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Paternity – A Leave Of Your Senses?

Since my last post, quite a lot has happened both at home and around the world, notably the horrible events that took place on the 13th November in Paris and, the subsequent terror threats across the border in Germany and Belgium. Not wanting to be too dismissive, but life does go on. It has to.

Around the time I met my wife, but before I even considered starting a family with her, I read an article in the Daily Mail by political sketch writer and theatre critic Quentin Letts, on how the then Labour Government had carried out research into the benefits of offering a more flexible approach to paternity leave for us men-folk; the idea being that in order to have more equality in the workplace, men should be able to share the responsibility of bringing up junior so that mummy could go back to work sooner and continue in her ascent up the greasy career pole.

Now, the reason why it stuck in my head, was because I thought it was a great initiative. “I’d love to be a stay at home dad”, I’d say to my mates. Their answer was always the same, incredulity along the lines of why I’d voluntarily choose to deal with nappies, vomit, screaming, tiredness etc. My answer was painfully simple. I’m a big kid and I like to have fun. What better fun than being a kid with your own kid?

Of course, the early days are a bloody nightmare (at least they were in our case) although my wife bore the brunt of this for at least the first 3-4 months. When I took over from her after quitting my job, allowing my wife to return to work after 6 months, we were already entering the ‘sunny’ developmental phases of her life so far. She was sleeping through the night, having her naps during the day, eating like hungry hippo and generally being loads of fun to be around. I was able to see her become a ‘person’ right in front of my eyes.

This, of course, had always been my argument to one of us being the stay at home parent. It didn’t seem right somehow, that we should both go to work in order to afford a stranger to experience a string of ‘firsts’ on our behalf. After much discussion and weighing up the pros and cons, it only seemed right and fair that my wife be given every opportunity to return to work and continue life in a job she loves and consistently strives to be more successful at. Me on the other hand, I’d worked for 10 years more, had no real vocation or career path to speak of and had become quite cynical of the corporate world and all the office politic bullshit that comes with it. The choice for me was a no brainer.

Interestingly, since 2006, the paternity leave landscape has changed. The current Conservative Government introduced new legislation beginning in 2015 covering Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). Together with announcements by large blue-chip companies, notably Virgin, more and more Dads are looking at taking advantage of being at home a little longer than they used to be able to. Now, whilst it’s not widespread and for many employers, not in the slightest bit possible, it is a starting point.

Curiously, the latest statistics from a joint study by My Family Care, a company that helps businesses introduce family friendly working practices and law firm Hogan Lovells, found 60 per cent of HR directors had received none, or a just a few requests to take up shared parental leave. One of the biggest barriers is the pay received, £139.58 a week or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Needless to say, if you’re Billy Big Bucks working as a hedge fund manager in the city, it’s not an option worth considering. However, more and more companies are taking Richard Branson’s lead and offering enhanced Parental Leave and Pay.

Luckily, we’re able to do this financially (not that we’re rolling around in piles of cash or anything) but we live within our means. I know that for the the majority of families the choices are made for them. We also both know that this won’t be the status quo indefinitely. I’ll most probably go back to work once our daughter is old enough to attend nursery (doing what remains to be seen) but in the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to be able to be around my daughter during all of her waking hours and constantly reminding her that her mummy’s hard work and, above all, love is making this remotely possible.

Are you a Stay At Home Dad (#SAHD)? What’s your experience so far? Do you agree with SPL/ShPP? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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