About parental leave

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She says, by @pols80:

It’s one of those hot potatoes, isn’t it? Few parenting issues create the same level of controversy as that age-old SAHM vs. working mum debate.

Notice how it’s always the choice of the mum that’s under scrutiny, though? I get that some families are single parent families from the get-go, for myriad reasons, but let’s talk families with one mum and one dad for a moment because that’s what this article relates to. Dads are pretty much allowed by society to do whatever suits.  Dad goes out to work? Great. He’s being the hunter gatherer and providing for his family. Stay at home dad? Well, isn’t it WONDERFUL that you’ve swallowed your pride and given up work to stay at home and raise your children. Well done you. People will congratulate you for taking your own child to a toddler group. Yep, dads are pretty much left to their own devices work-wise. It’s a win-win. Or is it…?

Whilst dads are pretty much excused from guilt and judgement over their work choices, it seems like they’re often demoted to second class citizen level when it comes to the parental pecking order. Everything seems geared towards “mum and baby”. From adverts to baby products, to access to baby change facilities (although this is slowly improving), it’s pretty much assumed that mum is the primary carer of the child. Of course, in our society it’s likely that mum will be the stay at home parent if someone is going to stay home, but working parents don’t work 24/7. We all get a day off occasionally. Much is made of how much children need their mum around, and working mums will no doubt have been reminded of this by family, friends and complete strangers who feel the need to have a say. When people realise that Mr Pols is a SAHD, they make the assumption that I’m “just not maternal”. It seems that the assumption is that dad stays at home as a last resort.

It’s important for mums to be afforded time to spend with their children, of course it is. But surely dads are equally entitled to build that same kind of relationship with their children, to develop that same closeness? As a mum, I feel like my need to spend time with my children (and their need to spend time with me) is an absolute given. What irks me is that it’s often forgotten that dads usually want to do the same. Yes, I birthed our children but they are no more my children than their dad’s. My love for them is no greater than his; their love for me is no greater than their love for him.

What do you think? Is it a step in the right direction that we’re recognising the need (and right) of dad to be afforded the opportunity to parent? Is parenting a job for mum? And how will employers manage the logistics of it?

 ***

He says, by @adadcalledspen:

Me: “How was your paternity leave?

Friend: “Hell. I can’t wait to get back to work for some rest.”

That was a conversation I had once. With a friend who shall remain nameless. Jonty.

Dunno what’s more shocking about this. The fact that someone regarded time at home with his new baby as hell, or the fact that I actually know someone called Jonty. I asked him if he’d be cutting back on his office hours to spend more time at home with his wife and new child.

“No way. If anything I’ll leave earlier and get back later.”

Jonty is a bit of a dick at times.

I took the decision to quit my career to become a stay at home dad when our son was born. I’m careful to say career and not ‘work’ as being a full-time parent is work, and very hard work at times, in my humble opinion. Okay, I get it’s not a job job, per se, but really the only difference between being a stay at home parent and going to work work is that, if you’re a stay at home parent, there’s no Christmas party at the end of the year. Well, maybe there’s one at a toddler group or something, but you can’t photocopy your arse after a few drinks at the Baby Rhyme Time Christmas Party. I know. Believe me I know.

I think this country is still quite traditional. I guess there are a lot of families like Geoff and Liz, two people I’ve just invented. Geoff works for the local council in IT, and Liz works in HR for a prosthetic limb manufacturer.

I’m liking Geoff and Liz. You’d like them too. They’re a great couple. Both are 33 and were born three days apart. Geoff is quiet but funny, and Liz is more outgoing and loves karaoke and dancing. Anyhow, I digress…

Liz will take her full maternity leave as she’s paid less than Geoff and so he has to go back to work to balance the family finances. Geoff will take his two weeks paternity leave after the birth of the baby. Geoff will strive to find a good work/life balance as he’s often on call at weekends and evenings but he feels guilty and really would like to spend more time at home. Liz will feel guilty about going back to work at the end of her maternity leave and they’ll have conversations about childcare options. Liz might cut her hours back, so she can spend time with her child, and they’ll have the conversation about how her wages are basically covering paying someone else to look after their child. They’ll talk about her quitting her job for a few years, because she wants to look after their child, and maybe they might want another baby. But can they still have a decent life on the one salary?

Tune in next week.

I know people who are Geoff and Liz, and I know some families where Liz is a high-flying, well-paid neurosurgeon, and Geoff has taken a career break, like what I did, to be a stay at home parent.

