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Football and Paternity leave: what’s the score?

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Football and paternity leaveThe last twelve months have seen plenty of examples of leading sportsmen taking time off to be present when their partner has been about to give birth. Indeed, last summer the golfer Hunter Mahan withdrew from the Canadian Open whilst in the lead in order to be present at the birth of his first child.

On his blog Fathers, Work and Family, Scott Behson has an entire section devoted to stories about baseball players who have taken advantage of the Major League Baseball (MLB) paternity leave policy. As these stories stories have focused on North American sportsmen, I thought that I’d look at what things are like on the other side of the pond here in the UK and pay particular attention to the sport of football (or ‘soccer’ as some of you may know it).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about attitudes to sportspeople who take paternity leave. Here are five things that stand out for me:

 

1. The MLB paternity leave policy is doubtlessly significant within an American context but three days of leave really isn’t all that much. It is certainly a start and I’d applaud baseball for taking a lead that I hope that other sports will follow. However, three days really doesn’t sound like a lot of time at all from my perspective as most men here in the UK are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I really felt that I benefited from being able to take this fortnight off work to be with my wife and our newborn son. If I’d only been able to take three days off, I’d have been going back to work just as my wife was being let out of hospital.

2. Even though most footballers in the UK are technically entitled to two weeks of paternity leave, has anyone actually taken a fortnight off following the birth of a child? I can’t think of any examples of footballers in the UK who have take two weeks of paternity leave. Indeed, reports of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney being given time off by his manager following the birth of his son in 2009 generally appeared to ignore the fact that the UK paternity leave system meant that he could have taken two weeks off rather than the few days that his manager supposedly generously granted him. Indeed, this article from The Daily Telegraph suggests that Rooney’s then manager Alex Ferguson had been intending to rest him for the game that took place shortly after his son’s birth anyway.

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3. Some managers don’t seem to be particularly supportive of their players’ family life as was shown in 2012 when Paul Caddis was relieved of his role as Swindon captain because his manager Paolo Di Canio reportedly thought that fatherhood has resulted in Caddis becoming less enthusiastic about football. In press interviews at the time, Di Canio didn’t always come across as particularly sympathetic and Caddis appeared angry that the consequences of his son’s birth were evoked publicly by his manager. As a dad, I was shocked to see that Caddis was not treated in a more supportive manner by his club and especially the manner in which his then manager talked about matters that could easily have been treated with a much greater amount of sensitivity.

4. However, thankfully some other managers see things more holistically when it comes to acknowledging the importance of players’ family life. In a recent article in the Observer about the role of computer analysis in football, Everton manager Roberto Martinez stated that “football players are football players once a week” and added that “the rest of the time they are human beings and fathers and husbands – data doesn’t give you that”. In a sport featuring big money and high stakes, it was good to see a high profile manager demonstrating an awareness of the importance of players’ lives away from the playing field.

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5. How would fans react to a player taking two weeks of paternity leave at a crucial stage of the season? Despite the fact that some managers are sensitive to the importance of considering their players’ responsibilities as husbands and fathers, I often wonder how they (and fans) would react if a player decided to take paternity leave at a crucial stage of the season that would mean that he would miss several crucial matches. In baseball, the MLB paternity leave policy makes it easier for teams to call up a replacement from within their own ranks. However, I feel that football fans whose team was likely to be without their star player for a big game would probably see a rule that made it easier for them to call upon a lower profile and less experienced replacement as scant consolation.

 

The highest level of professional sport is clearly a world apart from the lives that most us lead. Although the vast sums of money that leading players earn brings a lot of possibilities for them and their families, the demands placed upon them as professional athletes do not make it easy for them to spend as much time with their families as a lot of the rest of us can. Indeed, it is for this reason that Celtic’s Kris Commons decided to stop playing international football for Scotland after an international away match meant that he was several hundred miles away when his young son was admitted to hospital.

