Whilst I was dancing beside the baby-viewing cinema screen last week (trying to get Little Bear to sleep in the middle of teething and tiredness induced hysteria) I counted the parents. There were just over 100 watching the film. Out of them, there was 1 other dad on his own. I was actually surprised to see any other dads at all. Normally there are none. I've been to about half a dozen baby activities, and have yet to talk to another dad alone with their baby.
I'm certainly not complaining about there not being enough blokes to talk to. I really enjoy spending time with the mums and their little monsters. But where are all the dads on shared parental leave? Shared Parental Leave ('SPL') could just need more time to take-off, but there might be deeper problems.
Looking for some real numbers on how many new dads are taking shared parental leave is difficult, but the best estimate puts it between at 2 and 4% (Compared to 9 out of 10 dads in Sweden, Norway and Iceland)...
I'm sure that's the case for a lot of couples, but I'd say 4 in 5 blokes I speak to say they'd love to have had or have the opportunity to take parental leave. I fact, dads are wanting to play a bigger role than ever before in bringing up their kids.
Around half of people in the UK think that the main responsibility for children should be shared equally, and only 23% feel it should be the just with the mother. Just before Shared Parental Leave came in, 83% of people said they'd definitely or probably consider using it. That means that a lot of parents are keen on the idea of letting dad play a bigger role in the first year of their babies life, including using parental leave.
It looks like there are a couple of causes (covered a lot in the papers) stopping couples that want to share parenting. Dads can say they're nervous about being alone with the baby. I can understand that, it's really tough looking after a baby (someone who's nervous about being a parent is probably more prepared to be one than most), but I don't think this explains the bulk of the numbers. A few guys have said their wife wont let them... I'm not going to comment on this one...
But two nagging problems that seem to stop dads from taking parental leave seem to pop up a lot: career and money. I've heard these a lot from expectant papas and these are real problems that stop dads (and mums!) getting what they deserve.
A lot of blokes (myself included) are worried about the impact on their careers. Of course, women have had to deal with this for a while, and guys taking half the parental leave means that mums can take less of a hit to their careers, but it doesn't mean that dads aren't going to be put off from parental leave if they think it might limit their opportunities, and even the family's income in the future. Both mums and dads agree that it tends to be easier for the mum to take time off work for childcare than dad. These are attitudes (from employers) that cause a serious problem for parents wanting to share the baby-leave. We can only hope they will change over time as they have in Scandinavia.
That leaves us with the biggest problem of all. Money. For many couples, it's just not affordable for the family to lose the dad's income because he's likely to earn more. If the mum has to use up the full-pay entitlement that many employers offer because of breastfeeding or recovery from labour, it means that by the time it gets to 'dad's turn', the parent taking full-time parenting responsibility has to give up nearly all their income. If the mum earns less, the financially smart decision is for the mum to continue staying at home, not the dad.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots
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