When my second child was born in 2019 I took three months paternity leave. It was great to be able to lend a helping hand to my wife, spend time with the newborn, and to step away from the office. I went to various classes like baby massage and got to meet other
Dads Moms. I’m not sure I met any other Dads who were on paternity leave, and most Moms were shocked by how much leave my employer offered, and the proportion of my salary they continued to pay. I’m lucky that I work for a large company that offers paternity leave far in excess of Government policy. Not all companies have the will and/or resources to do so. Paternity leave just doesn’t seem to be a thing in Ireland, and thats bad.
One reason I assume Dads don’t take leave or lobby the government for more generous leave is embarrassment. Dads work, they don’t coo over babies. And I admit, I felt a bit of this too. I only took three of the four months on offer, crumbling to the self-inflicted pressure of coming back to the office. I only know of one Dad in the company who has taken all four months. It’s one thing to offer paternity leave, quite another to change Dad culture.
Japan has one of the most generous paternity allowances in the world with 30.4 weeks of paid leave – yet only about 3% of new dads take it. According to a study by Kyushu University most Japanese Dads said they wanted to take their full paternity leave but didn’t feel that they could, because none of the other Dads did (I know how that feels). Those “other Dads” are also “most Dads” so they too actually want to take leave. Collectively, Dads are unwittingly propping up their work-comes-first culture.
In the UK, the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service discovered that embarrassment was one of the biggest obstacles to taking paternity leave. A third of new Dads were worried that their manager wouldn’t be understanding and a fifth were convinced that it would affect their chances of promotion. Did taking paternity leave impact my career, actually yes, a bit, but you come out of it believing that theres something more fundamental to chase than just a good career.
I’m not sure I’d have been that productive even if I had been in work. The chaos created by a newborn baby doesn’t exactly lend itself to a successful working life. Those first few months I wandered around in a sleep-deprived state.
I have zero regrets about taking paternity leave. Hanging out with baby, helping/watching baby experience the world, its really exciting and great fun. It’s great for kids too because time spent with their parents in the early stages of their lives benefits their emotional development and can have a positive impact on their mental health.
Dad taking leave is also a huge benefit to Mom. Having taken leave, it seems bizarre that Dads role could be, “right, well good luck with the baby, I’m off to work” – no wonder some women suffer post natal depression. They’re being asked to handle a life changing event largely by themselves. Also, because I was a stay at home Dad for three months, I know its much harder being at home than it is in the office (and I had help). It meant that when I was back at work, I didn’t come home expecting to relax after a hard days work, because I know which one of us actually had the harder day, hint, not me.
We need to take our lead from the Nordic countries, no surprise there. Sweden is a world leader when it comes to shared parental leave. Their allowance is 480 days with 90 days reserved for each partner, and for the majority of that time they receive 80% of their income, paid centrally through the government. In Finland, Moms maternity pay is linked to Dads leave, if he doesn’t take paternity leave, the maternity pay decreases.
If you’re lucky enough that you can take paternity leave, then do. I came out better for it, as did my family. As a society we’re not where we need to be, but it’s getting better all the time.