MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 17-Jun-14 15:59:44

Guest post: 'Doubling paternity leave won't work - unless we change society's perception of stay-at-home dads'

On Sunday, the IPPR recommended that statutory paternity leave should be twice as long and paid at almost twice the present rate, to encourage more men to take it up when their children are born. Here, MN blogger Man Vs. Pink argues that, whilst the changes would be welcome, more needs to be done to tackle out-dated stereotypes about which parent should be the primary carer.

Simon Ragoonanan

Man vs. Pink

Posted on: Tue 17-Jun-14 15:59:44

(34 comments )

Lead photo

'Paternity leave should be seen as an expectation'

From my own experience, I believe that fathers being able to spend more time with their partner and child following birth can only be positive thing.

I was lucky enough to have the first five weeks of my daughter's life at home. We all know that when a new baby arrives, it's all hands on deck and the parenting unit whirs into action. I remember filling every waking moment with the multitude of new (and already existing) tasks we needed to get done, from feeding, sterilising, and dealing with the after effects of leaky nappies, to the usual cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping – anything I could do to take pressure off my wife.

Although my eventual return to the workplace was still challenging, it did feel like we'd had enough time to get into the groove of our new roles, and for my wife to recover somewhat from the strain of giving birth. But I also found it to be an irreplaceable time of bonding with our daughter – and this has continued since we swapped home and work roles, and I became an at-home parent.

I feel sorry for fathers who don't experience more than two weeks at home with their new family – and I believe many men feel short-changed by how minimal an amount of time it is. There's plenty written about how difficult mothers find it when their partners return to work, but little about the emotional stress it puts on fathers, who have to leave their new family unit all too soon for life back at work. I know I would have found it difficult given the unexpected depth of emotion that came with becoming a parent.

Men need to lean in too – for their rights as working parents. They need to demand equal parental leave, pay, and flexibility with the same confidence and tenacity that they put to use when negotiating salaries and career advancement.


An increase in statutory pay would allow parents to feel more comfortable about an inevitable drop in income over the first month – an important factor when there's an additional mouth to feed. It would also help to reinforce paternity leave as an expectation rather than an exception, and the idea of a father as an at-home parent as the norm.

The current parental leave gender imbalance doesn't just potentially create distance between father and child in the early months – it also disproportionately affects the career prospects of all women. A bias against employing women in their thirties because of a fear that they will take maternity leave would be greatly reduced – or even disappear entirely – if there was an expectation that men would share this leave with their partners.

When mothers return to the workplace, it's still widely assumed that only they require flexible working conditions – not fathers. This serves to reinforce the outdated perception that parenting is ‘women's work’. Not only does it give women the anxiety of being perceived as a ‘hassle’ by their employer if they want to work flexibly, but it also discourages fathers from asking for the same allowances.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about the need for women to 'lean in' at work, suggesting that they should be bolder about negotiating pay and promotion. But I think men need to lean in too – for their rights as working parents. They need to demand equal parental leave, pay, and flexibility with the same confidence and tenacity that they put to use when negotiating salaries and career advancement.

I'm sure many employers still see parenthood as a drain on their resources, or a disruption to their productivity – but this means they are excluding talented, qualified, ambitious people from the workplace simply because they're women. And on the flip-side, why are we discouraging at-home parenting as a viable option for fathers, who may thrive in this role?

I believe anything that encourages fathers to be more involved parents will yield a great many benefits: to themselves, to mothers, to employers, and, of course, to their children. But whilst the IPPR's recommendations sound wonderful, they would be a small step. What we need is a progressive attitude from employers - we need to understand that, in the modern world, being a parent is both mum’s and dad’s role.

By Simon Ragoonanan

Twitter: @ManVsPink

melissa83 Tue 17-Jun-14 17:33:40

I think men in rl are desperate for things like this. Unfortunately all the men in charge are old school and dont get involved whereas majority of the young dads do. Older men dont usually understand and I dont think things will properly change until they retire

gamescompendium Tue 17-Jun-14 18:08:49

DH and I both work part time. We have been very fortunate with his employer who has allowed him to go back full time while I have been on subsequent maternity leaves. I think this flexibility is crucial to allow fathers to work part time. If employers can refuse to reconsider flexible working (or threaten you with not putting you back to your reduced hours) then the easier option for a family is to let one parent (always the mother) take the hit.

