Monday, 7 September 2015

Parental leave: this is where we get people from

I have returned to work after six weeks of an extended paternity leave for the birth of my first child, taking advantage of new UK rules that let both partners share the total amount of maternity leave - in my case meaning I have taken four of my wife's weeks of leave and added them to my statutory two weeks. By doing this, I've tripled the normal amount of time I would usually have had off work for this happy occasion, and have spent six great weeks learning how to look after, and getting to know, a bouncing baby boy.

Under its more relaxed guises, academia *can* be a very flexible environment, so I'm pretty sure I'm nowhere near the first person to take this amount of time off (or more) for the birth of a child. However, because the regulations only came in around April of this year or so, I do know that I am one of the first batch of fathers in my workplace to take the official shared parental leave arrangements.
Fairly obligatory.
These rules are a step forward in gender equality in the workplace since they acknowledge that parents may wish to share out the early parts of childcare and that this crucial time is not solely the responsibility of birth mothers. From a new father's perspective, it reinforces the idea that fathers are primary parents and not second class mums. Also, I have read before words from aggressive business leaders bemoaning the risk of hiring a woman who may fall pregnant, or choose to adopt perhaps, incurring the operational and financial costs of maternity leave. These arrangements are a step in the right direction to alleviate this inequality, removing the requirement that it is necessarily the employers of mothers who foot the "bill"; that in some cases men will take extended periods of absence too. In this way, men and women can be in it together. Now our split was very moderate, with me just taking four extra weeks, but as I understand it things could be a lot more equal, or even skewed to the father or non birth partner taking more leave.

The personal benefits of taking this extra time off (six weeks instead of two) were clear from the outset. More time off is more time with the new baby, this brand new and wholly inept person who famously does not come with a rule book. It was also a wake up call to the possibility that returning to work might actually be in some ways the easier option (with the caveat that this strongly depends on where you work, hats off to the policemen and doctors I knew for example, who were back saving people after precisely two weeks). I'm sure a lot of workplaces afford good opportunities for a quiet tea break, or just a nice regimented regime to counteract all the crying and nappies. I feel more confident after six weeks that I understand the challenges my partner faces in the approximately 9-10 months she has left on her maternity leave.

Bringing up kids not a full-time job. It is three full-time jobs: 9 - 5, 5 - 1 and 1 - 9 (thanks Mum, thanks Dad).