The vast majority of football fans would probably, deep down, admit that their family comes before their favourite team. The tragic death of Billy Sharp’s son Luey at only three days old in 2011 brought tributes from supporters of both the team he played for at the time (Doncaster Rovers) and also opposition fans, as is recounted in this article from The Guardian. Sharp has himself created a foundation in order to raise money to fund research into the birth defect that effected his on and support other families who are affected by it.

Despite the evident sensitivity that exists within professional football in the UK when it comes to certain aspects of parenting, it seems that the sport has a long way to go when it comes to supporting fathers and making it easier for them to take paternity leave. We may have more generous paternity leave entitlements that some countries, but it is not necessarily easy for all men to take advantage of these allowances.

 

What do you think about the questions to do with paternity leave that I’ve discussed here? Should more be done to allow sportsmen more time off around the time of the birth of a child? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

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UK Paternity Leave Changes: 5 key issues

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2013-04-24 18.26.42Major changes to the UK paternal leave system were announced last week that will make it easier for both parents to share almost a year of leave. Two weeks of leave will be specifically reserved for the mother in the period immediately following the birth, but it will be possible for the remaining 50 weeks to be split between both parents in the manner that they wish. This story was major news last Friday and the subject of articles in The Guardian, The Independent and on the BBC News website.

I have previously given my own views on the current UK paternity leave system on this blog and pointed towards some things that I would like to see change. I have also talked about what I learned during my two weeks of paternity leave. Although I welcome the general direction in which the changes are heading and the way that they have been framed by politicians such as Jo Swinson (Secretary of State for Women and Equalities) and Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister), I do feel that there are five key issues that need to be examined when discussing the likely impact of the proposed new parental leave system:

1. What happens prior to birth needs to be addressed more fully. As I have said previously, a major failing of the current paternity leave system is that men are not entitled to time off to accompany their partner to antenatal appointments. For this reason, it is good to hear that the new proposals mean that men will be allowed time off to attend two antenatal appointments. After attending the standard 12 week and 20 week scans, this leaves no time to attend antenatal classes. I see this as a major issue given the importance of antenatal classes to first time parents and the role that they can play in reassuring dads-to-be and mums-to-be about the challenges that lie ahead when it comes to childbirth and adapting to life as parents.

2. As union leader Frances O’Grady has stated, greater incentives could be provided in order to encourage men to take more paternity leave. In some countries in Scandinavia, there is a ‘use it or lose it’ approach that means that a certain number of weeks are assigned to the dad to take as paternity leave and cannot be transferred to the mother. In other words, a dad’s decision to take paternity leave helps to increase the overall amount of paternal leave a couple can take. It is also important to note that the present UK system means that a man can currently take two weeks of paternity leave and a women can take 52 weeks of maternity leave (some of which can be transferred to the dad after the 6 month mark). This adds up to 54 weeks but the new system will reduce the total leave available to a couple to 52 weeks.

2013-03-24 13.56.513. The Financial support for those taking parental leave needs to be increased if more dads are to take paternity leave and more parents are to take their full entitlement. Currently, women are paid 90% of their pre-tax wage for the first six weeks of their maternity leave and then the lower out of 90% of their wage or £136.78 (which generally means being paid £136.78) for the next 33 weeks and the remainder of the 52 week maximum is unpaid leave. Paternity leave is generally paid at a statutory minimum of £136.78, although some employers top this up. This means that it makes more sense from a purely financial perspective for men to take two weeks of holiday after their partner gives birth rather than taking paternity leave.

4. More needs to be done to get business leaders onside. American business professor and blogger Scott Behson has talked about the benefits of flexible working on his blog Fathers Work and Family, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was last week quoted in The Independent as saying that ‘many businesses already recognise how productive and motivated employees are when they’re given the opportunity to work flexibly, helping them retain talent and boost their competitive edge’. However, the UK’s Institute of Directors described the changes as ‘a nightmare’ and expressed concern at both the complexity and difficulties of implementing the changes from the perspective of businesses (see article on BBC News website).

