Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been accused of lacking an understanding of businesses after pledging to restructure the rules on parental leave.
The Liberal Democrat leader wants to give mothers and fathers the ability to share time with their newborns.
Mr Clegg said the coalition would press ahead with the measures introduced by the Labour government. The proposals would authorise fathers to use any unpaid maternity leave if mothers were to forgo their allotted leave and go back to work early - for a maximum of six months.
Addressing the think-tank Demos, he said: "I want to make it clear that these reforms are a priority of mine, and of the Prime Minister's."
"These rules patronise women and marginalise men. They're based on a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners. That's an Edwardian system that has no place in 21st century Britain," he said.
He went on: "Women suffer. Mothers are expected to take on the vast bulk of childcare themselves. If they don't, they very often feel judged. If they do, they worry about being penalised at work.
He added: "Children suffer, too often missing out on time with their fathers. Time that is desperately important to their development.
"And men suffer too. More and more fathers want to play a hands-on role with their young children. But too many feel that they can't."
David Frost, the Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, criticised the proposed overhaul as "rushed thinking" warning the coalition Government was "out of touch with how to support business owners."
"Business is not against the principle of shared parental leave, but how is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully flexible system?" he said.
He added: "This is too difficult for small businesses to deal with, and could prevent them from taking on staff at a time when they are expected to create wealth and jobs."
Mr Clegg promised that ministers would consult fully before making any changes - which would not be introduced before 2015.