Prince William has recently returned to work following his paternity leave, and his decision to take paternity leave has attracted quite a lot of media attention both in the UK and around the world. I live in the UK and have found the extent of TV and press coverage of the royal baby more than a little bit excessive. However, I am pleased to see that within the coverage there has been a focus on paternity leave.
Prince William in many ways lives in a very different world to the many other men in the UK – myself included – who have become fathers in recent months. However, I do sometimes wonder if he might be following me. He went to university in St. Andrews, the town where I went to secondary school. About a decade later, he arrived in North Wales to start a job as a search and rescue pilot only a few years after I had begun the perhaps less heroic role of being a university lecturer.
As it happens, Prince William and I became fathers within a matter of months and both of us took the two weeks of paternity leave to which we were entitled. I’ve talked on this blog about the UK paternity leave system and also my own experience of paternity leave.
I’ve been very interested in how Prince William’s decision to take paternity leave has been represented. In some articles, such as one on Yahoo Shine it was portrayed as being a potentially bold move. As is the case with highly paid sports starts, taking time off to support one’s family is not really a bold move from a financial perspective when you’ve got vast wealth to fall back on. I’m guessing that Prince William lived off more than the statutory minimum paternity leave pay of £136.78 per week.
By taking two weeks of paternity leave, Prince William is really being a normal dad in UK terms as apparently about 90% of UK dads take the two weeks of paternity leave that they are entitled to immediately following the birth of the child. William is, however, quite different from the vast majority of UK dads as his wife gave birth in a private healthcare facility and he was allowed to stay the night in the hospital after his son was born. Zach Rosenberg recently did a great article on his blog 8BitDad about how UK men being allowed to stay overnight in hospital after the birth of a child is a bit of a rarity. As my wife was kept in hospital for a few days after giving birth, I would have loved to have been able to stay in the hospital with her. However, this simply wasn’t an option and I was only allowed to be present from 1.30pm to 7.30pm.
Although I welcome the focus on William’s paternity leave in press coverage, some articles overplayed certain issues in a way that obscures certain realities. In the Yahoo Shine article that I’ve mentioned above, Elise Solé mentioned that William was the ‘first senior member of the royal family’ to take paternity leave. On one hand, this is a potentially very significant fact. On the other hand, it’s also worth bearing in mind that William was actually the first senior member of the royal family to be eligible to take two weeks of paid paternity leave as this provision has only been in place in the UK since 2003.
It is also possible to challenge Solé’s argument that William is setting ‘a new precedent for men everywhere’ . As Scott Behson pointed out in a recent blog post, the US is in many ways an exception by not having a national paternity leave entitlement. However, seeing dads talking about being involved parents in the media is undoubtedly positive.
Due to the media spotlight in which Prince William has led his life since a young age, it seems likely that his experiences as a dad will not be ‘normal’ within the context of what most UK (and other) dads experience. However, he has appeared keen to project an image of normality and has talked about changing his son George’s first nappy.
The fact that the first publicly released photo of William and Kate with their baby son George was taken by Kate’s father rather than a professional photographer has also been cited by many as a break with tradition or sign of normality. However, a CNN article discussed criticisms of the photograph from a photographic perspective. A Guardian article was even more critical, as suggested by its title The royal baby pictures show privilege trying, and failing, to look normal.
Normality, however it is defined, is perhaps not to be expected from the Royal Family due to their sheer wealth and the intense media spotlight in which its senior members live their lives. What I do hope will become increasingly ‘normal’ is for fathers in the public eye to talk about the benefits of being an involved parent and taking paternity leave.
What did you think of this article and the media coverage surrounding the birth of William and Kate’s son? If you’d like to share your thoughts on this post, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. If you want to keep up with this blog, there are ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+. Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen.