Series: Tackling Work-Life Balance (14)
A male researcher’s ambivalence and joy about childcare leave
Shunsuke Tanabe, Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Given my specialization in the social sciences, I thought I had a basic grasp of such issues as gender inequ
ality and work-life balance. But as my wife went through pregnancy, birth, and childrearing, at each stage I became aware of an unexpected inflexibility on my part. Moreover, since our parents were unable to help and my wife experienced health issues during and after birth, I realized that childcare leave for men was not simply “desirable” but absolutely essential.
In fact, when my wife first got pregnant, rather than take childcare leave, I thought I could handle things by adjusting my lecture and meeting schedule. What’s more, I felt a sense of guilt about taking childcare leave. I had intended to keep my distance from the Show a Era male attitude that work must come before one’s personal life, but in practice I considered childrearing a private matter and couldn’t get the idea that I must not allow it to cause trouble at work out of my head. Be that as it may, once I experienced childbirth and childrearing, I was made painfully aware of just how unrealistic it is to try and fit one’s lecture and meeting schedule around them. It’s not simply that pregnancy, birth, and childcare don’t happen on schedule; you also have to adjust yourself to the situation of your wife and child continuously as they intervene in your own wishes and plans.
Given these circumstances, the fact that a man cannot take childcare leave (let alone maternity leave) felt like a systemic shortcoming. My wife was not well during pregnancy, so I often thought about what a help it would be if I could also take “maternity leave” during the time when she needed both physical and psychological support.
What’s more we had a difficult birth, and for about a week I stayed at the hospital and kept close to my wife and daughter, which I somehow managed thanks to the date of birth coming during the summer break. But had all this happened while classes were in session, I imagine that this would have been impossible.
When I look back on my own experience, I see that making do without the man taking childcare leave is premised on a smooth pregnancy and delivery, and places an excessive burden on the mother, one that necessitates the presence of reliable and familiar means of support. But the number of people in society who find this unacceptable is still very few. What’s more, we experienced the so-called “daycare hunting” struggle, days during which I thought “no wonder the birthrate in Japanese society is so low!”
Moreover, childcare leave for men mostly seems to be considered at most as a kind of childcare “assistance.” But my wife’s difficult delivery and other complications that I mentioned above meant that I had to persevere as the primary provider of care for our child. So, for about the first three months after our child was born, I fed her milk every three hours and never got enough sleep. My biggest dream was to have three hours of uninterrupted sleep. I can laugh about it now, but when I was first asked to write this article for Tackling Work-Life Balance, I was right in the middle of this period and said there was no way I could do it until after I had finished childcare leave! When your job is doing research, even if you take childcare leave and have time off from university work, a lot of work still goes on regardless, such as academic conferences, research using outside funding, not to mention the various types of social contributions a professor performs. I often fretted over the feeling that I must not and did not want to further inconvenience those around me by taking childcare leave, and I wondered if women are faced with the same expectations when they take childcare So far, I have only talked about the negative side of my childcare leave experience, but, of course, that time also bore tremendous gifts. Being able to watch our child grow day by day and sharing with my wife the time and memories, including all the little day-to-day things, will surely become priceless assets for my life and family in the years ahead.
■ Academic background: Graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan University, School of Humanities and Social
Sciences. Completed Masters and Doctorate in Sociology at Tokyo Metropolitan University.
Society for the Promotion of Science Research Fellowship for Young Scientists (PD) 2007: Assistant Professor
University of Tokyo, Institute of Social Science
2009: Appointed Associate Professor, in current position since 2013
■ Research field: Sociology (empirical sociology, social attitudes, sociological survey methodology)
■ Family composition: married with one daughter
■ Childcare leave: September 2015 to March 2016
（by SANKAKU NEWS No.16）