You have no idea how happy this makes me. Driving to work this morning, freezing cold, heating on, sun visor down, slowly creeping towards my destination in the usual traffic, I heard over the radio that a group of MPs are recommending paternity leave be increased to 12 weeks.
*Waves hands in celebration*
The Women and Equalities Select Committee has put forward recommendations to radically transform paternity leave in the UK. They include ringfencing 12 weeks of paid leave, up from the current two, and forcing employers to offer flexible working patterns like part-time or unusual hours – all with the aim of encouraging more fathers to take time off work in the precious early weeks of their child’s lives.
The committee says parental leave and the gender pay gap are heavily linked, suggesting that more Dads taking time off will lead to better pay equality for women. It’s a method adopted by Sweden. Bless those glorious Scandanavians and their superior quality of life!
There is already Shared Parental Leave in the UK, brought into a few years ago, allowing parents to share or split the 52 weeks of leave allowed to mothers. But the uptake is just 2%. And I’m not surprised. I wanted to use Shared Parental Leave, but Emma didn’t want to sacrifice her own leave, which I completely understand. And I can imagine the majority of other mums having the same outlook on it.
From what I can gather, there is a big calling for more time off from dads but they feel like they can’t do it, even with Shared Parental Leave. They’re seen to be not committed to the job if they request time more time off and its culturally seen as a bit weird, even in 2018 – a man wanting to stay at home with his child! SHOCK HORROR!
If these recommendations become law, both parents will be able to spend real, quality time with their newborn without suffering financially – the committee is recommending new fathers receive 90% of their total pay for the duration for the 12 week period. I was lucky to have so much time off with Emma and Raife at the start. I had my two weeks paternity leave, went back to work for three weeks, then had two weeks annual leave and the week of Christmas where we don’t need to be in the office. I had five of Raife’s first eight weeks at home with him. A combination of an understanding employer and having just two weeks off in 11 months allowed me that time. But so many dads aren’t able to do that. And I might not be so lucky with our second baby.
I’m far from the first to experience it, but returning to work after just two weeks is gut-wrenching. I really struggled emotionally the first week back. Raife wouldn’t settle with me at all when I got home. I would be away for 10 hours, including commute, I’d come home and Raife would just cry when I held him. It feels horrible. If you’re first-time parents, it’s not as though mum will have everything figured out by the time those two weeks are up. It’s a difficult, nerve-wracking time for mums. All of a sudden they have to look after this tiny, brand new human all on their own for 8-10 hours of the day.
The issue with Shared Parental Leave is that it’s optional. It’s there if parents want it, importantly, if both parents want it. I really believe a “use it or lose it” approach will work. Crucially, ringfencing the leave will help to change the cultural perception, making new dads feel more comfortable taking longer leave.
I’m well aware that my experience with time off when Raife was born is not the norm. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent so much time with him in the first two months or so. I’m really passionate about more dads getting
the same a longer and better experience than I had. Fingers crossed these measures are taken on board and implemented quickly.