Do babies need their mums more than their dads?

Carolyn Moynihan
7 February 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The British government is very active on the family front right now. Some of what they are doing is potentially good -- like speeding up adoptions, which are often delayed through efforts of the authorities to "match" children with adoptive parents of the same race, and giving fathers the right to share maternity leave (12 months total).

Some of it is of doubtful benefit -- like requiring "shared parenting" arrangements between divorcing couples. And some of it is downright bad - like pushing same-sex marriage.

Giving fathers as well as mothers the right to leave from their jobs during the first year of a baby's life sounds good. But the way business minister Jo Swinson talked about it this week struck the wrong note, I think. She said it was time to "shatter" the idea that mothers should take the lead in looking after newborns:

"Employers will soon get used to more men taking time off after their child is born and more mothers returning to work earlier, shattering the perception that it is mainly a woman's role to stay home and look after the child."

That sounds a bit bossy.

Of course it is good that dads have time to spend with their new baby -- good for them, for the mother and for the baby. But how much time? Enough, collectively, to bury the idea that the mother has a special role to play in nurturing the baby -- primarily through breastfeeding?

Can this really be good for all concerned -- first of all for babies? Or does the wellbeing of children come second to the new dogma that women must not interrupt their careers for anyone or anything, even, perhaps, their own instincts?

Perhaps it may be necessary in some cases for a mother to hurry back to work, but the minister was not talking about the needs of the family when she said:

"These measures will really help our aim of ensuring more businesses are making best use of women's talents throughout the organisation."

Ms Swinson insisted the new system would be "good for business". She is not reported as claiming it would be good for babies. But that is not her portfolio; she is the minister of business.

Anyway, Britain is not (yet) a dictatorship and couples will be free to decide for themselves how they want to share baby leave -- following their parental instincts.