As soon as Rafael Alencar De Paula learned that his wife was pregnant with their first child, one thing was obvious to him: he was going to take part of the parental leave in order to build a strong bond with his son.

He is not alone in making such a decision. According to the most recent data released by the Conseil de gestion de l’assurance parentale on the sidelines of Quebec Paternity Week, the average number of weeks of benefits received by fathers peaked in 2021, at 10 weeks.

The government agency associates this increase with the fact that, since 2021, couples who separate shareable parental leave more equitably obtain additional weeks of benefits.

In the first months of 2021, 20% of beneficiary couples benefited from this measure. If we make a comparison with the same period in 2020, i.e. one year before its implementation, only 8% of parents would have been eligible for these additional weeks.

For his part, Rafael Alencar De Paula has chosen to spend almost six months taking care of little Valentin. His leave ended last January.

“I used to walk around with him in a stroller a lot. I took care of the routine: put him to sleep, eat him, play…”, recalls the Brazilian-born engineer.

When his spouse Bérangère Orjubin returned to work in September 2022, he even registered for a baby massage course at the Mieux-Naître perinatal resource center in Laval, where La Presse met the family.

In addition to learning techniques that are still useful to him today to appease his son, Rafael Alencar De Paula felt less isolated thanks to this weekly meeting. “The discussion with the new parents helped a lot,” he says.

Intervention advisor within the Laval organization, Amélie Blanchette notes an increased presence of fathers in the various activities offered, such as prenatal classes, babywearing workshops or talks, particularly in the last year.

This desire of fathers to get involved in the life of their child from pregnancy, the director general of the Regroupement pour la valorization de la paternité (RVP), Raymond Villeneuve, has observed for years. However, he notes that this wind of change is slowed down by certain obstacles.

“The whole perinatal period is very much mother and child centered, and that’s completely normal. But fathers and co-parents are always presented a bit like the second parent, the other parent. […] If we send this message to fathers, to co-parents, it can strengthen them in their role as secondary parents, ”worries Raymond Villeneuve.

The absence of a second chair in the doctor’s office during pregnancy follow-ups or postnatal appointments, the failure to address the issues experienced by fathers during prenatal classes, the very limited comfort of the chair or bed on which the co-parent sleeps in the hospital after childbirth are all elements that may seem trivial, but which are not, according to him.

“It sends the message that the father may not be that important,” summarizes the man who is also the instigator of the National Working Committee on Fathers and Perinatality.

This group is also asking the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which is currently developing a Perinatal and Early Childhood Action Plan, to give co-parents a greater role in the services offered during the perinatal period.

The group launched a statement to this effect at the beginning of the year, which received the support of nearly 1,000 signatories. “We are convinced that the co-parenting approach, which consists of taking into account each of the co-parents and promoting better collaboration between them, constitutes a powerful lever for social transformation to help strengthen equality between mothers and fathers on a daily basis. “, can we read in particular.

Fourteen months after the birth of Valentin, Rafael Alencar De Paula and Bérangère Orjubin note the positive impact of a more egalitarian distribution of care, tasks and mental workload.

“I think it really plays on the couple’s trust and bonding,” remarks the mother.

“We understand each other better, we share better,” says the father, who has realized how parental leave is nothing like a vacation. “It’s easier to go back to work, he laughs, but it’s worth it. »