Agree that older men are dinosaurs about this but I think some younger men do use it as an excuse to not step up to the mark. There's a young man at work whose DW is expecting, he seems to think his life will carry on as normal after the baby arrives. He's not considering taking 6 months paternity leave or working part time despite our employer having a good track record with flexible working.

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Tue 17-Jun-14 18:16:57

Chicken and egg. When more men do it, it will be held in higher esteem. When it is held in higher esteem, more men will do it.

melissa83 Tue 17-Jun-14 18:21:40

All the men in their 20s I know want it off. DH cant get it off so hes quitting his job so he can go off. He had 3 months off with dc1. They are bringing new rules in but too late for us. A few of dhs friends have quit to go off work.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 17-Jun-14 19:23:56

My dh was allowed the day off when I gave birth, no paternity leave at all.
He did what he could in between working but was soon drained as I was, with no family to help it was a huge struggle in the early days and sort of spoilt the time we had together as it was such a rushed blur.
It is certainly much better now that men are given time off work and maternity leave has doubled to what it was.
It may not be enough for young people now but the present situation would have been heaven for my generation.
So when some women complain about their dh not stepping up to the mark that is a personal thing, not a society or gov policy problem.
Yes, many older men would find it difficult to take time off because it just didn't used to be the done thing.

melissa83 Tue 17-Jun-14 21:01:13

Im glad its becoming the done thing. I have 0% desire to do all the maternity leaves and am more than happy for dh to be doing as he has been. I prefer balancing it with my working life and now this is finally an option for women

thegambler Tue 17-Jun-14 21:08:18

Scrap post birth maternity leave and paternity leave, bring in post birth parental leave which can be taken or divided between both parents. Not only can it get some of us Dads more involved but employers will be less likely to be wary of employing women in case they need lots of maternal leave as the man will be just as likely to take that time off.

SoonToBeSix Tue 17-Jun-14 23:08:38

I have just had twins my dh took parental leave on top if paternity. You can have four weeks per child. I don't understand why mist people don't take it.

SoonToBeSix Tue 17-Jun-14 23:08:50

Most men

RedToothBrush Tue 17-Jun-14 23:31:50

I'd love DH to take more time off. He would like to take more time off.

However we have a mortgage to pay, and frankly the statutory pay is laughable. Realistically, even if they increased it, its not going to be enough.

He gets a week full pay from work, then he will work from home as much as he can for the next couple of weeks, but will have to go into work most days for a couple of hours.

I don't know why the focus is on statutory pay. The real thing is doing more to encourage companies to offer longer on full pay and to highlight the benefits of doing this to employers. Thats the cultural change that needs to happen more than any other.

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 18-Jun-14 00:25:27

A company can postpone parental leave for business reasons and it is unpaid.

That's why "most men" may think hard about taking it.

SoonToBeSix Wed 18-Jun-14 00:58:09

No bill they can't postpone it immediately after the birth of a child that is the only time they can't postpone it. Yes it can be unpaid but you can claim income support instead.

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 18-Jun-14 01:01:19

Really? Ok. Are they obliged to Allow four weeks at once?

SoonToBeSix Wed 18-Jun-14 01:28:07

Am 99 percent sure they are entitled to the four weeks at once. The only information I can find is you have to take a minimum of a week unless your dc has a disability. My dh took 16 weeks parental leave. (we have 5 dc who are eligible for parental leave) .

Bonsoir Wed 18-Jun-14 09:27:45

I'm not at all convinced that all new mothers want their partners to be on parental leave right after the birth and all new fathers either want leave or wish to take time off work. There are plenty of other ways to provide support to women with new babies than paternity leave.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 18-Jun-14 11:19:18

Bonsoir, I totally agree with your point.
Most women if not all the ones I know either went back to work after a short maternity leave or became sahms they didn't expect or want their oh to have time off, the bills need to be paid.
To me it was important to establish a routine and I couldn't do that with dh under my feet. When he was able he'd come home and take over which was a huge benefit as you really did get a break then.
I think couples are extremely lucky when it comes to parental leave and have far more options now than in the past.

Lottapianos Wed 18-Jun-14 13:37:49

'To me it was important to establish a routine and I couldn't do that with dh under my feet.'

