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Stay-at-home dads help women move up in the corporate world Add to ...

Other critics don't give a fig for consciousness-raising or other stay-at-home feminist wishful thinking. A new genre of stay-at-home literature is blossoming: Author and former TV producer Darla Shine's new Happy Housewives and New Yorker staff writer Caitlin Flanagan's To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife, out this month, are the logical counterpoints to Ms. Hirshman.

Of course, like conservative author Danielle Crittenden ( The Price of Motherhood) before them, Ms. Shine and Ms. Flanagan have actual careers and make money -- as writers. And yes, this is mostly a debate among women who can afford the "choice" to stay home.

But British author Benedicte Newland, who co-wrote (with her sister) the cheeky motherhood novel And God Created the Au Pair, says Ms. Hirshman is just mistaken about the basics of human nature. Ms. Newland drew on her experiences as a stay-at-home mom of four (now 3 to 15) in the novel. But before she started having children at the age of 28, she was a corporate lawyer making more money than her husband, former National Post editor Martin Newland.

"What [Ms. Hirshman]is aggressively doing is trying to make women the same as men. They never will be. They just aren't," Ms. Newland says from London. "It was a luxury and a privilege for me. Some women find the minutiae of their children's lives is far more interesting than being a finance director."

But to Prof. Duxbury, more worrisome than this rarefied debate among the upper echelons is the fact that the way people of all income brackets are dealing with the pressures of juggling work and home life is to delay having children or not have them at all: Canadian birth rates have declined from 4.1 children per woman in the baby boom to 1.5 now. (It takes a rate of 2.1 to replace the population.)

"So I'm much more concerned about women saying, 'I can't have both.' I want a career. I want to use my brain, my education. It's not that my husband won't do his bit. It's not all about policy. It's about practice."

Christine Ellison says she is able to enjoy both spheres of her life, although she admits that her husband is often like a single parent. While she often misses Michael's bedtime, she delays going to the office until 9 or 9:30 a.m. to be with him, and takes over Saturday swim lessons. On Thursday nights, she zips home early from her Toronto office so her husband can play basketball.

She has few peers in her field, she says. The partners in accounting firms are predominantly male. Most of the female exceptions are single.

"The women who are married with children that I know of are working reduced work schedules," she says. "In order to compete with your peers and achieve certain aspirations along your career path, you need the flexibility to work those hours and put in the time. It's very difficult to do that if you don't have an arrangement at home that allows you the flexibility to do that."

And that takes us right back to the workplace. But this time, it's about the Daddy Track. One factor that made it easier for Ms. Ellison's family to configure itself the way it did was the culture in Mr. Fulsang's workplace -- in a negative sense.

Mr. Fulsang had heard through the grapevine that if he came back after his parental leave, his role was going to be drastically changed. "He decided he wasn't returning to an employer who was supportive and it made sense for him to quit."

His employer hadn't been very supportive of the leave in the first place, Ms. Ellison says. "Even though it's the law, there are a lot of employers that are of the mindset that having children and taking a leave are a women's issue, not a family issue. So they have a work force that is predominantly male and it's something they don't have to face."

Ms. Ellison says that unless more men take advantage of parental leave, child care will remain a women's issue.

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