5. Leading figures in the Conservative Party do not support the changes. The key figures that have talked up the new plans for paternal leave in the UK, such as Jo Swinson and Nick Clegg, are both from the Liberal Democrats (the junior partners in the UK’s coalition government). Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ leader, apparently wanted to see initial paternity leave extended from four weeks to two weeks, but this was rejected by government colleagues. Several articles about the changes, such as this one from The Guardian have listed senior Conservative ministers who are opposed to the changes.

2013-06-12 10.20.55Even though the coalition government has not really given its full backing to the changes, I am glad to see that the Liberal Democrats have helped to bring about the imperfect but improved new system. The Lib Dems have taken some flak for abandoning some of their flagship policies since entering government (e.g. opposition to large increases in university tuition fees). This has led to a joke about a person who phones the Lib Dem headquarters and explains that he would like to buy a copy of the party manifesto. When they are told ‘I’m sorry, we’ve sold out’ by the person on the other of the phone, their reply is ‘I know, but I’d still like to buy a copy of the manifesto’.

Now, I would like to see both Liberal Democrat and Conservative members of the government doing more to get business leaders onside for the sake of dads, mums and families. It is a real shame that certain business leaders have denounced work place flexibility without acknowledging that it can have benefits both for employees and businesses. I feel that striving towards a decent work life balance helps me to be as involved a parent as I can be and means that I am more content and productive when I am at work.

What is the parental leave system like where you live and how happy are you with it? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

 

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I’ve linked this post up with the #PoCoLo parent bloggers link-up hosted on Verily Victoria Vocalises.

Parenting clubs shouldn’t just be for mums

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2013-08-16 15.09.45

In the run up to becoming a dad in April, I joined several ‘parenting’ clubs run by big brands that provide special offers for parents. However, I’ve been dismayed to see that some of these clubs could be doing a lot more to engage dads as well as mums. Reading an article that Darell Milton (a.k.a. Modern Dad Online) wrote on his blog back in July of this year made clear to me that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I’ve written twice to the supermarket Tesco about this issue but have not received a reply. Here’s an extract from one of my e-mails that summarizes the issues that I have with their Baby and Toddler Club:

I recently joined the Tesco Baby & Toddler club as my wife and I are expecting a baby in April. Having just been on to the website link accessible through my Clubcard account, it seems that the Baby & Toddler club is very much focused on mothers and babies and largely ignores fathers. I find this disappointing and believe that it represents an overly stereotypical and outdated attitude towards parenting. I intend to play an active role in bringing up our child along with my wife, but feel somewhat excluded by the limited focus of the Baby & Toddler club. Such an approach both fails to acknowledge that men are increasingly playing a greater role in parenting and does little to encourage men who may feel reluctant about doing so. There needs to be a focus on Parents’ choice and not just Mums’ choice.

I would be most grateful if you could explain why the Tesco Baby & Toddler club fails to focus on fatherhood (or parenthood in general) as well as motherhood. I would also like to hear what steps you intend to take in order to make the Tesco Baby & Toddler club more inclusive and less gender-specific in the future.


To be fair to Tesco’s Baby Club, they do appear to be taking some steps in the right direction when it comes to including more features about or by dads. There is now a brief article entitled ‘How to be a good dad‘ and a longer and more useful looking one entitled ‘Top tips for dads-to-be‘. However, the section of the Tesco Baby Club entitled ‘Your family entitlements and benefits‘ makes no reference to paternity leave. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that paternity leave is a topic about which I feel quite passionate; I’ve given my views on the UK paternity leave system and talked about what I learned when I was on paternity leave.

