Two extra weeks paid parental leave is great – but Ireland's dads deserve even more
As of last Friday, November 1, the government here in Ireland has granted two additional weeks paid leave for parents of children born or adopted after this date.
Which means that when a child is born now, a father can take two weeks paid paternity leave, which he must take within six months of the baby’s birth. As well as this, the new legislation means that after taking their initial paternity leave, they are, as of last Friday, also entitled to another two weeks within the first year of the baby’s birth, meaning they have four weeks in total.
This comes after the government announced the extension of unpaid parental leave from 18 weeks to 22 weeks, and an additional two weeks from September next year.
This is great. Amazing even. And a really big step in the right direction when it comes to both work life balance for working parents, but also for a more evenly balanced view on parenting, and a chance for new dads to have time both to bond with their babies and be of help to mum as she recovers from labour and delivery.
Because here is the thing: Carrying a baby for nine months is hard work. Giving birth is hard work. Breastfeeding is hard work. And trying to cope on broken sleep, bruised, bleeding and healing – it is hard work.
Mums need to recover after having had a baby – this should hardly come as a newsflash. And having their partner there to help out – is is incredibly important. In fact – studies have shown that when dads take paternity leave, new mums are 14 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital for birth-related issues within the first six months of childbirth.
So paid paternity leave makes sense for mum's postpartum health. In fact, according to the Stanford study, having dad at home with the new mum for the first few weeks resulted in fewer cases of mastitis, fewer mums needing to see specialists, fewer mums on antibiotics and fewer mums suffering mental health issues. Incredibly, the researchers found that when dads took leave, there was a 26 percent drop in anti-anxiety prescriptions during the first six months of motherhood.
Good for mum, good for dad – great for baby
It is easy to see how more paternity leave will benefit mothers. And not just for the extra help when recovering from labour and delivery, but also because countless studies have proven that when dads take paternity leave, this will leave a long-lasting impact on the division of unpaid labor in the home.
In fact, impressively, research shows that even short paternity leaves impact how much housework dads do even years later, having no doubt developed a better understanding for just what it takes to run a household and look after children at the same time. And get this – research suggests that if men just did 50 more minutes of care work a day, and women did 50 minutes less, we could get closer to gender equality because the burden of unpaid work would be more fairly distributed.
But really – we need to look at it from other sides too – most importantly, the immense positive effect it has on the bond between fathers and their children . Because guess what? Fathers aren't babysitters. They are parents – and should have a law-protected right to that role.
Why? Because the benefits of paternity leave for babies are huge.
Studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with dads can benefit babies immensely, and 8-week-old infants can tell the difference between mum and dad. As they grow, those babies are able to form strong attachments with two capable caregivers, and research has proven that when dads do things like change nappies, bathe and feed their babies, the infants are more socially responsive than infants who only get that kind of physical care from mum.
As well as this, being allowed to discover that they can do it – they can look after their babies, is a real confidence booster to new dads. When dads get to take parental leave they become more confident parents and are more likely to be equal participants in childcare years later.
Yes, really. Dads being there is important for babies' development.
Scandinavia's 'Latte dads'
As of now, Irish dads have the right to four weeks paid parental leave. Which is so much bettern than many places – in the US, for instance, there is no law to say new dads have the right to any paid leave at all. In some cases, no leave whatsoever, not even unpaid.
However, four weeks is not much in comparison to the paternity leave Scandinavian dads enjoy – a model so flexible and generous it makes our four weeks seem measly – and not long enough.
In Sweden, for instance, couples are required to split their parental leave – meaning most dads have not weeks, but months, to bond with their babies. According to the Swedish government parents of both sexes are entitled to 480 days (16 months) of paid parental leave at about 80 percent of their salary (with a cap), plus bonus days for twins, and they must share — Swedish dads must take at least some of those 16 months. And before you go thinking this is all very modern – it's not. In Sweden, shared parental leave was first introduced in 1974. Yes, that's right. 1974.
So common, in fact, in Sweden, is the sight of bearded, cool dads, out about about with their babies and toddlers, that pop culture has even coined a name for them. The term 'latte dad' – Latte Pappa' – describes the hoardes of young-ish dads you see carrying babies in slings, nipping into coffee shops with buggies in tow, often in tribes of two or more dads together.
These days, explains Swedish dad Jonas Frid to Business Insider, the decision is not 'Will I take time off to be with my child?' but 'How long will I take?' Most take three to nine months."
Sweden's neighbouring country, Norway, has a similar set-up. There, parents are entitled to 49 weeks of paid parental leave with their full salary or 59 weeks with 80 percent salary. The non-transferable paternity leave is 15 weeks – often referred to as the 'daddy quota' which, if not taken by dads, is lost, as these weeks cannot be transferred to the mother for her to take.
Norway’s original rationale for its 'use it, or loose it' paternal leave policy was to promote gender equality by encouraging more women to return to the labour force, says Line Anita Schou, from the country’s Directorate of Labour and Welfare.
Before the introduction of a quota, men took very little leave, which disadvantaged women in the workplace —a phenomenon known as “the motherhood penalty”.
Today, discussion of Norway's 'daddy quota' is less around leveling the playing field between the sexes at work, but instead the focus is on the importance of father-child bonding, and the benefits to children and society when men participate more equally in household and caregiving work.
“It was a policy success,” in that respect, said Margunn Bjørnholt, sociologist and a Research Professor at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) in Oslo, Norway. “Fathers started taking leave, and it has probably had an effect in terms of the cultural norms around parenting… in Norway today, it would be very hard to insist on just being the breadwinner and not caring about the children.”
Under Norway’s current policy, mothers also get 15 weeks of non-transferable leave, plus three weeks before birth. Couples then receive 16 weeks of unallocated leave to share as they see fit. More commonly than not, women take the majority of the shared leave.
It is easy to see how more generous paternity leave is benefitial on so many levels. To mum – because parenting should be a shared journey. To babies, because they do better when sharing a close bond with both parents. And to dads – who are given a chance to step up to the plate and parent. As well as this, many expert believe it has a wider social and economical benefit too, with a better gender balance in the workplace.
So Irish families, and maybe especially dads, may feel delighted about the extra two weeks paid parental leave, but really – should we not aim even higher than that? Bring on the Irish 'latte dads' – the mums, babies and Ireland as a whole might just be better because of it.
Have your say in the comments: Do YOU think Ireland's should have longer paternity leave? Could you see Irish dads taking 3-4 months off to spent with their baby? Would you be in favour of a Scandinavian-style parental policy being brought in here?