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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 18-Feb-14 10:43:15

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.

Gideon Burrows

Author, Men Can Do it! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare

Posted on: Tue 18-Feb-14 10:43:15

(27 comments )

Lead photo

Shared parental leave: how can we get dads to take advantage of it?

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

Twitter: @GideonBurrows

georgesdino - as far as I know there is already an entitlement for men to take 26 weeks paternity leave as long as the mother has returned to work. We've got men at work taking 6 months paternity leave.

According to the government website, your partner is entitled to leave as long as he meets certain requirements.

georgesdino Thu 27-Feb-14 20:10:40

Nope you cant get it until babys 20 weeks its a complete waste of time at mo. V annoying but this baby was a surprise. Dh will lose his supervisory role though and doubt he will get one back in this current market so big sacrifice this time for him.

georgesdino Thu 27-Feb-14 20:30:13

At the momrnt its pointless because hardly any women take up to age 1! They are all back with their kids in childcare at about 7 months or so.

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