As I sit here with Rattle sleeping on me, Dress is able to take her time having a shower, I can reflect on the last 7 weeks which having started in a whirlwind has settled into our new normal as a family of three centred around Little Miss Pouty. It will be 2 months at the end of this week when Rattle arrived and this can be broken up into 2 even halves; the first 4 weeks of “What the…just happened?”; and the second 4 weeks of “We kind of know what we are doing #EasyEasyEasy”. This latter 4 weeks may be giving us a false sense of security. We shall see as the mists of time move forward.
The majority of my thoughts recently have been around how different Fatherhood is in our generation to previous generations and how feeble the standard two weeks paternity leave is as a duration.
Both Dress and I have fairly demanding jobs. We regularly work over 12 hour days, often longer, and have to deal with highly demanding clients. If this sounds like a moan, it isn’t. We both are fortunate enough to really enjoy what we do, however the hours we have to put in can be frustrating when you don’t have time for even the smallest thing. We are also lucky that we work for an employer who supports Shared Parental Leave and has a very strong maternity policy. If we wanted we could have split the parental leave allowance, however Dress always wanted to take a full year off.
When we first started discussing me taking extended time off I had wanted to spend months 4-6 at home. My thought process was broadly that baby would be a bit more interesting at that age. It will be interesting to see what Rattle is like in these months. Whilst she’s likely to be a bit more alert and lively than now, she is unlikely to be sat in her nursery writing novels. I am not sure what I thought “more interesting” meant. With no immediate family close to us in London, we decided that me taking time out right at the start would be better for supporting at home. We then had to plan and frankly save to ensure that we could manage during my time off. I am not naive enough to appreciate that taking this length of time off is what every father would want to do or could afford to do, however I do have a number of Fatherly friends and colleagues at work who have decided to to do similar extended leaves from work and even taken Shared Parental Leave for 3-4 months.
A few months before Rattle was born, my parents had a Hindu ceremony at our family home to bestow good blessings for the three of us. I realised then how different the previous generation’s experiences were around birth. One of my father’s friends, an NHS doctor at the time, said how he had 1 day off before being back to work after their children, who are a similar age to me. Things have obviously progressed with two weeks statutory paternity leave now being the norm, however according to a report from 2015, the UK are still well behind the global average and only around 55% of fathers take this up due to the financial hit for this period. Take up of Shared Parental Leave is only around 1% of those eligible. I have a number of friends and colleagues who are making use of this policy but across the board it appears take up is extremely low.
From my recent experience, I think 4 weeks should be the minimum statutory paternity leave. I could not imagine being able to operate properly at work had I gone back after two weeks. Rattle lost too much weight initially, so up to about 3 weeks we were needing to combination feed her which meant I was up doing the 3am feed. Even now I still wake up for a few minutes in the night everytime Guzzler is getting ready for action. If she needs burped or rocked, I will get an elbow in the ribs to provide my swinging hips for service. Whilst the worst thing I could do at work is fall asleep in a meeting or face plant my laptop, it would be difficult to operate on limited or broken sleep in any job. For those people who do a job which entails any manual activity or labour it would be a serious hazard. Could you imagine Postman Pat going back to work after 2 weeks paternity leave. The postal service of Greendale would be even more screwed up than it normally is. I remember watching Postman Pat as a child and being enthralled by his adventures. Now having watched a few episodes with my niece and nephew (honest), I realise he is just really really bad at his job. Every episode there is some balls up in local mail delivery which is due to this hapless jobsworth. If Pat went back to work after two weeks paternity leave then Jess would likely be more successful doing the mail delivery herself. They normally only have one parcel to deliver an episode as well. I wonder how many bad performance ratings Pat has received….he must be on a permanent performance improvement program!
From my very noddy maths, based on some numbers from the Office of National Statistics, if all fathers were to take 4 weeks of leave, the government would need to spend around £280m annually to support this. This seems fairly paltry in comparison to the £236bn in income tax revenues the government makes from us. Appreciate that balancing the books is not easy especially in a post Brexit world but this is pretty much a rounding error, particularly when the benefits for the next generation will outweigh this amount of money. Given the next generation will get a worse deal than us for their lifetime, having dad around for a few extra weeks seems to be the least we should do to promote a better start to family life.
I can honestly say that the last 8 weeks have been hugely beneficial. Not just for Dress to have some additional help around the house or my cleaning skills (up to skill level Acceptable), but to be able to spend extensive time together as a family. I have even convinced myself that I have a special rocking action that helps Rattle get to sleep 🙂 At least if the first 4 weeks were statutory policy then it gives fathers the chance for more quality time in an event which will only happen a few times in our lifetimes.
Links to articles on paternity leave. Coincidentally I found the BBC article whilst writing this post:
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