Here’s a startling fact: 40% of men don’t take paternity leave. That’s time off work they are legally entitled to. It seems crazy. But it's actually the norm.
Many men surveyed about the issue think that taking paternity leave will damage their career prospects, or they believe there's a social stigma preventing them from doing so.
The arguments don't really add up. Let's look at what the options are, and how taking paternity leave might affect the working lives of new dads.
What parental leave are you entitled to?
In the UK, new fathers are entitled to up to two consecutive weeks of paid paternity leave (if they’ve been with their employer for 26 weeks or more). This stays the same whether you’re having one child or three. There’s also an allowance to join their partner for 2 antenatal appointments. (Adoption leave is also available for those adopting.)
These are, of course, nationally mandated minimums. It’s perfectly possible for employers to give more time off at their discretion (which we think is a good idea!)
The allowance of 2 weeks can be extended due to the introduction of shared parental leave. This means that if the mother of the new child returns to work earlier than her maternity leave allows, the father can take that time instead.
This is a great idea, for a number of reasons we'll outline below.
Why take paternity leave?
There’s a whole host of reasons why it’s a good idea for you to take as much paternity leave as possible.
- You can bond with the new child. For the majority of the rest of its life, you'll likely spend time together only on evenings and weekends. Time away from work during this early period helps you form a close bond in which you can appreciate the new life you've brought into this world.
- They’re only this young once. As any parent will tell you - they grow up so fast. A 1-year-old is drastically different to a newborn, and cherishing that time is a blessing.
- You can bond with your partner. Being around to enjoy the new arrival together can also bring you together as a couple; helping lay the groundwork for a supportive co-operative relationship throughout the child's life. Being alone with the baby for long stretches is said to be one of the possible causes of post-partum depression for new mums, so some company is likely to be well received.
- You catch up on sleep. You’ll appreciate every moment of good sleep you can get as time goes on, so a period without alarm clocks and a morning commute is something to enjoy as much as you can.
And alongside these benefits for fathers, there's also the fact that sharing parenting responsibility is just the right thing to do. These days we’re seeing the disintegration of old gender norms, and people are less willing to accept “the way it’s always been done”. Saying a certain gender should do all the childcare while the other goes out to earn the income is pretty outdated and illogical, especially now that both genders are capable of having successful careers. Co-parenting at the start of the child's life sets a good precedent for how things should work for the rest of it.
Why opt out of paternity leave?
Social stigma seems to be the only widespread reason to skip paternity leave. Either that or the pressures of an abnormally high workload. The first can be ignored, and the second should be managed.
We’re all about doing things differently here, so our advice is - forget the stigma and take the leave. It really doesn’t matter what the lads in the office think. Having a healthy relationship with your partner and child is much, much more important than office politics, and the law will back you up on that.
Hopefully, paternity leave should become more common in the modern age. Men are now opening up more about the pressures of conforming to societal stereotypes, and the effect it has on their mental health. Performative masculinity doesn’t have to be the way to go any more. Being more open about what works creates a healthier environment for everyone.
Time off, whatever the reason, is really important. For individuals, proper rest is crucial for health, wellbeing and performance. For companies, rest must be respected to have a happy and productive workforce. And for couples with new children, taking time off will set them up for happy, healthy family lives.
If you want to know more about parental leave in the UK, we've made some simple guides you might find helpful:
Anything else you think we should cover? Send us a tweet!