It’s only Monday – but already, the topic of being a dad seems to be all over the news this week. For starters, there’s been quite a lot of noise over the last couple of days about this idea of shared parental leave. Earlier this morning the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who’s apparently been a flag-waver for this within the coalition, described the policy as follows: “We’re ending the system where the mother gets a year off and the dad just a paltry two weeks,” he said, going on to describe it as “a system which entrenches the gender divide at home and at work.” Outlining the government’s thinking in more detail, Clegg then explained, “instead there will be 54 weeks off for every new set of parents, two weeks protected for the mum, and two for the dad, with the other 50 for them to divide up between them however they choose. They can even take a big chunk of time off together if that’s what suits them best.”
I remember the days when the idea of two weeks’ paternity leave was a novelty – so the notion of being able to take up to a whole year off work seems pretty revolutionary. And it got me wondering: what would I want to do, given the choice? Part of me says I’d jump at the chance of having 50 weeks’ paternity leave. After all, I absolutely love spending time with my kids, and it’s a constant challenge to protect that time. Only today, I felt like the worst dad in the world when, unexpectedly, I had to go into work on my week’s holiday. ”But why Daddy not take me playgroup? Daddy said he would…” are very hard words to hear from your toddler. I really felt like I was letting her down, putting an admittedly very important work meeting above spending time with my excited daughter. More time at home with the kids is the dream of a great many dads – and an awful lot of mums, too – so why wouldn’t I want to have as much time off as possible with them when they’re little?
At the same time, though, the thought of being a trailblazer for shared parental leave brings me out in a cold sweat. I love what I do for a living; if I took a year out, wouldn’t I get left behind? And anyway, so I tell myself, although the world of work is comfortable with the idea of maternity leave, what would people think if I said I was taking most of the year off to spend at home with my children? For me, all this is far from being only hypothetical: our third child is due in January. Although, on the basis of how long these things usually take to become law, our youngest will probably be about 15 before this actually hits the statute books.
Anyway, if you’re a dad, what would be your ideal scenario? And if you’re a mum, do you like the thought of shared parental leave, or would you really rather us dads didn’t muscle in on your well-deserved year off?
Despite wondering how it might work in our house, I do think it’s a brilliant idea. Why should every mum be made to feel they have to stay at home – and every dad be pressurised into feeling grateful for the blink-and-you-miss-it fortnight of paternity leave? I guess the challenge in all this will be for the employers: will they run with it, encouraging the dads on their teams to truly share their parental leave? Or will it be a case of “well, go on then, if you must, but I’d really rather you didn’t”?