While debates rage in the U.S. over what length of maternity leave is appropriate and fair, there is less talk about long-term parental leave—or time off for dads.
In the Netherlands, where I live, 2015 saw a change in tax laws that make the financial burden a bit heavier, but long-term parental leave is available to fathers and mothers alike.
Robbin Haasnoot, 33, is one of 25 percent of Dutch men who take advantage of
long-term, unpaid parental leave, spending one day at home a week for up to two
years to be with his children without risking losing his job.
For Haasnoot, who works at a bank in Amsterdam, taking
parental leave was a clear choice—even a responsibility. "Knowing how to care
for children takes practice," he says. "It's a skill, a mindset. You have to do
it routinely, all of it."
And he is involved in every aspect of caring for his children.
Haasnoot also says his decision to spend a day at home with his children has strengthened his relationship with is wife, because they are truly equal.
"I like that I get to
take them to the doctor, to the playground—I've made friends with many of the
mothers. I enjoy getting to know what's going on with them during the day," he says.
And, he says, you see the effect. "When my daughter falls down, sometimes she runs to her
mother, but equally to me. She knows that I am also nurturing and that is a
good feeling. They know I take care of them just like their mom."
Haasnoot also says his decision to spend a day at home
with his children has strengthened his relationship with is wife, because they
are truly equal. "It would absolutely be harder for me to understand what my
wife does with the children day to day if I didn't do it myself," he says. "I
never have to ask, 'What did you do today?' because I already know."
He also knows firsthand how exhausting a day alone with children can be. "Honestly, I have more energy left when I come home from working for nine hours than some days when I spend five hours with my children," he says. "And I think that's something important for my wife and I to share. We decided to have children, so together we need to take care of
When I am watching television in the evening and my daughter comes to me with a cookie we baked together that day… that makes me feel like a dad ...
Although he stresses that he doesn't judge fathers who don't
or can't take parental leave, he can't imagine doing it any other way. "There's
a father on my street who leaves for work at 6:30 in the morning and comes home
at 9:30 at night," he says. "And, yes, he has a big house and a nice car. But
that's not the most important thing to me."
It seems it is equally a struggle for men to "have it
all." Haasnoot admits his own career stalled somewhat, but he expects he will
make up for that when his parental leave is over. "Ten years ago, when I
started working in the bank, I was promoted every two years or so, and now I've
not made any steps in four years because I was at home," he says. "That's
fine—I chose this and accepted that it meant I will probably stay at the same
level for a time. But I still earn enough to support the family."
Haasnoot think that's a missed opportunity for dads. "You
miss out on little things, but they add up," he says. "When I am watching
television in the evening and my daughter comes to me with a cookie we baked
together that day… that makes me feel like a dad—like a real dad, and not only
the one who brings the money home. I feel having a relationship with my
children now is important. When they are older, maybe it'll be too late."