In the Czech Republic, mothers or fathers have the generous option of taking parental leave of up to three years to raise their child. In the overwhelming number of cases, the mother is the one to stay home (often putting a career on hold). Increasingly, though, fathers are also beginning to consider the option. I spoke to Lukáš Talpa of the non-profit Liga otevřených mužů which recently commissioned a poll surveying attitudes about parental leave. I began by asking whether the number of those taking paternity leave had grown.
“The absolute numbers are growing. Back in 2001, when legislation was passed allowing fathers to officially take paternal leave there were about 2,000 who did. Today that number has more than doubled. We now have 5,200. The overall percentage of fathers staying home, however, has remained the same – 1.5 percent because of the baby boom. The overall percentage of fathers staying home remains the same.”
You mentioned the situation back in 2001: what was the situation before?
“It was possible but only in exceptional cases, such as if the man was widowed, for fathers to take paternity leave. But generally it wasn’t easy.”
For my father’s generation the option of staying home with children as the man wouldn’t have been an obvious choice, allowed or not...
“Well, certainly the mindset had to change first and played a huge role. Things are very different today: society is much more open to the idea, you hear from countries in Scandinavia, Great Britain too and elsewhere. We just conducted research here which shows almost 100 percent of respondents in this country say taking paternity leave is something that is absolutely normal. In the survey, 26 percent of those questioned said they considered such fathers real ‘heroes’ or really great guys. So, it is seen very positively and only about four percent of those who took part in the poll said they considered such a decision strange.”
Economically, are the options still restricted? Are most families still dependent on the father’s salary, so to speak?
“Yes and it plays a big role in fathers’ decisions. You know, in the research we asked if fathers would take paternity leave: 12 percent said they would and around 35 percent said they would consider it. But when we asked what blocked them from taking a final decision 75 percent said that financially it was not viable. They’d like to take leave to raise their child but the family would take too much of a financial hit.”
I imagine, to a large degree, that experiencing that kind of parenthood otherwise would be something that most people would benefit from: to spend more time with their kids...
“That is absolutely correct. Psychological research shows that when fathers are active and more involved it has a positive impact on the child. It also has a positive influence on the health of the fathers, and a positive effect on the relationship between the father and mother. But the kids benefit most of all. The fathers who want to take leave are aware of this and of the feeling they want to be closer to their children, to be there for them on a greater level than just being with them at weekends or reading them bedtime stories late after they get home.”