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The reality of paternity leave – it just doesn’t add up

The papers are full of news that Prime Minister David Cameron will be taking the full two weeks of paternity leave that he is legally entitled to.

In doing this, he is still at the cutting edge of fatherhood.

In the course of having had two children, Mr Muddling has still not taken any paternity leave.  Even after Big was born, when he was nursing me around the clock at home, he cobbled together time away from work through working from home and the odd day of holiday.  After Little was born he was back in the office within a couple of days.

Does this mean he’s a bad father?   Didn’t he love our girls enough to be around during those first days?

In fact the opposite is true.

Not only does paternity leave not add up in financial terms with fathers receiving £124.88 per week (or 90% of their salary, whichever is the lower), an amount a long way below the minimum wage and certainly a long way from providing enough to cover most people’s mortgage payments.  But attitudes still have a long way to go before taking two weeks of extra ‘holiday’ away from the office are considered normal or acceptable.

In Mr Muddling’s case, after Big was born his colleagues suggested since he had nothing to do (assuming I was in hospital) he should pop into the office to attend a couple of meetings.  He was put in the difficult position of having to explain that not only were we not in hospital (gasp!) but that in fact he was having to nurse me at home…. I’m told the shocked silence went on for quite some time!

Colleagues seem more than wiling to see a picture of the new arrival but more reluctant to actually permit the father a meaningful amount of time at home to support his partner or to bond with his baby.

Its a shocking contrast with a colleague of mine who has just returned from 7 months of paternity leave.  He’s in Sweden and yes, he accepts that the high taxes are a downside but the seven months he has had at home he sees as an irreplaceable time to spend with his new child.  He also believes that the benefits of the relationship he has developed in those months are going to deliver dividends for the rest of his life – that in the context of the next twenty years of his career they are fleating, almost irrelevant.

I do wonder if the Scandinavian model of a more involved, more equal parenting model is in some part built off the incredibly close relationship that is built by having both parents involved together during the early days.

In this model, the father doesn’t return to the office just as the mother begins to need more support and family/ friends seem to disappear away having had their newborn cuddle.

It doesn’t leave new mothers isolated and fathers returning home at the end of a working day hoping to have ‘quality time’ only to be greeted by a cranky, colicky baby and a fraught mother.

It means that the father gets to see the hard work that goes into providing 24 hour care for a new born – there are no excuses for not sharing the burden of night wakings, nappy changes as well as being there to experience the joys of watching your child develop exponentially during those first 6 months – watching them go from a helpless baby to an interactive, opinionated little person.

Perhaps having a Prime Minister who is living the reality of having a new baby will focus his mind on what paternity leave needs to deliver in order to really support fathers and their families.  Hopefully.

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8 comments to The reality of paternity leave – it just doesn’t add up

  • Luschka @Diary of a First Child

    >Oh I wish there was hope of that, but I don't see it happening. We were exceptionally blessed that M was made redundant three weeks before K was born. He got an amazing payout considering he'd been there only 11 months, and was enough that neither of us had to work for two months after she was born. (I think they felt horribly guilty letting a new father go!)

    Having him at home all the time, now almost a year later, has it's ups and downs too, especially since he's not a very social person and work WAS his social, but I think it has been amazing. He freelances so he does work every day, but he's around and at least half the time CAN help out. I think it's made a massive difference.

    As for the Scandinavian countries – I have friends in Norway and apparently they get 12 months baby leave which can be split whichever way the parents decide, so they can each take six months, one month and 11 months, three months and nine months or whatever it is they choose.

    I think that makes so much more sense! Of course they do also get full pay throughout that.

  • RebaMc

    >It would be good if it did make a difference.

    My husband saved up 3 weeks holiday and took the 2 weeks pat leave (although we really couldn't afford for him to)… I don't think we would have got through those first few weeks with the twins without him! Which I think is another thing that needs to be taken into consideration… multiple births are even more financially crippling!

  • Mwa

    >My husband is home for six weeks just now, and I'm SO glad. I think paternity pay here is about 700 max a week, or 60% of salary, but I'm not sure. It's somewhere thereabouts. I'm not sure if it's completely accepted yet, but I'm sure happy to be benefiting from it.

  • Bumbling

    >I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily enough, but my hubs took 2 weeks paternity pay on full salary (my employer ups the statutory min), and because it was near Christmas, he had a couple of days in the office then managed to run it in to holiday time at Christmas.

    I do quite like the idea of being able to split "parental leave" and that was certainly a proposal that was on the table here too – I don't know what the position is with the new gov?

    I'm not sure both parents having extended periods off is financially viable – not just from the perspective of higher taxes, but also the cost to small businesses etc having to keep jobs open. And I'm not sure I could have handled my OH at home for that long! Not only that, but gaps in working do impact on careers, no matter what we might hope – not sure how many men would opt for that.

  • TheMadHouse

    >MadDad took unpaid leave when Maxi was born as he too was looking after me and him and the same when Mini was born. Paternity pay just isnt enough. Fathers are just as important to a child as a mother – I could go on a nd on, but feel a post coming!

  • cartside

    >Oh I'm so lucky that hubby is a student. With Cubling, he was in the writing up stage of his MSc. Now he's just before the writing up stage of his PhD, so he can work from home flexibly. It does mean that he works lots of nights BUT he's here, and it's so reassuring that if I'm struggling, he's here to help.
    It was so important with colicky Cubling, I couldn't have coped without him home I think. The backside was that I felt I had to get out of the house a lot to give him some quiet for his work – but that was a good thing too as I took advantage of all kinds of baby classes and made some new friends.

    In Germany, if the father takes at least 3 months of parent time (which is parental leave on 60% of income), the total leave entitlement between parents goes up to 1 year 3 months – the full period can be shared in any possible way, as long as the father will take 3 months at some stage in the first year, otherwise it's a year. Because the pay is decent, many dad's take it and are much more involved in raising their kids, I think it's a great model and one that should be taken up everywhere, as it benefits everyone, baby, mum and dad.

  • Kelly

    >I was so looking forward to Mr C's paternity leave and having two weeks with our new baby. Unfortunately as I was two weeks overdue and went into hospital to be induced he had to start his leave and we didn't leave the hospital with Piran until the Thursday of the second week. So we had the Friday and the weekend and then on the Monday I was home with my baby alone. That was a shock!

    If we have another baby I think we will try and arrange it better so that we can have the full two weeks together.


    >Paternity Leave is a complete joke. My partner got the two weeks as holiday pay. He had to leave his job to get it. I know that it's a legal entitlement but anyone know is married/related to a professional chef will know that different laws and rules apply in the kitchen. They just do what the damn well want and the chefs lie back and take it. You don't get it anywhere else.
    Fortunately DS was our first born and when he left he still had a months holiday pay and a the previous months wage to take, so we were covered. There is absolutely no way that we would have been able to feed ourselves if we had just received the £120 entitlement.

    It's definitely not fair but I guess those at the top aren't aware of financial strain!


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