Guest Post: The law says dads can share childcare - how do we persuade them to do it?
From April 2015, new mums and dads will be able to divvy up parental leave between them. This has been hailed as brilliant progress in the fight for equality - but will men actually use this opportunity to do more childcare?
In the guest post, Gideon Burrows - author of 'Men Can Do It: The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare' - argues that, if shared parental leave is to fulfil its potential, the government must invest in letting men know about their rights, and male bosses must lead by example in the workplace.
Author, Men Can Do it! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare
Tue 18-Feb-14 10:43:15
In just over a years' time, maternity leave as we know it will be abolished. It will be replaced by a shared parental leave of 52 weeks which the mother or father can divide up as they see fit.
There are a few exceptions and nuances, but these proposals have been heralded as the best opportunity yet for women to keep their hand in at work and for men to share more of the childcare.
But will they? Fathers already have exactly the same right to ask for part-time and flexible working as women do. They already have the right to share 26 weeks' parental leave. They already have the choice – just like women – to earn less or take career hits for the sake of their children. But the take up has been abysmal. We fathers would run into a burning building for our kids. We'd dive into a freezing cold sea. Yet we consistently reject a fairer deal in parenting as too difficult or too inconvenient.
I have highlighted on these pages the myriad excuses that fathers use to justify a traditional parenting model. But now we must move beyond why fathers don't do more childcare, and explore how we get them to start doing a fairer share.
First off, men need to be made more aware of the rights and choices they have. Most families don't even realise they can share parental leave, and it currently falls to family charities and think-tanks to let men know what they're entitled to. With these organisations fighting for funds, the government needs to back up its equality policies with a strategy to let families know what their rights and options are, through mainstream advertising and through maternity and family services.
‘We still have a corporate culture which dictates that if your boss is still at their desk, then you should be too. At the very least, you should be embarrassed if you sneak past their office to go home, and mistrusted if you claim to be working from home. But what if your male boss proudly took Fridays off, saying it's their time to be with the kids? What if he worked from home two days a week to do a share of the school run?’
And to be effective, that strategy needs to make the case for why a fairer parenting deal is better than the alternative.
The evidence is very clear: when men play a hands-on role with their kids, right from the maternity ward and throughout their childhood, the outcomes are better for our children, for our partners, for us and for our work.
If we fully understood the benefits to ourselves and our families of taking on more childcare, perhaps more men would be willing. Sharing the childcare would become what 'being a good dad' is all about.
What is also fundamentally missing, particularly in the workplace, is leadership. Currently, women are far more likely to ask for (and be granted) flexible or part-time working than men.
In professional jobs, there is still an expectation for men to work and play hard, to start early and to stay late. We still have a corporate culture which dictates that if your boss is still at their desk, then you should be too. At the very least, you should be embarrassed if you sneak past their office to go home, and mistrusted if you claim to be working from home.
But why is your boss working such long hours? Because their boss is too. And so it goes - it's a working world where cut-throat business leaders who put in long hours are held in high esteem. But imagine if that dynamic was turned on its head.
If you have a male boss, imagine if he took every Friday off to be with his kids? What if he worked from home two days a week to do a share of the school run? What if he took three months off, following the birth of their new baby? Wouldn't you feel a bit more comfortable asking for a similar arrangement for yourself?
We need to usher in a new style of working, where it's okay to be an out-and-proud father, to talk about the kids at work, and shape your career flexibly so that work and family life co-operate rather than clash.
I don't doubt that it means a few pioneering fathers will have to stick their heads above the parapet. But the more who do it, the quicker a new working culture will trickle down until it simply becomes normal.
And perhaps this will happen sooner than we think. Today's students do everything online - they attend online lectures, have seminars using internet conferencing, submit and edit their essays online with tutors in real time, and they use social media tools to communicate.
Will this new generation will be willing to drop their Skype connections and touch-screen tablets in favour of a one-hour commute to sit at a desk? To have meetings about meetings, just to prove they're working hard enough?
