As Father’s Day approaches, we look at the reasons why paternity leave is so important for our society, and how new dads can make the most of the time at home.
In terms of statutory paternity leave, the UK still unfortunately lags behind many European countries. New fathers are still entitled to only two weeks of full-pay paternity leave. More recently there have been changes made to allowances for shared parental leave, but the financial implications mean that many families are still reluctant to make use of the allowance. In fact, a recent survey from Milner’s Solicitors found that there is little appetite or knowledge of the policy among working fathers, and fewer than 1 in 1000 employees in the UK have made use of shared parental leave. That needs to change. More families should be able and be encouraged to take paternity and shared parental leave. There are many personal and broader societal benefits, as follows:
Happier parents, happier children
Being able to share parental responsibility in a way that suits your individual set up will of course make you happier. The benefits of happier, more present parents to children cannot be overstated. Better mental and physical health, self-esteem, better performance in school are all said to be the result of having both parents more involved in their childhoods.
A happier home life of course means you will produce better work. By taking proper allocated leave you won’t be distracted by feelings of guilt or the fear or missing out. By sharing the responsibility of the very early stages of parenting through shared parental leave, you will be able to fall into a better long term routine that works best for your family, as you will have a better understanding of the balancing act required. Employers and clients are also likely to look favourably on those who opt to take paternity leave (Anne-Marie Slaughter cited a Finnish CEO who said if someone they were considering employing didn’t show interest in taking their parental leave, they would be much less likely to hire them). Taking leave shows you have a strong priorities, values and sense of commitment to a role.
Workplace and relationship equality
Equality in society begins in the home. Even though women have made gains in the workplace, many are still finding they are doing the bulk of the domestic work, and that includes not just physical labour, but also shouldering emotional and life admin as well as a busy career. With more shared parental leave, both parents have a better understanding of the responsibilities of running the household, and can work together more successfully. This leads to better marriages and more amicable shared custody – Sweden is often held up as an example of parental leave ideal and their lower divorce rates and happier marriages may correlate.
If you are preparing to take paternity leave, here are some things to keep in mind to help you make the most of it…
Enjoy the alone time
It can be a big adjustment going from a busy office and constant contact with colleagues and clients to often not having an adult conversation for a whole day. However, you will rarely have another opportunity to have completely undisturbed and undistracted moments with your child or children, so soak them up while you can! The bonding experience as a new parent is an opportunity to be cherished, between the tougher moments and sleepless nights!
Don’t let the office creep in
Maintain that undistracted focus on your children. You are adjusting to your new role as a father (or if not your first time, adjusting to having another addition to the family), and you should give it the same level of attention you would give other projects. It is the most important role you will ever have, after all. Taking official leave means that no one will be expecting you to be answering queries or keeping up on events – the office will still be standing on your return.
Be a role model
Big campaigns, research and lobbying are central to improving paternity leave offered by the state and employers, but in order for attitudes to change in society, we also need individual gestures. Proudly taking – and talking about – paternity leave normalises and encourages others to follow suit within your industry, so talk it up and pass on your own tips and guidance to expecting fathers, you never know the difference it could make. Most of all, you children will grow up less likely to conform to gender stereotypes and have more equal relationships of their own.
Obelisk has many parents who work with us to take advantage of our flexible ethos and increasingly, and this includes many fathers. We know that being a parent is the most important job in the world and are proud that we champion ways to improve the opportunities to make it a success.