I think the introduction of shared parental leave is a great thing. I’ll be honest, I don’t think it will lead to a revolution in childcare, but it is an enormous step in the correct direction.
I’m not convinced it will lead to a huge increase in stay at home fathers. It will, however, give men a greater opportunity to get involved with their children in the early days and, crucially, it will give families flexibility to decide how to organise childcare following the arrival of a new born.
In case you haven’t guessed it, I am leading up to a massive “but”. We’ll deal with that in a moment.
First of all, for those unaware the present maternity and paternity leave systems will be consigned to history as of April 2015. In its place a system of shared parental leave will be introduced. Women will have a mandatory period of two weeks maternity leave. After this mother and father will be able to share fifty weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay (men will still have the right to two week’s paternity leave so long as it is taken within 56 days of the birth).
In theory, mum could hand the reigns over to dad and return to work after her two week spell of maternity leave ends. Alternatively the couple could decide to spend three months at home together and dad then return to work or whatever suits them best.
Are mums winners or losers?
With April fast approaching, I’ve seen increased discussion and debate about shared parental leave. I have to say I have seen some very compelling arguments coming from the pro-breast feeding lobby. The consensus seems to be that women are essentially losing the right to a guaranteed and protracted period of maternity leave.
I don’t agree with this argument, as I think women are gaining something much more valuable (ie the ability to share the burden of childcare). That said, I sympathise with the argument. You can hardly blame the pro-breastfeeding lobby for expressing concern about this aspect of shared parental leave.
This, however, is where we build up to the massive “but” I was talking about. Women are losing the right to a protracted period of maternity leave. Although men will still have the right to two weeks of paternity leave, there are no safeguards in place to stop a woman from taking all the shared parental leave herself. Mum cannot be forced to share the leave if she doesn’t want (in the spirit of fairness, dad could also refuse to share the leave if he were the main carer).
Let’s not be dramatic. I think the majority of women will be doing cartwheels at the thought of dad at least taking a month or two off following the birth of a child. Speaking from personal experience, this is something any woman who has had a hard or surgical birth will particularly appreciate.
Some mums will refuse to share
Even so, there is likely to be a small population of women who will refuse to share the parental leave. Maybe the relationship will have broken down, maybe there is a question over paternity or maybe the mum just has no confidence in the father (which can happen for a variety of both genuine and nefarious reasons). There may be instances where interfering and overbearing relatives from the extended family tell the father he is not needed or welcome.
I certainly don’t mean to point the finger at women. Men can be controlling or have no confidence in their partners. If a man happened to be the main carer, there’s every chance he may also refuse to share the leave. The reality, however, is that mum is generally in the more powerful position in the early days and so if anyone is going to be frozen out of the family, it is more likely to be dad.
In other nations where shared parental leave is in force, a “use it or lose it” clause has been inserted into the rules. In other words a man must use some of his shared parental leave within a set time frame or else he will loose the right to it altogether. In most cases this was done because men didn’t take up their leave because they had fears their employer may disapprove if he took a lengthy break to be with the children.
Dads need to fight for a better deal
No such clause exists in the UK’s rules. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has already said such a move may need to be considered.
If implemented, this may deal with two issues in one go. Firstly, it would put employers in the position where they had to accept that men are likely to take some time off following the birth of a child. Secondly, it would put men and women on a more equal footing and make it more difficult for either party to refuse to share the parental leave.
I believe the next battle we will need to fight is to get a “use it or lose” it clause into the shared parental leave rules. This, I’m afraid, is a battle that us guys will need to fight.
Before signing off, let me repeat what I said at the start; I think shared parental leave is a great thing. It’s a major step in the right direction. To use a cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day and over the waters in the Republic of Ireland men still only get two weeks of unpaid paternity leave. This shows how far the UK has travelled compared to some nearby neighbours. I simply think we need to accept the new rules, great though they are, will need revising to bring about even greater parity.
John Adams is a married stay at home dad with two young daughters. He was previously a journalist and PR / communications professional but gave this up in 2010 to be a homemaker and look after the children.
In 2012 he launched a parenting blog focused on his experiences as a “man that holds the babies” called Dadbloguk.com and he now writes for a variety of different publications in addition to his own blog and writes regular articles for insideMAN.
In the run up to launch of the film Down Dog on 14 February, insideMAN is running a series of articles about fatherhood and we’d love you to get involved. You can join the conversation on twitter by using the hashtag #MenBehavingDADly; leave a comment in the section below or email us with your thoughts and ideas for articles to insideMANeditor@gmail.com.
For more information about the film see www.downdogfilm.com