I guess it’s a matter of economics, will and choice. Of having a choice or not having a choice because of economics. Some couples have to go back to work, both of them. Some simply want to go back to their jobs. Both of them. Some prefer to do the ‘one at home one at work’ ting. Or have to because they can’t find decent childcare alternatives. Many have a choice but equally don’t have a choice. If you see what I mean. A friend of mine who chose to be a stay at home parent while her husband worked overseas said ‘The thing I miss is the banter. The office camaraderie. The fact that you can talk to adults rather than a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old all day, every day. My brain is dying.’

I loved my time with my children. I know my ex-wife found it hard as I’d see them all day and see their first steps, hear their first words, and those milestones for any parent are important. To not see them because you’re stuck in a meeting about due diligence or working on a value proposition is hard on the heart.

I knew someone, called Rufus, who once told me about a woman in the team he managed who asked him if she could return to work after her maternity leave on a more flexible basis. She didn’t want to quit her job but the set hours could prove hard for her and her family, and could she work from home, come in earlier some days, work later on others, so she could keep working and have a life.

He didn’t like this. He didn’t want this. He stated her contracted hours, said how these hours were important for the team as a whole to work to deadlines. So she left to find a job which did offer more flexibility. Because she just couldn’t do it and wanted some time at home with her child, and an employer who would allow her to work around her family’s childcare arrangements.

As soon as his wife had their child Rufus put in his request for flexible working, going in earlier some days and working later on others, working from home etc, and this was granted by his bosses. So he could work and take time at home to be with his child, and so it would all fit around his family’s childcare arrangements.

I guess what it all boils down to is equality. I guess. Equality in pay, working arrangements, entitlement and Life. I think this country is a long way away from that. Still. Maybe we’ll never ever get there.

***

Thanks for reading. And please let us know what you think about parental leave, or your experiences and choices, via our comments portal.

12 thoughts on “About parental leave

  1. I wish it could be about choice. In this country we are a long way off that, a SAHD is still an anomaly. I’m Speaking as a SAHM who’s hubby would love to be around more, could he be a full time dad? Yes, he could. Could we afford it? Not a chance in hell. Neither of us went to college or a did particularly well in school, this leaves us limited in our work options, he can earn more. Add to that, 2 of our children Have additional needs, so someone has to stay at home, even when the children are in school.
    Brilliant post both x

    • Thanks for reading, and for sharing your own experiences. It’s a frustrating situation when one parent wants to be at home but can’t (I’m one – like your husband, I’m the higher earner), but it’s lovely to hear the confidence you have in his potential to cope as a SAHD. Mr Pols is probably a better SAHP than I’d be. I’d spend my free time tweeting, blogging and painting my nails instead of making sure we have clean clothes to wear!

  2. I really liked reading the different ways in which couples can use parental leave that were mapped out by ‘A Dad Called Spen’. I’m also from the UK and was really happy to be able to take two weeks of paternity leave, which didn’t feel like a long time at all. One of the health visitors once said to me something like “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to get back to work” which I thought was a bit of a lazy stereotype. I’d really enjoyed being there during the first two weeks, not just to see my son but also to help my wife as she’d had a long labour and a C-section. I missed not being there as much when I went back to work, but was thankfully able to work from home quite a bit over last summer following our son’s birth just after Easter 2013.

  3. I will be packing up work earlier than most people probably would as I’m having twins, but I can’t start claiming SMP any earlier, which doesn’t seem right to me.

    We’ve decided I’ll stay at home, partly as Mr Knackers earns more, partly as I can’t stand my job. And also, same logic as mentioned, my wages would just be paying for childcare, so I may as well enjoy spending time with my children :)

    Also despite there being two babies, husband is only planning to take one week leave. To him it’s more important to provide for his family, so he thinks he’s better off bringing in as much dosh as possible. Fairly hunter gatherer, but it’s what he believes he should be doing.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, considering my maternity leave starts today! Myself and my partner both earn roughly the same so there’s no clear choice regarding who should do the childcare after my leave ends, but as is usually the case, I’m going to go back to work on reduced hours. We don’t have the option of family based childcare like a lot of our friends as my mum passed away last year and his mum works full time and lives in another area. So we will need to use a nursery for my working days. Now to find the right balance of working hours to ensure I’m not simply working to pay nursery fees….Aaargh! Minefield!