On the horizon are graduates who will be looking for work-life balance, flexibility and connectivity when making their career choices. Those companies that won't offer a new way of working will be left behind.
To get fathers to take advantage of shared leave, and to choose to put their work at least on a par with their families, there needs to be a combination of measures. But they all boil down to the same thing: understanding why fairer parenting and flexible working is a good thing, and then effectively making the argument to fathers, families and employers alike.
The ball is already rolling. The faster it goes, the more we'll all benefit. It's time to give it an extra shove.
By Gideon Burrows
I absolutely agree. DH has a high powered, well paid (HRTpayer) career, but when I went back to work with a big career change when our youngest was nearly two, he was the one who changed his hours at work to accomodate childcare arrangements.
We are very fortunate in that he works for a large multinational with a family-friendly environment, where no one batted an eyelid at his hours changing to 7-3, and he is positively encouraged to take time off when the kids are ill.
My employers are also brilliant and flexible and are currently offering school hours, term time only positions for part time staff because they recognise the value in employing parents who often have more financial commitments (ie reasons to work hard and perform well) than non parents. However, for the position I am in I need to work full tilt and long hours, and DH's flexibility allows me to do this.
If we were to have another baby (we're not) we would certainly split the parental leave.
From a quick straw poll of my friends and family we are not the only family with this set up but we are still in the minority.
Well done Gideon. You're really amazing, mate. If only all us men could be more like you, eh?
In all the couples I know, it is the man who is the highest wage earner.
So it makes financial sense for the woman to take all the maternity leave.
We need to sort out issues like the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling for women in many industries in order to make shared parental leave more popular.
When I go back to work, DH and I will split childcare/work 50/50. We are not wedded to traditional parenthood models long term.
There is no way I would share my precious, precious mat leave, which I have spent feeding and enjoying and snuggling with the babies I made with my own body. Totally irrational and retrograde, but I feel it very strongly.
Isabella, surely the best (only?) way to make the gender pay gap disappear is to move towards shared parenting first?
I don't think you can or should persuade them actually. The same as we shouldn't persuade a mother to extend or shorten maternity.
It should be individual to the parent.
I've had a male boss like this. I think there are more people out there doing more in this direction than we think.
However, it's fairly futile to talk only about people who can feasibly work at home. And even then, 'meetings about meetings' - if anyone's job is really like this, I haven't actually met them. I have to go to work and see my patients - can't do it from the shed. The difficult thing for me is that once you are in a work routine, work is predictably and day to day more interesting than being at home. The transcendent moments at home tend to be unpredictable, and are often rewards for spending unfocused time with your children. It can be an act of faith to give up precious hours of work time in the hope of those flashes of light.
IMO the things Gideon proposes go hand in hand with a feminist analysis. To change workplace culture is going to need more than having the stuff like shared mat leave available (though the fact it now IS an available option is fantastic). Until men start carrying, and are seen to carry, more childcare responsibilities the sooner we will come towards recognising the economic value of at-home childcare, and the more we will value (as a society) the work of nurseries and so on. Because one sex has shouldered it so long without complaining (much) means this has drifted under the table for far, far too long. The debate in recent times has revolved around what women can do (can she take off more mat leave, how will this affect her career etc). It's time to start sharing this out a bit more fairly.
I also hope this will encourage more women who earn less than hubby to take the plunge and share out the career cost of taking time out - after all, it should be shouldered by both parties and the benefits should be seen by both with a long term view.
Might be a bit tricky to establish/maintain breastfeeding if it's the father rather than the mother who stays at home during the first 3-6 months. Other than that, I think it's a great idea.
We do share childcare - each working 4 days per week. We also shared parental leave after the birth of DS2 - I had 9 months and my husband had the final 3. I think it's affected my husband's career more than mine as his work is very family friendly save for actual promotions for part-timers. But we'll both be working for a long time yet so there's plenty of time to think about that.
