In my next few posts, I’m going to discuss paternity leave. Here, I’m going to say why I think it’s important and later in the week I’ll talk about my own experience of paternity leave.

I decided to focus on this issue after recently listening to an episode of the US podcast Parenting Unplugged entitled ‘Do Moms deserve maternity leave with newborn babies?‘. This show, and the comparisons that it made between maternity leave entitlements around the world in many ways opened my eyes to how lucky I am that here in the UK – in an albeit not exactly perfect system – both men and women can take leave following the birth of a child.

To me, the existence of such entitlements is an absolute no-brainer. If children are to be given the best possible start in life and their parents are to be given time and space to adapt to their new roles and responsibilities, then maternity and paternity leave is a must.

I perhaps hold such views as a result of having grown up in a country where women are entitled to go on maternity leave for up to a year. In addition, dads are currently entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave and can now also have a further 26 weeks of additional paternity leave if their partner returns to work.

However, even within this relatively generous British approach to paternity leave there are things that I feel certainly need to be improved from a dad’s perspective. For example, men are not currently entitled to accompany their partners to antenatal classes as part of their paternity leave allowances. This is particularly problematic when antenatal classes in certain areas (such a where I live) can take place during normal working hours. On a personal level, this thankfully didn’t pose a problem due to my employer’s own paternity leave policy that goes beyond the minimum statutory requirements.

As organisations such as Daddy Natal argue, there is a real need to support and encourage dads-to-be to prepare for fatherhood and also learn about parenting and supporting their partner during pregnancy. For this reason, I feel that although two weeks of paternity leave after a child’s birth is welcome it does not actually help to prepare dads-to-be for fatherhood.

I recently read a thought-provoking blog post by Tim Wright entitled Building a Better Dad – Should We Start Earlier? that appeared on the website of The National Fatherhood Initiative and was based on an article that was published on the Huffington Post website. Tim Wright went as far as suggesting that society needs to start to reconsider the ways its values and attitudes condition boys’ attitudes to their roles in life and ultimately their approach to fatherhood.

Societal values and social expectations are certainly major underlying issues that need to be addressed. A small step towards making it easier for dads to get more involved in the birthing process and ultimately encouraging men to become active and engaged fathers would be to entitle all men to take time off work to attend antenatal classes.

This would not, however, be a miracle solution, especially as antenatal classes generally take place during the final trimester of pregnancy. However, certain issues that I have talked about on this blog in previous posts suggest that times are changing. For example, I discussed the increasing number of books about pregnancy, birth and parenting that are specifically aimed at dads in my first post.

Since getting involved in the world of dad blogging, I’ve been heartened to see how many blogs there are out there that talk about all the benefits and joys of being a dad as well as the challenges that are involved. Indeed, some blogs such as Poptism have been set up explicitly in order to try to empower fathers to take an active role in helping to bring up their kids. Websites such as Dad.info also contain a lot of invaluable information about preparing for becoming a father.

Whilst it is good that it is now possible for parents in the UK to share parental leave (subject to certain conditions), if this is to become commonplace more needs to be done to empower dads and facilitate their greater involvement in parenting by, for example, allowing them time off work to attend antenatal classes.

In recent weeks here in the UK, the government has introduced a marriage tax allowance that makes it possible for married couples to effectively receive a £150 per year tax break. Although this could be construed to be a family friendly policy, some doubt that it is likely to help to keep families together. If I were being cynical, I’d be tempted to wonder if the marriage tax allowance is actually part of a ploy by the Conservative-led government to be seen to promote ‘traditional’ family values at a time when some of their grassroots supporters are unhappy about their party’s backing of plans to legalize gay marriage.

It is great to see moves taking place that will make it easier for parents to share paternity leave if they wish to do so, but I can’t help feeling that much more thought needs to going into what happens in the months leading up to birth rather than merely granting men allowances once their children are born.

What do you think of this article? Do you agree or disagree? What are paternity and maternity leave entitlements like in your country? Please feel free to have your say in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ page on Facebook and now also the new ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ page on Google+. You can also subscribed to this blog via e-mail using the link on the right hand side of this page.

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