Parenthood

As we say goodbye to 2015 and tread hopefully into 2016, wondering what’s ahead, there’s one change on the way that we do know about – a seemingly small but nevertheless historic change for working parents: paternity leave is on the way.

It doesn’t come into place until September 2016, but when it does, it’s quite a big deal, as for the first time in history, the role of fathers in postnatal care is being formally recognised.

So what does it mean?

From September, every employer in Ireland must offer new dads two weeks’ paternity leave following the birth of a child. The state will pay fathers €460 for the leave, which is in line with maternity pay. And what’s great is that the leave can be taken any time within 28 weeks of the birth. As many seasoned mothers know, it’s not necessarily week one when an extra pair of hands is most needed.

And how do we compare to the rest of the world?

Great though it is to finally have some leave in place, we have a long way to go before reaching the dizzy heights of paternity leave Scandi-style, where the model is usually one of paid parental leave to be shared between both parents, with some non-transferable months. In Sweden for example, parents can take up to sixteen months of leave, paid up to 80% of salary (with a cap of €4,000 per month). Two of the months are for dads, following a use-it-or-lose it model, and there’s talk of a third “daddy month” coming in 2016.

But depending on which table you look at, and how the comparisons are made, other countries look good too. In Spain for example, there’s a relatively short two weeks’ leave, but it’s paid at 100% of salary (up to a ceiling) making it easier financially for employees to avail of it.

Then Japan and Korea have relatively high levels of paternity leave on offer, but a very low uptake – fewer than 3% of fathers in Japan take paternity leave.

And of course, in the US, there is no statutory leave – no maternity or paternity leave – available at all.

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What I did find when researching paternity leave around the world, was many articles with footnotes on errors and corrections. So the one consistent truth is that it’s difficult to gather comparable data. Some countries give a legal entitlement to leave but it’s not paid, some do pay but the amount is small, many offer a combination. There are stipulations about sharing and in some cases, doing parenting courses increases the entitlement. But what’s clear is that you’re almost never comparing like with like.

So perhaps rather than comparing, we should just look at what it means to us here in Ireland. It’s another step towards formally recognizing that fathers are involved in child-rearing too, and this benefits all of us. During the Families at Work: A Chance for Change conference last year, keynote speaker Professor Peter Moss said, “Ireland’s leave policies are based on maternalistic policies that assume that women take care of young children.” We came bottom of a European table in terms of family leave. So paternity leave, even at just two weeks, is very welcome.

When fathers take paternity leave and parental leave, it benefits the whole family. The function of paternity leave is to care for the mother and the baby, and of course it helps the father to build a relationship with the baby. But it also helps normalize parental leave from an employer perspective. Anectdotally, in any given workplace today, most of the parental leave is being taken by women – time added on to maternity leave, blocks of leave when the kids are off school, or three- and four-day weeks for those whose employers allow it. The risk here is that women are then mommy-tracked, while men continue on up the ladder. Women ask for flexible work, while many men still don’t see that as something that’s acceptable for them to do.

We heard recently that Mark Zuckerberg is taking two months paternity leave – a most unusual (and welcome) announcement from a male CEO. If we could see male CEOs and senior managers taking paternity leave in Ireland, and taking parental leave, it gives an unspoken green light to men in the organization that it’s OK to follow suit. And the more time off men take, the better the deal for women – at home and in the workplace – and that, surely, benefits all of us.

Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.

 

 

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dads, newborn, Dad, paternity leave, paternity