The Stability Law passed by the Government had extended for 2017 the two days of paternity leave paid at 100% of the salary, but now an amendment already approved by the Labour Commission and soon to be examined by the Budget Commission and from there to Montecitorio, proposes to “give” another three days to the new family, allowing men to live fully that first period at home, which lays the foundations of the relationship between the baby and his parents. A decision that, if confirmed, will benefit all the members of the family: the father first of all, but also the mother and consequently the child who was born.
Paternity leave: a time to discover oneself as a father
“Five days of paternity leave – which are the minimum but always better than before – allow you to remain focused and involved in the shocking experience of becoming a parent and to share with the mother the first days when you get to know the newborn”, considers Alessandro Volta, neonatologist, head of the Maternal and Childhood Program of the Asl of Reggio Emilia and author of several books dedicated to dads. “The father, in these early days, has a lot to do: his is the role of filter between the new mother and the outside world and protection of the mother-child couple. The man cannot physically live the pregnancy, he cannot breastfeed or give birth, to give birth to his baby must wait to have it in his arms, smell it and look at it. The father needs time to feel like one, he cannot afford distractions or waste of energy. The leave also serves to have no excuses or alibis, helps the new father to take responsibility, to understand that now nothing will be the same as before.
The influence of hormones
As with the new mother, the first days after birth are also crucial for the father. “It is in this first period that the foundations of the relationship between father and son are laid”, comments Alberto Pellai, doctor and psychotherapist of the evolutionary age, researcher at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Milan and author of books for parents including I papà vengono da Marte, le mamme da Venere (De Agostini). “And it is important that the father can be present, can be there alongside his partner, next to his child. This is also confirmed by neuroscience, which has highlighted the changes that occur in the human brain when a child is born. We know in fact that the hormone secretion in the body of the father is modified: the level of testosterone decreases and the levels of oxytocin and prolactin, the hormones of tenderness, happiness and care increase.
A change that facilitates the transformation from adult male to father, which helps the new father to take care of the puppy who was born and to protect his partner. But these changes are urged by the proximity of the child, if the father does not have the opportunity to be present in the first days after birth, the change can not occur. In short, a beautiful opportunity “thought” by nature itself, which is wasted if the father is forced to stay away from his baby.
A fundamental presence for the new mother
But paternity leave isn’t just for daddy. The positive effects of this novelty also concern the new mother. “The first few days are the most difficult for the mother also from an emotional point of view”, underlines Alberto Pellai. “They are those in which the woman must become familiar with the child and, if left alone, can be seized by the fear of not succeeding. The closeness of the father in this situation becomes fundamental: it is he who can help the new mother has overcome the doubts and fears, thus allowing her to become the best possible mother for their child. The presence of the father is the most important prevention factor for postnatal depression”.
But the recognition of the responsibility of both parents towards the newborn represents a step forward in terms of equal opportunities. If we come to recognize that children are not the exclusive competence of the mother, and that the father is also called to contribute to the management of family life, it will be easier to overcome the many, too many prejudices against working mothers, in Italy look with suspicion and often penalized, because “they have a child at home.
A sign of the times?
What if someone, perhaps in the world of work, does not look favourably on the new paternity leave? “We should reflect on the stereotypes that can lead us to think that a father should not remain next to his newborn son, given – among other things – the protective value of his presence for mother and child,” considers Alberto Pellai. “The recognition of this value, underlined by psychotherapists, paediatricians, neuroscientists, is part of a socio-cultural change already underway: fifty years ago the father was at work while his baby was born, today we find him in the delivery room next to his partner.
“In many European countries, compulsory paternity leave is about two weeks,” comments Alessandro Volta. “The Scandinavian countries were the first and most sensitive to the father figure and equal opportunities.
Finally, some people have doubts about the compulsory nature of leave. One wonders if it does not represent an interference in the private and professional life of the man.
“An obligatory leave allows to give weight to the father’s role”, Alessandro Volta considers. “It is society that pays you to take care of your child, because it recognises the social value of what you are doing. It’s a bit like telling your father that at the moment there’s nothing more important that he can do, no professional task can compete with that of being close to his partner and holding his child in his arms. Five days is a few but worth a lot, and they will be carved in the soul for the rest of your life. Everything else can safely wait.
Following the example of Northern Europe
With this amendment, Italy finally follows the example of various countries in Northern Europe, where for years, the importance of the father figure is recognized “officially” and for mothers to reconcile family and professional commitments is easier. This is the case, for example, in Denmark, where fathers are entitled to 14 consecutive days of 100% paid leave, in the United Kingdom, two weeks with flat-rate compensation, but also in neighbouring countries, such as Spain (two weeks), Portugal (10 days), France (11 working days, all paid with 100% of the salary).
With our 5 days, Italy is taking its first steps in the right direction: the recognition of the importance of the birth of a child, for its parents, but more generally, for society as a whole.