November 4, 2020
"My company pays paternity leave in full for 2 weeks and I am happy about it. It would have been great if paternity leave could have been extended and paid for further 2 weeks even if I have to sacrifice half my salary."
Parental leave policies are often rightfully criticised for not helping with the mother-father equilibrium in new families. As family dynamics suffer from a general lack of support for new parents, this poses a question on equality on both fronts - how can dads share parental responsibilities on equal terms with their partners when society still forces us into outdated models of mothers looking after kids and fathers bringing home the bacon?
While there have been considerable changes in the way parents are supported in raising their children (google Scandinavian parental leave), places like the UK and US are lagging behind tremendously.
Start with the US where both maternal and paternal leave are worse than your average dad joke. Mothers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from birth under the Family and Medical Leave Act- yes, UNPAID. Fathers can in theory take it too but then you'd have a household with no earnings whatsoever. Even so, conditions apply and this makes over 40% of Americans ineligible. There is no national paid leave policy (though a few states have worked out their own) so the system relies on private policies offered by employers which can vary drastically from billion dollar companies with cash to spend on employee packages to cash-tight small businesses barely surviving as it is. While the tech giants of Silicon Valley built their policies with both parents in mind and support paid shared parental leave, many others completely leave out the fathers and don’t make it easy for them to spend time with their new arrivals, nor allow them to help their partners in recovering after birth.
In Europe, a lot of countries are well-known for their focus on family wellbeing, but if you’re a father in the UK there isn’t much help for you. To put this into context, we started the new millennium without any paternity policy in the UK and it wasn’t until 2003 that paid statutory paternity leave was introduced. That is, a statutory paternity pay of £151.20, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for up to 2 consecutive weeks after your child is born (or adopted) - take it or leave it.
Would you like to accompany your partner to antenatal appointments? Go for it, but it’s unpaid leave. Not to mention it was only introduced in 2014, allowing fathers to attend 2 antenatal appointments, if you need more then use your holiday. Just like in the US, UK fathers are at the mercy of employer policies. Big corporations tend to offer more support, while small companies or self-employed fathers get very little, if any help. Yes, it’s zero help for the self-employed because those dads already enjoy ‘flexibility’. And don’t you just love it when flexibility puts a roof over your head and feeds your family? 😡
Then there’s SPL, or shared parental leave, introduced in April 2015 to help fathers take more time off and bond with their new arrivals. The scheme allows parents to split 50 weeks between them (after the mother takes 2 week of maternity leave straight after birth) and earn £151.20 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower), basically the same as paternity leave but extended to cover a longer period of time (37 paid, 13 unpaid weeks). The eligibility criteria is convoluted and applies differently to adoptive parents. No wonder official figures show that only 2% of new parents opt for this scheme and less than a third of fathers take any form of paternity leave.
This is probably why you keep hearing that babies are expensive - it’s not so much what you spend on them (because you can be frugal and spend very little, like my partner and I did), it’s more to do with how much income you lose for taking time off to be with your baby.
So what’s the best decision? Lose some money but do what’s right for your family and fight for equality? Keep ploughing through and make up for lost time at the weekend? It’s a hard call. Sooner or later you’re going to burn out. Your partner will inevitably feel the stress of managing everything on her own while you keep your day to day job. In fact, you will both be doing a set of full time jobs, with an additional job in the evening, at night and at the weekend. Because parenting is a 24/7 type of job, on top of whatever you do to earn your living.
While we don't hold the right answers, we invited fathers in our Hapi community to share some tips based on their own experience.
"From a work perspective, [paternity leave] it's too quick and the return to work can be stressful. Your new life and routine are often not considered".
Based on the survey we recently conducted 45% of fathers would advise new dads to take longer unpaid leave if they can make ends meet, even if this meant they wouldn’t save any money during that time. A whopping 77% of fathers also agreed that men could be more vocal with their employer about paternity leave.
I’d say, think about awareness and start by talking about this topic both within your work circle and amongst your friends. The sooner fathers, or men in general standardise the topic, the harder it will be for society to ignore the need to revisit outdated policies. As a mother myself, I fully support fathers fighting for equality when it comes to parental leave because I know it would be beneficial to the entire family unit. Chances are if you speak up, you’ll have a lot of women, not just mothers, on your side.
Final tip - if you’re employed, maybe email your HR and ask them what their policy is even if you don’t have or expect children. Or even better, ask this at the next all-hands meeting. It might give society the wake up call it desperately needs.
PS: I was going to link a current petition here and ask you to sign it but I was unpleasantly surprised with the lack of engagement around parental leave equality. Google ‘paternity leave petition uk’ and you’ll see what I mean. Best performing one is now at 639 signatures. There are over 20 million adult men in the UK.
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