When I became a dad, I was running a guest house in the Lake District.
Try cooking a full English for ten people when you’ve had zero sleep, spent half the night in a shit-filled birthing pool and are so high on endorphins you keep bursting into laughter.
Actually on second thoughts, don’t try that.
Instead, just know that the early days, weeks and months with your newborn are some of the most memorable, precious and important times of any parent’s life.
My wife was the higher earner and had good maternity leave, and I had the luxury to fit my work in around my care-giving responsibilities, so I was able to share the first year with my son and learn how to be an effective, loving hands-on dad. Exactly as recommended in The Times this weekend .
Many men don’t get that chance.
Just reflect on how little we do in the UK to make sure fathers get the opportunity to spend that time with their new babies – despite a huge weight of evidence that suggests it’s of benefit to children, mums and dads themselves.
We have the most gender-imbalanced parenting leave system in the developed world: one designed to push mums into staying at home and dads to focus on earning.
Employers discriminate against dads routinely. Fathers are almost twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down. Employers are more likely to ‘top up’ Maternity Pay levels than Paternity or Shared Parental Leave pay levels, supporting female, but not male, parents to take leave. When fathers ask to work part-time they are more likely than mothers to be judged by their managers as ‘not committed’ to their work. Unsurprisingly, fathers are more likely than mothers to fear that taking leave, or even asking to work flexibly, will damage their careers.
And all this against a cultural backdrop where fathers are widely misrepresented as bumbling and incompetent in the media, and where government policy, parenting guides, magazines and children’s books cast dads in a secondary role to mothers and poke fun at them, emphasizing their alleged lack of ‘natural’ parenting skills.
Something’s got to give.
At the Fatherhood Institute we are publishing today the first of our reports from the most comprehensive review ever undertaken in Britain of decades of research into the roles of fathers in families.
In our report, ‘Cash or carry’, we call for “Fair Jobs for Dads”: a radical shake-up of employment law to make it easier for fathers, as well as mothers, to care and earn for their families.
Here’s what’s needed:
1. We need employers to offer parity in leave and pay for parents – including a three-month period of well-paid, non-transferable parental leave for dads.
2. Large employers – already required to publish information on gender “pay equity” – should likewise have to report on “care equity”, detailing who is taking family-based benefits. So we can keep track of mothers’ and fathers’ respective take-up, and what employers are doing to support them or stand in their way.
3. The Government’s guidance on the Equalities Act should define negative representation of men’s/ fathers’ caretaking in the workplace as sex discrimination, and appropriate actions against discriminating employers should be introduced.
4. Family-related research, policy, resources and guidelines should be ‘proofed’ by experts to ensure father-inclusion.
5. And actions to tackle the Gender Pay Gap should be stepped up, not only to benefit women, but to help fathers work shorter hours and take leave for parenting – currently impossible because as family income is more likely to be compromised when they do.
Check out our recommendations, and the summary of our report, here. #fairjobs4dads