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"I have one piece of advice: don't be afraid." What it is like to be a dad on parental leave in Ukraine

Parental leave often hinders a woman's career. Many women have to choose between childcare and work. According to a UN Population Fund survey, 65% of Ukrainian dads believe that the role of dads is to earn and feed the family, and 63% believe that changing diapers for children is a woman's job. As a result, 71% of dads believe that they spend too little time with their children because of their work.
However, recently we can feel changes in Ukraine on this matter. The legislation is being passed to equalize the rights of men and women in childcare, but businesses are no less important in such changes. Companies operating in the Ukrainian market are joining initiatives related to gender equality, one of which is the Declaration in Support of Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 8, which are aimed at ensuring gender equality, equal conditions for self-realization of women and men, and combating domestic violence.
On the Ukrainian market, such commitments have been made by a total of 31 companies, including Metro, Nestle, Kernel, L'Oreal, Danone, StarLightMedia, and many others, which over the past two years have implemented several initiatives to improve corporate procedures that promote women's leadership, work-home balance and parental leave for men. Currently, there are successful examples of couples deciding that a man would go on childcare leave.
UNFPA spoke with Roman Lazarenko, a financial analyst at Danone Ukraine, about why he decided to go on parental leave, whether it affected his professional activities, his relationship with his wife, and the peculiarities of being a father on parental leave.
- Tell us about yourself, how many children do you have?
- My name is Roman Lazarenko, I am 39 years old. I am the father of two children.
- Why did you decide to go on parental leave? How much time did you spend on childcare leave?
- The decision was made together with my wife. She received a better job offer: both the position was better, and the salary was higher. It was a new challenge for my wife. And I spent nine months on parental leave.
- How did relatives, friends and colleagues react to such a decision? Supported or perhaps did not understand?
- Relatives, direct supervisor and colleagues supported me in this decision.
- Do you have any insight, discovery during the childcare leave?
- A nice discovery - to watch your child grow. This is probably the best thing about this period. As most men work, they do not see their child grow. Constantly at work, they come home in the evening, spend some time with children - but they don't see how they grow, how they begin to know the world, they don't hear their first speech sounds, how they react to the world. It cannot be expressed in words, it must be felt, seen.
- And what became the biggest challenge for you during the parental leave?
The biggest challenge? Well, probably - to cope with this baby, a small human. At first, it was difficult: how to hold her in my arms, how to feed her properly, change diapers. That was the hardest part. Then it became the norm.
- Please tell us about the typical day of a dad on a leave. What was your routine?
- A typical dad’s day on parental leave lasts 24 hours. When you have a small child, who has just been born, it is necessary to feed them every three hours, and also - to change diapers. It is difficult at first to get used to how to change diapers properly, how to feed, know the timing. It can be challenging, you have to get into the rhythm. Once you become used to it, it's not a problem.
In the morning, you feed the baby, go out with them for a walk in the fresh air, they have a daytime sleep, then you have to feed them again, and then - change diapers, the second walk, the child's second sleep. In the evening, everything repeats: feed, bathe, feed again and sleep.
- Can you please tell, how did the parental leave change you? How did it affect your relationship with your wife?
- It brought us closer. I can say that now I understand how difficult it is to be a wife, a woman on childcare leave, with a child. What do most men think? The wife stays with children, has to feed them, additionally cook, clean, iron clothes. But in reality, it is very burdensome. This is work. At work, by comparison, it was easier for me than when I was on parental leave.
- Did the leave affect your career?
- Yes. Even during my parental leave, a vacancy was opened in the Company, which interested me, I applied for it and got another position. I returned to work not in the position from which I went to the parental leave. So yes, the leave affected my career.
- Did you have any curiosities while on parental leave, a funny incident?
- There are always many such incidents with a child. It's everyday life, you watch your baby grow. If you don't see her for a couple of days, you go somewhere, you come back - and it seems that in two days she has grown a lot. And every day she learns something new.
- Maybe you have some advice for men who cannot decide whether they should go on childcare leave?
- I have only one piece of advice: do not be afraid. It is very cool. You can say it's an indescribable feeling.
Additional information:
This interview is prepared within the framework of the core support to Equality Springboard: Project on Social Norms Change and Gender Stereotypes Elimination for Better Resilience and Prosperity of Women and Men in Ukraine, enabled by the financial support from Sweden.