I read the reactions to the government’s plans this week with interest. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20295439)
Personally, I think it is great news that another step is being taken in the right direction that will encourage equality at work and in childcare. I sincerely hope that this will actually lead to a cultural change, as currently, the mothers are still doing the vast majority of the ‘caring’ whilst most of the fathers are doing the majority of the ‘paid working.’ Some thoughts:
– If more fathers do take time off, mothers will find it easier to return to work from an emotional point of view, knowing they have trusted childcare at home
– Huge benefits for the fathers too – I meet new fathers all the time who feel they are missing out on those early months because of having to return to work
– Great for babies and young children to see more of both parents – family dynamics and relationships will improve.
Small businesses have attacked the plans, stating they will cause ‘unnecessary friction between parents and employers’ and that the plans will potentially ‘financially cripple’ business if they ‘lose’ their fathers. However the total length of parental leave will not change, this is about sharing the load. One company may lose a father for a few months, but another will gain a mother. The government has assessed that the reform will bring £222.5m net benefit to employers through increased productivity, reduced sickness, absenteeism and recruitment costs.
More thoughts that need to be taken into consideration:
- It is important that new mothers don’t rush into returning to work too early. The 2 weeks mandatory maternity leave hasn’t changed, but if fathers could take over the childcare after 2 weeks (rather than the current 20 weeks), it may encourage mothers to go back too early. This could lead to post-natal depression, a huge emotional and physical strain and an unproductive return to work
- If a mother is breastfeeding, returning to work earlier would be detrimental to making this work. Parents would need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of how they wish to feed their babies, how they want their family balance to be; as well as the financial situation
- How ready, able and prepared would a father feel to leave work and look after a baby alone? Leaving your career and subsequently returning several months later needs to be very carefully managed and not many companies are currently set up to be able to support this life stage
- Doing the finances is key here. Many families may only decide to share parental leave if the mother’s job pays enough to allow the father to take time out. In fact the Fatherhood Institute has said this week that they feel a father’s entitlement is very much dependent on the mother’s salary and work status.
Who will be the first ones to jump and give this a try? Could we role model and promote the ones that do it well to drive a cultural change? If we don’t, as with the current Additional Paternity Leave, take up may well be a lot lower than expected.
Perhaps if father’s individual rights had been extended, plus pay, it would perhaps have encouraged more to take additional time out. We are heading in the right direction, but this has been part of the welfare provisions for 40 years now in Sweden, and in New Zealand, parental leave can be shared for up to 18 months!
It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but let’s hope it will make an impactful change.
HELEN LETCHFIELD, PARENTING FOR PROFESSIONALS
- Modern Workplaces, Looking to the Future (parentalchoiceuk.com)
- Shake-up to shared parental leave (bbc.co.uk)
- Flexible Parenting – More Reforms (blackaddersbusinesslegalnews.com)
- Flexible Maternity Leave – Is it Really a Step in the Right Direction? (sarahockwell-smith.com)
- Dads ‘to get more parental leave’ (bbc.co.uk)