  5. This is where we are right now. Making this decision. I’ve just had our third. If I wanted to work full time, with 2 at nursery and 1 at out of school club, it would cost £2574 per month. Well that’s just about a grand more per month than my potential earnings! Utterly daft. One career basically has to go on hold. In my case I was never that career driven, but it’s nice to work and feel appreciated. Plus I need the adult company. Now looking into part time. Might be the best answer, but I suspect I’ll be paying to work…

  6. I work compressed hours (I work extra hours to squeeze 10 days into 9) and have flexible arrangements so I can do nursery pick up/drop off. This gives me a Monday off every two weeks to spend with my son which I adore. The benefits to the family are obvious but I also think it makes me a happier, more loyal and productive worker. I appreciate not every job can be completed effectively on this basis but it shows that employers can give men flexible working arrangements without any problems.

  7. There definitely needs to be more equality with parental leave, I know when hubs returned to work after 2 weeks and I was home alone with twins, I was unprepared and had no idea how to cope.
    It’s a difficult subject, fathers are just as important in the raising of children and should be allowed the same opportunities as mothers to maximise the time spent with their children.

  8. I think the telling last sentence of @pols80 says a lot about our society today and its inherent prejudices.

    Quote…And how will employers manage the logistics of it?…Unquote.

    There should be no ‘management’ involved. Gender should be a non-issue – as should who stays at home to work and who goes outside of the home to work.

    Great piece, guys.

    My best, HerMelness

    • Thanks for your comment! I totally agree that gender shouldn’t come into it. It’s something that’s irritated me since our eldest was born 10 years ago. I can understand why a fairly big change to leave entitlement might be an administrative challenge for employers though, especially small businesses. I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen – it should have happened light years ago – but I imagine there’ll be challenges as leave for employees becomes less predictable and more fluid. I really hope we see greater recognition of the role of “parents” rather than the role of just mums as a result.
      I could stay on my soapbox about this topic ALL DAY. I won’t, because I like you all and wouldn’t subject you to that, but I could!

  9. I think there are often reasons why flexibility requests are refused which are nothing to do with business impact. I put in a request and it was refused after I’d already had it accepted verbally. That was pretty annoying.

    Unfortunately though the existing legislation means flexible working requests can be refused if it will have a business impact. I can’t imagine any company who could not prove that it does, however, in the case you raised, if there is another woman refused flexible working after Rufus, she probably has a sexism claim due to not being treated equally to the male employee and the previous case would add weight. But then it’s just got harder, and more expensive, to bring tribunal claims…

    Part of the reason women often take time off and return part time is because, sadly, they tend to be paid less than men even if they’re in the same or equivalent jobs. It’s all part of the same issue in a way. More equality all round for women leads to more equality for men and vice versa. Equality is all about equal treatment after all.

    My ex lost his job when I was 8 months pregnant. I offered to be the person going back to work and he refused. Don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways I am glad he didn’t but the time I had on maternity leave was actually really hard for me. It’s the reason I started blogging to keep my brain active. I would have liked to at least share the load but didn’t have anyone around to accept it.

  10. It’s funny (or not as the case may be) that something that should be so central to all of us as a species – the raising of happy children – seems to have become so bogged down in political, social and economic wrangling. A one size all approach ends up fitting no one and for me we have to move to adopt a more equal, flexible approach that is underpinned by understanding what we, as parents, should be trying to do – bring up happy kids.

    Parental leave is one small, but important element in all of this, children bond with parent’s differently at different times and their relationships change over the years, it’s not a static process and we as a society need to understand and adapt to that. There are also many many different concepts of what a ‘family’ is which needs to be recognised as that will often dictate the choices and flexibility (or not) that we have.

    For me I co-parent (I think that’s the term now anyway) and while things like not having places for a dad to go and change and feed the kids when they were babies was a pain I find the general principle that ‘mums’ are the carer maddening and baffling as mine have been growing up. Classic examples, if one of the kids is ill at school don’t immediately call the mum please and if the school is going to be shut due to snow etc again don’t text the mum! The amount of times I’ve encountered this attitude staggers me, despite me explaining my circumstances over and over again.

    In order for all of us as parents to exercise the choices that are required to enable us to bring up happy kids, society as a whole needs to grasp the importance of that and embrace the flexibility required, be that schools, places of work, spaces to feed and change kids, marketing etc. Last year’s Olympic advertising campaign about how proud mums would be of their little champions had my kids saying hang on what about dads.

    Ah it’s a minefield but it should all be so simple :-)

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