Why not? Isn't establishing a routine something you would decide on and do together, both being parents of the same baby? How was he 'under your feet'?

I completely agree with this article that there should be an expectation that fathers take paternity leave. We need fathers to be seen as equal parents, not a spare part who 'helps out' when he feels like it. Breastfeeding excepted, there is no reason why a father can't do all or most of the childcare, even in the very early days.

BillnTeds chicken and egg point up thread is a really good one.

Miggsie Wed 18-Jun-14 15:24:24

DH saved up his entire leave for one year so he could take 6 weeks off after DD was born - and his mum came down to help.

Just as well, as I was virtually bed ridden and couldn't pick DD up.

DH cooked all the meals, cleaned the house, did the shopping and bathed and changed DD. I could never have coped without him. I managed to feed DD but was in bed for 3 weeks.

All through DD's childhood DH did the bath times - I couldn't physically do it.

I am stunned that people think a father is a bit of a nuisance - do you really think it's about you?

Miggsie Wed 18-Jun-14 15:25:39

And DH valued the experience because he says his baby was born - but she was a stranger, he had to get to know her, and this time at home looking after her helped him get to know her.

SoonToBeSix Wed 18-Jun-14 15:28:56

More than your your post was quite patronising to your dh.

Bonsoir Wed 18-Jun-14 15:50:39

The routine a baby gets into is not a routine that exists in isolation of the people around him/her and it will be difference according to whether there is just one parent or both parents around all the time - or, indeed, whether there is a nanny or the baby goes to nursery.

RedToothBrush Wed 18-Jun-14 15:52:25

Bonsoir Wed 18-Jun-14 09:27:45
I'm not at all convinced that all new mothers want their partners to be on parental leave right after the birth and all new fathers either want leave or wish to take time off work.

There is an element of this with DH's situation. As he holds a position of responsibility, he struggles every time he takes any time off (he usually ends up sorting out some emergency whilst on holiday, even if its minor). He doesn't like doing it, but the problem is, if he just leaves it, then he comes back to a huge mess and a lot of stress. Which is exactly what he doesn't want, when he then has to come home to a new baby too.

Therefore, aside for the financial problems we'd face, being out of the office for 4 weeks simply isn't an option for him as there is no one to cover properly. His boss can cover certain things, but not a full month's worth of work and the more junior members of staff in his team are not experienced enough to cover either. Its just not realistic for him to have so much time off in one chunk. Its not something you can just hire someone from an agency for a couple of weeks for either.

Extended leave for a few months, in someways is a better option for staff and employers - whether for male or female employers for this reason. It makes it viable to train someone to temporary cover a job for a number of months. But even then, this is pretty useless/difficult for many people who are self employed.

I find it hard to take all this stuff about cultural changes needed, when there seems to be very little about the reality of the situation and the practicalities it involves for many.

DH would love to be able to take 4 weeks off, like his brother, a doctor in the NHS, did. But he just can't. I would love him to, but I understand that he has to balance the responsibilities he has for his own sanity.

Bonsoir Wed 18-Jun-14 15:57:06

Yes, your example is typical of many families, RedToothBrush. The option isn't realistic and never will be.

At my DD's primary school a teacher took paternity leave for 6 weeks (in France) in the middle of the school year. It was frankly very disruptive for the DC! Better a teacher who takes a whole six months' or a year's worth of maternity leave with a proper replacement.

RedToothBrush Wed 18-Jun-14 16:18:41

It just frustrates me when people say its about cultural perceptions of stay at homes dads. To me to bollocks in a lot of cases and that should be recognised instead of coming out with stuff that I think is actually quite insulting to a lot of fathers, and suggests that they look down on paternity leave with a certain bad and sexist attitude when simply isn't true.

Ironically DH has actually said that the attitude of the place he works would actually be very negative to him if didn't take any time off! Its not like he's unsupported, and discouraged from taking leave. They are actually fantastic and allow him to attend midwife and hospital appointments with me without question by allowing him to do it through flexitime (which isn't a standard where he works) and are supporting him work from home after the baby is born instead.

Maybe there are ways like this, that employers can encourage ways to support fathers in other ways instead of simple straightforward paternity leave. I think encouraging much more flexible working across the board is where efforts would be better off being focused, and thats where the cultural shift needs to lie.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now