Forty years ago, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce paid paternity leave, giving both the mother and father time off to care and bond with their child. In the UK, new fathers will receive £139.58 a week for two weeks (the average earning per week was £538 in 2015), but can take longer, unpaid leave. However, while it is common for men to take a couple of days paternity leave right after birth, only the most committed and bravest use their right to longer parental leave in places that allow it: In the UK, 40% of dads choose not to take the parental leave offered.
I’ve read some pretty scathing arguments against the idea of paid paternity leave, some of which make my jaw drop and, controversial as it may be, I do find it a tad shocking that some people could be as ignorant as some of the things I have read. Of course, I think it is only the minority that are against paternal leave: debate.org says 82% yes and 18% no. So I’m trying to reach out to that 18%.
Yes, I agree with the fact that of course, women are the ones who have to push an entire human being out of their bodies after carrying it around for 9 months, but the notion that the father’s only role, other than helping to conceive the child in the first place, is to make money in order to provide for the family is, in my opinion, somewhat flawed.
Every argument I see usually stems from the same thing: Men don’t have to recover from giving birth. Obviously this is true, but it is also true that they still face a lot of the same issues that women do after having a newborn child. Yes, the woman is going to probably be twice as tired as her partner and naturally therefore should be given a longer amount of time off than the father, but realistically, both parents are usually living under the same roof, which in turn means that both parents are looking after the baby. Due to this, it is not just the mother, but both parents who will be kept awake at night by a crying, hungry baby. Just because the partner didn’t push the child out, doesn’t mean the baby doesn’t affect them. Both parents will see the effects of fatigue and as a result, the father’s work will suffer should he still have to go into work every day.
To add to this, having the father at home is reported to have significantly improved the mother’s health and wellbeing. An analysis of data from an English National Maternity Survey on more than 4,000 women found that mothers whose partners had taken no paternity leave were more likely to report feeling ill or unwell at three months, and mothers with more than one child whose partners took no leave also reported much higher rates of postnatal depression.
Furthermore, it can be argued that the early morning and evening are not long enough in the day for the father to bond with his child. Dads who play with their kids from day one not only boost their child's physical and mental development significantly, but these fathers also suffer from less stress. Experts suggest that by maintaining a hands-on involvement with their children through the toddling years, fathers can strike up a relationship that will help them and their children combat later issues such as depression. This greater sharing of the hands-on caring during and beyond paternity leave can improve relationships as couples. In Sweden, couples in which the father took more than 2 weeks to care for their first child were found to be 30% less likely to separate.