One of my other main gripes is that the Tesco Baby Club offers section features the slogan ‘Making mums’ lives easier’. Whilst I fully appreciate that childbirth and pregnancy can provide many challenges that are felt most acutely by the mother, I’d have preferred to see a phrase like ‘making families’ lives easier’. Although some of the products on offer at the time of writing included shampoo and shower gel that one would most likely find in the women’s toiletries aisle, it also included different sorts of products in the categories ‘baby’, ‘toddler’ and ‘family life’. The ‘family life’ section included items such as razors and deodorant that would be found in the men’s toiletries aisle.

Recently, I thought that the Boots Parenting Club (Boots is the name of a well-known UK pharmacist) had started to turn over a new leaf when it came to trying to engage dads. The letter to me that accompanied their free magazine, began with the following words before talking up a variety of promotional offers:

What a thrilling time to be a dad.. All those experiences, all those ‘firsts’

However, the focus of the accompanying ‘parenting’ magazine was somewhat disappointing, and not just because it featured the slogan ‘making life easier for mum’ as the main tag line on the front cover. In the 52-page magazine, there was one picture of a dad and a mum with a baby compared to 22 pictures of mums with babies or young children. There was not a single picture of a simply a dad with a baby or child. In addition, there were many features where women talked about their experiences of being mums but none where men talked about their experiences of being dads.

When I see the sort of narrow focus on parenting that I’ve described here,  I feel that I – as a dad – am effectively being excluded. I may be working full-time while my wife is taking charge of more of the childcare, but I’m doing my best to achieve a work life balance that allows me to be as committed and involved a dad and a husband as I can be. I just wish that more big companies out there would realise that I am one of a great many dads who are striving to do this.

In addition, I am also aware of quite a few stay at home dads who are taking the lead with childcare whilst their wife or partner is out at work. Their experiences also need to be more prominent within materials about parenting. The same goes for adoptive or foster parenting and same sex couples who are bringing up kids.

To end on a positive note, I am glad to see that some companies are reaching out to dads and demonstrating a decent level of sensitivity and understanding where fatherhood is concerned. Within the last month alone, I’ve read articles from Huffington Post, The National Fatherhood Initiative and Scott Behson’s Fathers, Work and Family blog that discuss companies that have made commercials that provide positive and empowering representations of dads. I hope that it won’t belong before more brands follow suit by also focusing on the role that mums and dads play in parenting.

What did you think of this article? Are there in companies that are particularly good or bad when it comes to reaching out to dads when it comes to either their advertising or materials about parenting that they produce? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the ‘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 and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it!

I’ve linked this blog post up with the ‘Something for the Weekend’ parent bloggers link-up hosted by The Voice of Sarah Miles and Diary of the Dad, and also the #PoCoLo link-up hosted by Verily Victoria Vocalises.

6 things I’ve learned in 6 months as a parent

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Now that I’ve been a parent for six months, I thought I’d look back at what I’ve learned so far. Here are six highlights:

2013-09-01 13.15.231. There are lots of things that I did to try to prepare myself for becoming a parent and supporting my wife during pregnancy and labour, but there was nothing that quite prepared me for exactly how it felt to become a parent . I don’t mean this in a negative way. As I said in my first blog post, I found it really beneficial to read books about pregnancy and childbirth, in particular ones that focused on the dad’s perspective as well as the mum’s and where I read about what sorts of feelings other dads and dads-to-be experienced.

Even though it’s now just over six months since our son was born, there are so many things from the day of his birth that I remember as if they had only happened yesterday. These include seeing and hearing him for the first time and phoning my parents to let them know that he’d been born. It had been a long labour and I was very tired as well as quite emotional. I remember just being able to blurt out the words ‘it’s a boy’ before starting to cry and hearing my mum do the same at the other end of the phone.

2. It’s such a blessing to be able to take two weeks of paternity leave. Shortly after doing a blog post about the paternity leave system here in the UK, I got a lot of really fascinating input from fellow dads who had been in a range of different situations as to if they could take paternity leave and how long they could take. As I mentioned in a follow-up post about my own experience of paternity leave, the two weeks created a great opportunity to be there and try to be as supportive and helpful a husband and father as I could be.

