who have an engaged father are more “ready” in the transition to school. Both this meta-analysis (McWayne et al., 2013) and Nordahl (2013) emphasize that both quantity and quality of the time fathers spend with their children are important for children’s positive developmental outcomes. According to the meta-analysis by McWayne and colleagues (2013), several aspects of the father-child interaction contribute to the child’s social and academic success, for example positive parenting traits, such as being warm and responsive, or engaging in positive activities with the child, for example playing together or reading to the child.

References

Bungum, B. (2013). Barnas fedrekvote- tid sammen med far. I B. Brandth, E. Kvande & G. Andersson (Red.), Fedrekvoten og den farsvennlige velferdsstaten (s. 60-73). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Farstad, G. R. & Stefansen, K. (2015). Involved fatherhood in the Nordic context; dominant narratives, divergent approaches. Norma : international journal for masculinity studies, 10, 55-70.

Halrynjo, S. & Kitterød, R. H. (2016). Fedrekvoten- norm for fedres permisjonsbruk i Norge og Norden (Rapport – Institutt for samfunnsforskning 06). Oslo. Hentet fra https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/handle/11250/2442339

Hamre, K. (2017). Fedrekvoten- mer populær enn noen gang. Samfunsspeilet, (1). Hentet fra https://www.ssb.no/befolkning/artikler-og-publikasjoner/fedrekvoten-mer-populaer-enn-noen-gang–298200

McWayne, C., Downer, J., Campos, R. & Harris, R. (2013). Father involvement during early childhood and its association with children’s early learning: a meta-analysis. Early Education & Development, 24(6), 898-922. 10.1080/10409289.2013.746932

Nordahl, K. B. (2013). Early Father-Child Interaction in a Father-Friendly Context: Gender Differences, Child Outcomes, and Predictive Factors Related to Fathers’ Parenting Behaviors with One-Year-Olds (PhD thesis). Faculty of Psychology: University of Bergen.

Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F. & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Oxford, UK.

Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Shannon, J. D., Cabrera, N. J. & Lamb, M. E. (2004). Fathers and mothers at play with their 2- and 3-year-olds: contributions to language and cognitive development. Child Development, 75(6), 1806-1820. 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00818.x

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