Any earlier to share parental leave would have been better in terms of money for us as my husband's company had longer paid leave, but harder as I was still breastfeeding. At 9 months I only pumped at work once per day. To be honest, that was a bit of a hassle as I work open-plan with glass meeting rooms so had to disappear in to the basement to the 'first-aid room' which one day was suddenly turned into the maintenance office and I was nearly walked in on by several maintenance guys!
When my ExH left me and our young children, I was amazed that he never after had to even see them, let alone do any childcare or parenting.
I think this is a step in the right directions for families. It may not be the choice for everyone but at least the choice exists.
My husband took the final four months of parental leave with DS (he went back to work when DS was 11 months).
He was the first person in his large, brand name company to do so, so it was a big deal for him. His HR department had to educate themselves and he had to educate them; it was a tough road for him but absolutely worth it.
He and I both feel he is a much, much better father for sharing the paternity leave. He understands the daily grind of staying home with a small child, and I think he understands our son better too. He definitely understands that for anyone, staying home with a child is not a soft or an easy option.
I was back at work when DS was 7 months and expressing at lunchtime in the first aid room (which also turned out to be used as the prayer room, cue some rather embarrassed and apologetic men coming in to pray).
He and I now work the same compressed hours, and his work absolutely accepts it as they would for a woman. He also has men from other departments referred to him to talk about how shared parental leavae worked for him so he's become a sort of ambassador for the policy. I think that sort of approach works really well to 'normalise' the issue in the workplace.
I think this is a critical issue in closing the gender pay gap and getting better progression of women into senior roles. Turning the 'mummy track' into a 'parent track' will help to level the playing field. This does mean women like me making the tough decision to share our 'maternity' leave with our partners for the overall benefit of our families and, to be frank, for other families. It was difficult as hell for me at the time, but in retrospect was absolutely worth it.
I feel this is the only way we will end the endless unsavoury comments from a small amount of mainly small business owners about how expensive it is to employ women because they have to pay for maternity leave. Now, even if only a small proportion of men take up the offer, the 'risk' is there for both men and women who are, after all, joint parents. Women don't in the main decide that they want to get pregnant by themselves, without any input from their male partner. So both should take responsibility. Employers will benefit from having women back in the workplace quicker, women will benefit because they will be able to work on a more equal footing to men, and men will benefit from having time out to care for their children.
I am the higher wage earner in my household, but still took the time off and went part time. DH continued to work full time, even though it would made more financial sense for it to be the other way round. Why?
Because when I had my DDs, I had the overwhelming desire to be with my babies. DH did not have that desire. He didn't want to have the time off, and tbh, I would have resented having to work whilst he was at home.
That said, my colleague now works full time, whilst her DH has gone part time (and does the childcare). It works for them.
However, for an awful lot of my friends, they had the stronger desire to be with their children so that's the way it works. It's not always about opportunity, I guess it is that maternal instinct.
It's not just about sharing maternity leave though, is it? It's about men being just as likely to need to leave at 5:15 on the dot to collect his kids in time, it's about men being just as likely to need to take day off for illness/sports day/nativity plays.
And those of you who say that you wouldn't want to give up your precious time with your babies - have you considered that some men may be bitterly jealous of that time the mother gets to spend with her baby, while it's their baby too and they are denied that - by their employer, by society, by their own partner. They are told from the day their partner announces that she's pregnant that they are the secondary, inferior parent whose needs are incidental to the main act. Have you even considered, let alone asked, if your partner, the child's other parent, would like to take some of that time to be with their child and forge a deep and lasting bond, instead of you selfishly hogging it all?
Sadly many men would say they don't want to take it, even if they do, because it's "not manly", their career might suffer and they have been conditioned from birth to be The Provider, not The Nurturer.
We have a chance to change these damaging stereotypes that so often leave men feeling excluded and useless when it comes to caring for their own children.
