CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This book offers a qualitative analysis of parenthood as perceived by fathers in Quebec who have taken parental or paternity leave to care for a young child. In 2006, following the lead of Sweden, Norway and Germany (the last of which has implemented Vätermonate or “fathers’ months”), Quebec set up family policy measures to encourage fathers to help take care of their young children. The programme, called the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), has changed both paternity and parental leave. Fathers in Quebec are now entitled to their own three-to-five week leave immediately after their child is born and nontransferable to the mother. The system also allows parents to share parental leave and to choose between a longer basic plan with a lower allowance and a shorter plan with a higher allowance. Moreover, the maximum insurable earnings cap has been raised. These measures clearly aim to guarantee the child’s wellbeing and to promote male-female equality by facilitating work-family balance and involving fathers in family activities.

2In the first section the authors underline the socio-demographic context in which the measures have been implemented: women’s employment in Quebec is rising, especially among young mothers, a fact that “makes fathers’ involvement not only desirable but necessary” (p. 2) and is also responsible for birth postponement. Nonetheless, mothers are still the parents who spend more hours taking care of children and they still perform most household tasks.

3At a time when research is refocusing on the myth of “the new father,” [1] the authors set out to analyse in qualitative terms the rearrangements of gender roles within the family, work-family balancing, and the social norms surrounding paternity. To do so they questioned approximately 30 fathers who had taken paternity or parental leave to spend time alone with their child. The questions covered a variety of subjects: reasons for choosing to take leave; how family, friends and co-workers perceive that choice; task-sharing within the couple; impacts on partners’ respective careers; fathers’ relationships with their children; their ideas about couples and individuals; and their perceptions of parental roles and family policies.

4The work sheds valuable light on gender issues. For example, it clarifies that the men interviewed had already internalized an egalitarian norm for roles within the couple in connection with both family and career, and that they were already helping with household chores before their child was born. After the birth they became quite active in caring for and raising the child. Moreover, these men are open to changing the standard hierarchical ranking of mother’s and father’s careers: career opportunities and other consequences of taking parental or paternity leave were careful weighed for both partners in making the decision. On this point, these men have clearly broken with the traditional male breadwinner role, where the man’s career is systematically considered more important than the woman’s.

5These men understand QPIP to have been designed to stimulate fathers to invest more time and energy in the family and to develop their paternal role. They feel they may legitimately request leave time now that they are officially entitled to take it and that they will be able at a later time to request changes that may help them, like mothers, better balance work and family life. They assert their paternal status more firmly by playing a more important role in child-raising decisions and in the family routine and by developing a stronger emotional relationship with their child. However, as the authors show, there are resistances: the experience of parental leave or paternity leave is felt to be outside the norm, meaning that these men’s status as “stay-at-home fathers” is not always recognized by family and friends. And mothers remain on the front line, especially in the child’s first few months, when the central activity of breastfeeding is likely to keep fathers in the background. The authors also observed disagreements in the couple and tasks that fathers are not particularly interested in: dressing children is a point on which fathers and mothers disagree and an area that does not seem to be fathers’ forte. Regarding the work sphere the authors explain that obtaining leave is not always a simple matter for fathers whereas it appears “natural” for mothers. Last, they note that some respondents remained in contact with the work world during leave, a sign, they say, of employers’ reluctance to grant long leave to fathers and of fathers’ own difficulty defining themselves solely in terms of a family role.

6The book looks beyond the standard opposition between family and work, providing a precise breakdown of social time. Family time, they explain, is made up of time spent on parenting, the couple, and oneself. If both parents take leave for the months following the child’s birth, this allows fathers to take care of mothers as well. And fathers on leave do not give up their leisure activities or the time they spend on and for themselves.

7In the last part of the analysis, the authors re-examine the findings in light of Wall’s typology. [2] Of the four profiles – constrained fathers, fathers who have made a “fundamental break” from the paternal role, innovative and independent fathers, and innovative and subversive fathers – only the last two are considered relevant descriptions of the fathers interviewed here. The authors add another type: “innovative and militant.” These fathers demand more recognition from the public sphere for stay-at-home fathers. Overall, the fathers interviewed are satisfied with the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan. But they do not want leave to be mandatory; they think it should be a matter of individual free choice. This finding may be read as support for the direction that Quebec’s family policy has taken.

8It is significant that the authors did not take account of interviewee’s social category. Respondents’ individual trajectories and social origins might have shed light on how equality came to be integrated as a norm in these couples and why the men interviewed have made the considerable investment they have. It is reasonable to assume that the parenting norm these heavily invested fathers are following is experienced differently – and appears more or less valid – by social background and membership. Last, a variable such as socio-occupational category would inform us on the material constraints stay-at-home fathers have to cope with. Since the authors briefly mention non-standard working hours, it seems fair to assume that practical constraints or opportunities related to being in one type of work or another (whether or not one has to be at one’s work station, for example; i.e., whether telework is an option) would influence fathers’ attitudes toward the question of parental or paternity leave.

9Despite the preceding comments, this book is an interesting contribution for anyone wishing to understand how the figure of the father has been evolving recently in Quebec in terms of both policy-legislation and how actors use and perceive these new options.


  • [1]
    A. Régnier-Loilier, 2010, “Où en est le mythe du ‘nouveau père’” [What has become of the myth of the “new father”], in Problèmes politiques et sociaux, La Documentation Française 968 (Jan. 2010), p. 64.
  • [2]
    Karin Wall, 2012, “Recent changes in father’s leave: A qualitative study of lived experiences,” paper delivered at the Ninth Annual International Leave Policies and Research Seminar, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 13-14 September.
Morgan Kitzmann
Uploaded on on 01/07/2016
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