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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


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

minipie Thu 19-Jun-14 11:16:57

When we have DC2 I would ideally like to go back to work at 9 months and DH to do the remaining 3 months as additional paternity leave. Financially we'd be fine.

However DH's view - which I reluctantly accept is probably correct - is that this would completely destroy any chances of promotion for him. He works in a very old school, male dominated, long hours culture sector and 3 months' paternity leave would be seen as a clear indication of having no ambition.

I agree it's chicken and egg. Once more men do it, it will become more acceptable and less damaging to careers. But someone has to go first and risk their career in doing so.

SoonToBeSix Thu 19-Jun-14 11:03:22

We were lucky as my dh was paid his full wages for his paternity leave. However surely over a nine month period you can save the difference between statutory paternity pay and full wages.

MsBug Thu 19-Jun-14 10:58:32

I think increased paternity leave would be great. DP and I planned to share our 'maternity' leave although in the end he only took a month as DD still breastfed several times in the day until she was a year old. I also suspect there was pressure from his employer not to take any longer.

It would have been great for him to have more time off immediately after the birth. He got his two weeks but I was in hospital for most of that, so it didn't feel like we got much time at home as a family before he had to go back to work.

Now we share childcare and both work four days a week. His employer was surprised when he asked for flexible working whereas mine was surprised that I 'only' wanted to drop one day. However, they have both got used to the idea! The point made earlier in this thread about needing the father to be able to increase his hours again if another baby comes along is a really good one. If and when we have a second child I hope to breastfeed them until they are ready to stop, and that will probably mean me taking the bulk of the time off work again. Therefore we would need DP to be working full time in order to pay the bills. Luckily DP's work told him that they will be happy for him to do this (although they would be in their rights to change their mind).

bronya Thu 19-Jun-14 07:26:42

It would have to be more money. My DH took 'paternity leave' with DS which was in fact two weeks of his annual leave, which his boss allowed him to start whenever I went into labour. That way he actually got proper pay for those two weeks. We have planned the same this time.

cheminotte Thu 19-Jun-14 07:16:27

I think making statutory paternity leave on full pay would be a good start (the 2 weeks). DP's work paid this and it really makes taking it a no-brainer. Attitudes as to whether it is taken or not do seem to vary between industries / companies.

melissa83 Wed 18-Jun-14 20:57:39

Just because you feel like that crazycatwoman doesnt mean eveyone does. I have done two 2 week maternitys twice and bfed but dh took over the childcare. I really welcome the new rules coming in for dads in april and will be helpful for us in a couple of years when we try for our 4th

deepbluetr Wed 18-Jun-14 20:51:30

My Oh took one day off with each of our children- the actual day of the birth. Any more and he would have been sacked.
His employer doesn't "do" parternity leave.

scottishmummy Wed 18-Jun-14 20:43:46

I really don't care for the patronising tone of you feeling sorry For dads whose pat leave doesn't exceed two've essentially taken the same stick used to beat working mums.and you've applied it to one needs your sympathy,its misplaced and pompous. Whether or not a man takes 2week or prolonged time doesn't render him better dad. I used my energies,negotiation skills to make sure my ft return to work was smooth.neither myself or dp want to be at home ft with the kids.

Being a parent is both parents role,yes.and can be undertaken by two ft workers

Your post is v biddulph oliver james.whiny middle class malaise

CrotchMaven Wed 18-Jun-14 20:33:19

The majority of fathers won't take advantage of paternty leave or flexible working if they have someone else in the family willing to take the hit on their career. They aren't mugs.

Isn't it 1% of fathers who have taken up the new paternity leave, or did I misread that statistic in passing?

crazycatwoman Wed 18-Jun-14 20:26:12

What frustrates me about this is that yes it would be lovely for DH to be able to spend more time off with baby but the shared leave thing just doesn't work for me - I wasn't ready to go back to work, even by 9 months, physically or emotionally. By 12 months I was. This wouldn't have been any different if I had known that DH was at home with baby, I was breastfeeding still and enjoyed my time off with baby. We are hoping to do exactly the same with baby number 2, even though finances will be really really tight. The debate about maternity/paternity leave needs to look at what families actually need, rather than theoretical ideals, although a one size fits all is always not going to work for some.

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.

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 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 15:50:39

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.

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

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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) .

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

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

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 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.

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.

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