I will be returning to work at Easter when my baby is 6 months old and his father will be taking additional paternity leave for the remaining 6 months. I earn almost double what he does so it makes sense for us (although I am not looking forward to being away from my baby every day ). However, my partner works for a giant national company and no father from the company has taken additional paternity leave before. His HR department did not even know this was possible and had to search for information on the correct procedures.
Parents need to know what possibilities are available to them but employers also need to be aware of them. It has taken us 2 months to complete all the paperwork as no one at the company was sure how to manage additional paternity leave.
fish, we are doing the same as you.
I am the main earner, double dh, and so I pretty much have to go back to work. He has been sad that he works full time and, after commuting, doesn't get to spend much time with our son. I work closer to home, and not such regimented hours, so I realise that we are very fortunate.
I think his main concern is about having a job to go back to. His job is not his 'career', but it does help pay the bills! I know quite a few men who have stopped working because their wives are the main wage earner. It seems to work well for them, and perhaps this precedent amongst friends makes it easier for my husband too. I think the key thing is that he really wants to this - it's important to him. I know that he is looking forward to spending time with our child, who will be six months old and a bit less dependent on me. I am also really happy that they will get to develop their relationship, and we can hold off needing a nursery place.
Yes Annie, as a woman who selfishly hogged my mat leave, as you out it, if you read my post I said "he didn't want to have the time off".
Quite simply, even though it financially would make more sense for me to work ft and DH to work pt, I have the desire to want to work pt, to be there at school pick up, go to school assemblies, to do the extra curriculars, play dates etc after school. DH would rather have his eyes gouged out.
He loves his children, don't get me wrong. But I've just asked him what he thinks of that idea, and he says he wouldn't want to because in his words he'd "find it tedious and wouldn't want to take responsibility for these things".
I think it helps to have senior men do it - e.g. uptake of the two week statutory paternity leave is 100% in the company I work for, and though none of the men have yet taken additional parental leave, quite a few have negotiated a day working from home, etc. Mind you it's a small enough company that there have only been 3 women go on mat leave so far, so give it time.
I suspect in most companies it will take one man to be the first, then other men will suddenly realise "he can do that? I could do that!"
DP has been the first man ever (or so it seems from the reaction of his HR) to take emergency leave to look after DS when he was ill. Despite apparently having fallen through a timewarp from the 1950s, they were perfectly happy for him to go part-time because they want to keep him. I suspect many men are reluctant to be the first man to ask because they expect to be turned down.
Gosh Annie, not sure if you read my post either, but as soon as I go back to work care will be shared 50/50, with no outside childcare. We actually have a far more equitable model of parenting than anyone else I know. And yes, I'm content that DH wasn't miserably pining for my leave!
Fair enough if you've really, properly discussed it instead of a cursory, "I'd like to take the whole 12 months - you don't want to take any of it, do you?", then do what works best for your family.
However, I am always puzzled by people who come on these threads, happily declare "oh well, that's not what we want" without giving any thought to how it could benefit a lot of other families and society as a whole. Why dismiss something so important to so many other people just becase it's not something you personally want to do (and which no-one is trying to make you do)?
It's disappointing how many companies apparently aren't aware of/prepared for men to take paternity leave. I was aware of the poor take-up, but I thought it was more down to the presenteeism etc than simple ignorance of the new laws. In which I think a large-scale awareness campaign should be called for. As others have said, hopefully once a few men take it up, the entire concept should become more acceptable within the business community. This will be of fantastic benefit to men who want to spend more time with their children as well as every single woman of child-bearing age who, whether we like to admit it or not, is discriminated against when looking for a job because of the "risk" of her taking maternity leave.
This news article sounds interesting - www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26274518
Dh had 4 months off with dc1 as he quit his job. Now for dc2 he is again having to quit his job as Im going back after 2 weeks maternity, and the new rules dont come in until april 2015.
Join the discussion
Please login first.