Getting used to new sleep patterns and a new routine in many other ways did bring its own challenges, but the fortnight was above all full of good quality family time that helped all three of us – my son, my wife and me – to bond as a new family unit.

2013-07-27 17.00.573. Not being afraid to ask questions, especially in the first few weeks is really important. When we left the maternity ward, where the nurses and doctors had all been great, they told us not to be afraid to get in touch if we had any questions about anything and gave us the phone numbers to ring in order to do so. We did ring once or twice about things to do with issues such as what the contents of his nappies looked like and the midwifes were really helpful and didn’t sound at all put out to be asked.

Ultimately, the things that we asked about turned out to be nothing major but it was good to be certain and put our minds at rest. I’ve also found it really helpful to talk to others who have been through the process of becoming parents over the last year, in other words from even before our son was born to where we’re at now. We probably experienced some things a bit differently to certain people, but getting an idea of what can happen, might happen and ways that people deal with it (and the ways it is medically advisable to deal with situations) was really useful.

4.It sometimes feels that the arrival (or impending arrival) of a child is an excuse for companies to market a wide variety of items that are far from essential. As I said in a recent post about this issue, different people are going to find different things more or less useful. One thing that I really don’t get why so many people buy almost all baby clothes new when a lot of them are only going to last a matter of weeks. It’s great to have a few special outfits, but there’s so much stuff available from charity shops that helps to save money, raise money for a good cause and cut down on waste.

We’ve been so lucky to have also been lent so many clothes by friends and family and I’m sure that we’ll try to reciprocate in the future. I can appreciate that there are safety reasons that mean that it really is important to buy certain items new rather than second hand (e.g. car seat, cot mattress), and it’s easier to spend more on these items if you’re not spending lots on things that you don’t really need or can buy second hand.

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5. It’s great to be there to see so many little firsts as our son develops. I loved being there when our son had his first bath and helping to bathe him. I wasn’t joking when I tweeted about being excited about going out to get him his first toothbrush and brushing his teeth for the first time being a highlight of that particularly weekend. I didn’t mean that in a negative way at all, I guess it’s just a sign of being a bit sentimental (…or perhaps slightly odd in some people’s book!).

I also love looking back at how things like our first trip outside the house, our first walk by the seaside and our first family holiday have all been adventures in their own way. I look forward to other firsts that are yet to come, such as taking him to his first football match and his first day at school.

6. I’m still learning! This whole blogging thing is still fairly new to me and I’m learning new things about it all the time from people who know a lot more about it than I do, and I’d say pretty much the same thing about parenting.  I feel that I’m constantly learning about our son as well as what we needs and wants. As he’s only six months old, he’s still learning about how to form requests, demands and ultimatums himself! 🙂 I’m currently trying to help him with this as well as teaching him other practical skills like doing a high five.

If you are a parent, what are the most important things that you learned in the first six months of being a parent? I’d love to hear your views on this question and this article in general, so please feel free to let me know your views via 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 and also follow this blog via BlogLovin.

Similar posts:

Being a dad – celebrating the little things

7 thoughts from my 7th month as a parent

8 thoughts from my 8th month as a parent

9 thoughts from my 9th month as a parent

I’ve linked this post up at the ‘Something for the weekend’ parent blog link-up run by Diary of the Dad and the Voice of Sarah Miles.

Prince William – a normal dad?

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Royal Baby

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.

3 Thoughts about paternity leave

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IMAG0942In my last postI had my say on paternity leave entitlements. This time I’m taking a more personal look at the topic based on my own experiences. It seems that reflecting on paternity leave is a bit of an in thing at the moment. Facebook employee Tom Stocky recently posted about what he’d learnt during the four months of paternity leave that he was able to take  and his initial post has gone viral. In addition, Scott Behson has just posted a story about Major League Baseball players who have recently taken paternity leave on his blog Fathers, Work and Family.

