I’m a 34 year old father of two, currently on six months of shared parental leave to look after my baby son Max. I took four months of leave in 2013/14 for my first son, Sebastian, and I also work part-time to give me more time to spend with my children.
I strongly believe that the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach to childcare and housework – i.e. where the mum does it all while the dad goes out to win the bread – is dated, inflexible, and unfair. It deprives men of opportunities to bond with their children, and ensures that kids get only a couple of days a week to spend with their dads. It places the burden of childcare solely on mums, forcing talented women to put their careers on hold or even to give them up completely. It contributes to the pay gap for women who do go back to work. It offers no flexibility for families to care for their children in the way that best suits them.
Luckily, times are changing. More men than ever now work part time so that they can take a more active role in their families, and the advent of shared parental leave in April 2015 has given families even more options. Fatherhood is a hot topic, with mainstream media articles appearing almost weekly chronicling the rise of the ‘modern dad’, as well as a few high-profile public figures taking paternity leave.
However, there are still some serious blockers to equal parenting. Few employers offer any more than the basic legal minimum pay to dads taking shared parental leave, even when they offer generous enhanced maternity pay packages for mums. There remains a social stigma and threat of career damage towards men who choose to do more than the minimum amount of childcare. And even among mothers there are deeply held views that maternity leave is their privilege and that men need not apply.
In this blog I will cover the basics of shared parental leave and the options that are available, as well as my personal experiences of taking extended leave twice and working part-time. In doing so I hope to encourage families to consider whether they might benefit from a dad who is more involved in childcare, as well as to provoke some thought and debate around whether the ‘mum does it all’ route is really still fit-for-purpose.