Flexible working. Feminism. Fun.

Want to make things better for mothers? Sort out paternity leave.

Want to make things better for mothers? Sort out paternity leave.

I can’t stop going on about how we need to improve things for working mothers. I go on Twitter planning to share some witty observation about the Dawson’s Creek 20 year reunion or something, and I find myself retweeting articles about the gender pay gap.

Whenever I tell myself that my followers are probably getting tired of all my armchair activism, I read stats like these and get going all over again:

Almost 90% of fathers with young children work full time.

Only 25% of mothers do.

Fewer than 7% of fathers with young children work part-time.

Over 38% of mothers do.

That’s…well, pretty fucked up.

Percentage of parents with a youngest child aged 3 or 4 who work full time and part time

I was wondering how many of those 38% of women who work part-time (like me) are doing it by choice rather than circumstance (childcare costs, societal expectations), and then it occurred to me: should I be asking the same question about men? How many of those full-time fathers are doing it by choice? If taking time off to raise children was more financially viable and socially acceptable, would more men do it?

“Parental leave and the gender pay gap are closely linked,” said Maria Miller, the chair of a committee of MPs that is recommending that fathers get the option of 12 weeks’ paid, ‘use it or lose it’ paternity leave. “Until we get it right for dads we can’t get it right for mums.”

Surveys done by the committee show that many men feel financially, professionally and culturally unable to take time off or reduce their hours during their children’s early years.

The standard rate of shared parental pay – £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower – is rightfully off-putting for most men. A 2017 survey found that 95% of employers offered enhanced maternity pay above statutory rate, but only 4.4% offered enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks. Dads are kind of getting jacked here.

Employers also may not take request for flexible work from fathers as seriously. Because of that, men fear that taking time out or reducing their hours to spend time with their children would negatively impact their careers. And they’re right to worry. After all, that’s what happens to women.

The committee is recommending that the UK follow the Swedish example of ringfencing paternity leave, which couples then lose if the father doesn’t take it. They also recommended that paternity pay should be set at 90% of the father’s pay, and capped for higher earners.

I know mothers are reading this and saying, “I want maternity pay set at 90% of my wage!” And yeah, obviously. That should be standard for everyone.

I also know some mums are saying, “I don’t want the government taking away my maternity leave!” And I hear you, ladies – but you can still take a big ol’ chunk of leave yourself. Even in liberal, daddy-loving Sweden, women still take around 75% of all parental leave. But that’s down from 99.5% in 1974 when shared leave was introduced.

Introducing ‘daddy months’ in the UK would give fathers time to bond with their child and help emphasize the fact that mums and dads equals in this whole parenting thing. It’s a step towards reducing that 138% difference between the number of mothers who work part time and the number of dads who do. And, most importantly, it’s a step towards changing attitudes.

In Sweden, it’s normal to see ‘latte papas’ gathering in coffee shops, wearing Baby Bjorns and swapping stories about weaning techniques and poonamies. No one asks them if they’re babysitting or congratulates them on managing a baby on their own. It’s just a thing.

I hope that it’s Britain’s thing someday, too.

Want to make things better for mothers? Sort out paternity leave

3 Little Buttons
Bringing up Georgia

12 thoughts on “Want to make things better for mothers? Sort out paternity leave.”

  • I love your blog, I’m such a working mom activist too. I’ve been treated very badly in the workplace (maternity discrimination, lies about breastfeeding risk assessment, no care during miscarriage) to the point that I quit and I’m now self employed.

    But… I’m shocked to read this because it’s the first time I’ve disagreed with you! Haha!

    I’m actually kind of against shared parental leave because it’s the one ‘right’ women have in the workplace over men, the one thing they have that goes in their favour in tribunals, disciplinaries etc and now it’s like ohh women can’t have that if men can’t! Give us a flipping break, it’s our time. But more importantly than that – what about the baby?

    Infants need a strong bond, security and routine with their mother and swapping and changing, daddy months and mommy months, I personally feel would only benefit the parents and do very little for the baby! I know people say they bond with the dad too but it’s not how it works, for a baby to bond with anyone else it needs to form a secure bond with its mother first!

    • You’re right that parental rights is one of the few places where women have an advantage over men. I still feel like shared parental leave is a good idea, though – I think it’s the only way that we can ever make a cultural shift from the idea that caring for children is primarily the woman’s responsibility.

      In most of the examples of shared parental leave I’ve read about, the mother takes the first chunk of leave and the dad takes it later, which makes sense in terms of establishing breastfeeding (if you choose to breastfeed) and recovering physically from birth. The bond a baby has with its mother is important, but so is the bond he/she has with their father. Most fathers don’t get a chance to spend an extended amount of time with their children when they’re small. Having the chance to do so could be a great gift for them – and their baby.

      • I think it would be great if the dad was there as well as the mom! But if it’s mom or dad I’d say Mom! It would also be difficult to plan which would piss employers off. If moms planned to return at 6 months in theory it’s a nice idea but when it come to it, it would be difficult for everyone involved. Baby will think where’s Momma, dad has gotta continue moms routine or confuse baby.
        I said I’d breastfeed for 6 months, 15 months later he’s still going I wouldn’t be able to leave him so if it was all planned it would’ve caused problems.

        Definitely think dads should be more involved but never in place of the Mom. It’s a difficult subject and I think it causes a lot of resentment either way with couples.

  • I’ve just written a post about SPL actually. The statutory pay has just gone up actually to £145.18 (still pretty rubbish but it’s the biggest percentage rise in a LONG time). Coming from an HR perspective, I do think it’s quite dicey for a company to offer enhanced Mat pay but only statutory SPL pay. Surely that’s gender discrimination in itself, but as far as I’m aware there’s no case law on it yet. Maybe if someone takes it to a tribunal then that at least will have to change… great post! #fortheloveofBlOG

  • One word…. YES
    Women can only have choice if there is an effective mechanism for someone else to share childcare. That’s not to say that means that you SHOULD split your leave, but that you could and that’s a decision that parents can make together. I work for a large organisation in my day job, with many couples working there. I know one couple who have successfully split their 12 months, and others who are planning to when the time comes. Of course, it can’t just be about taking the time off, it has to be financially viable and that’s a whole other issue when men generally earn more (be that because of salary, position/ role or hours worked). #ForTheLoveofBlog

  • I absolutely agree. When I gave birth to both my daughters – my husband only got 5 days paternity leave which included the birth day. He actually had to put in annual leave to be off. I was lucky that when on 4 months maternity leave I received my full salary – however we do have the option of taking 6 months but 3 months is full pay and 3 month is paid via UIF – so that is about 40 – 60% of your salary. That is in South Africa. Think the same benefits should go to dads #dreamteam

  • As a citizen of a country without even maternal leave, I fear we will be another few decades for dads to get a chance at any. I hope you all get it, maybe it will pressure my own gov’t to act! #DreamTeam

  • Funnily enough I have a post about shared parental leave going live on Tuesday. I think it’s a brilliant option for families, but I personally wouldn’t have wanted to share my leave. I really treasured that time with my kids and I think, for me anyway, that first year is more important for mum in many ways as you’re recovering, bonding, feeding, getting to grips with being a mum. I know that’s a horrendously backwards thing to see and I’m normally way more progressive than that, but it’s just how I feel about that. But I think there are two issues you raise here, the maternity/paternity leave and how mums and dads go back to work when that period is over. I think until we have closed the gender pay gap, more women will continue to be forced to stay at home because it makes more financial sense. Employers need to take serious and drastic action to be more flexible for mums returning to work so that they can balance work and family life. Interesting read lovely, thanks for sharing with #fortheloveofBLOG

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