Here are three thoughts based on my own experiences of paternity leave:

1. It’d be a real shame not to take paternity leave. On some levels, the idea of taking two weeks off during a time of year when I wouldn’t normally take a fortnight’s holiday seemed odd. There were also practical questions. What would I do about the work that I would normally be expected to do during the time that I was going to be off on paternity leave? When was the paternity leave going to actually fall and how would the timing affect my work?

However, the most important things were that I wanted to be able to take paternity leave in order to be able to support my wife and soon-to-arrive son / daughter. With living in the UK, this was thankfully a legal entitlement so not something to feel remotely guilty about. Indeed, I recently read that 90% of fathers in the UK opt to take the two weeks of paternity leave to which they are entitled. What was foremost in my mind was that we were preparing for a major life event and I wanted to be as much a part of it as I could.

I did take some practical steps to manage the work situation so as I wouldn’t be too swamped on my return from paternity leave. I worked extra hard during the last few months leading up to the birth of our son, mainly during times when my wife was going to aqua-natal classes, mindfulness classes or the local community choir. I also brought forward a few engagements that were likely to fall during the time when I was going to be on paternity leave. People were very understanding about this, which was a real help.

2. Paternity leave certainly isn’t a holiday. I had perhaps somewhat naively thought that I might have a moment or two to read through some things for work during my two weeks on paternity leave, but it didn’t happen (…which I reckon was a good thing in lots of ways!). Our son’s preferred napping position during the day was curled up on someone who was sitting on the sofa. This meant that either myself or my wife could be pinned down for two hours or more at a time. Moving without waking him felt a bit like playing Jenga or Buckaroo, except with greater pressure.

One thing that I found satisfying on a personal level during paternity leave was being able to go out and do simple practical things such as going to the supermarket or stocking up on baby supplies (…and not just because I managed to build up enough loyalty card points for several free slices of cake and a free lunch or two!). I had tried to be as supportive as possible during pregnancy and labour, but at times felt that there was only so much I could do as it was my wife who was experiencing the pains, tiredness and other effects that come with carrying and giving birth to a baby.

However, the most important thing for me was simply spending the quality time with my wife and son as we got used to life as a family. Seeing our son do all sorts of little things for the first time felt amazing. Helping to give him his first bath and going on our first family outing together to a little cafe by the sea just fifteen minutes away were particular highlights. As he hadn’t yet started smiling, I for some reason took great pleasure from taking pictures of him doing big yawns. I am also very proud of one picture where he appears to be imitating the pose that sprinter Usain Bolt did after winning the men’s 100m at last year’s Olympics. It was also great to have so many people both nearby and far away who were happy for us and shared our sense of excitement about his arrival and who communicated this to us during this period via cards, presents and e-mails.

3. Returning to work can be challenging. I normally come in to work feeling fresh in the morning, especially at the start of the week. However, things were a bit different when I came back from paternity leave. I had got used to having reduced and broken sleep during paternity leave but not the combination of these sleep patterns and putting in a normal day of work. I certainly felt a lot more tired when I got home after work.

In some ways, the hardest part was going from spending more or less all of every day with my wife and son to leaving while they were still asleep and not seeing them again until 6pm. That said, being a dad has given me an extra incentive to be productive, make sure I get what I need to done and have as little work as possible to take home at evenings and weekends.

My experience of returning to work has lead me to question the stereotypical notion that men on paternity leave often see heading back to work as a welcome return to normality or sanity. I was glad to hear this notion challenged by Dean Beaumont of DaddyNatal during an appearance on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ back in January. ‘Normality’ is now being a father and trying to do my best in this role as well as in my job. Fatherhood has certainly brought plenty of new experiences and I would not have been able to experience these anywhere near as fully had I not taken paternity leave.

I’d love to know your views on paternity leave, so please feel free to use the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ page on Facebook and 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.

Paternity leave – is it enough?

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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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