Aidan, Founder of TMFC
Let's get straight to the point…… paternity rights suck! Here in the UK, you either qualify for it or you don't. Right now, paternity rights aren't designed to help you and they're certainly not designed to help you take time out to bond with your new baby and support your partner. It’s over in a flash and you're often thrust back into work and with little support from your employer you're forced to adapt to the pressures of fatherhood on your own.
I remember returning to work, we were living in this post lockdown work, and I was now exclusively working from home with two small children and a wife unable to get a moment to escape. Not only had we faced lockdown as new parents, my employer and rightly so was more preoccupied with the commercial reality of trying to steer the business through uncertain waters. I had a full-blown crisis. But where did that leave me? Completely isolated from the outside world and like so many of us forced behind my screen. Every interaction with my leader didn’t feel authentic. It was a challenge for us all and this virtual world we’d be living in for some time was creating barriers to the relationships I’d built and nurtured before Max arrived. At no point did I communicate the way I had been feeling and the issues I had faced. I was father on the edge, and you couldn’t see it and because my work didn’t suffer my employer encouraged me to tackle bigger challenges and I dutifully obliged, by increasing my output. If anything, I pushed harder and worked longer hours because it kept me busy. For the first time it felt like time was on my side and having gained 3 1/2 hours back every day I worked on myself and focused on my recovery plan.
Nobody followed up and the idle chit chat in a post teams world enabled me to conceal the pressure I’d felt. Had I not be more resilient, I’m not sure what would have happened.
Stop right there!!!!! Isn't this the way it's always been? Come on, a father's primary role is to support his family and provide for them! He must press on and get the job done, he must get on with it and often at all costs! The problem is…. The world has moved on but we're still failing to support and protect new families. Before we look at paternity leave let's just look at the stats on mums returning to work after maternity leave.
Fewer than 20% of all new mothers, and 29% of first-time mothers, return to work full-time in the first 3 years after maternity leave. That's a staggering drop in the work force and in a lot of cases our partners are forced to choose between motherhood and their career, although I think it's fair to say that many don't even get that choice. There are so many barriers to mum returning to work, and those barriers add an extra level of complexity to the family unit and the relationship between mum, baby, and dad.
Now, why in a modern, ever-changing, diversity-focused world are we not giving due care and attention to the importance of the family unit? In all honesty, I think we've lost our way. I think we need to work harder to understand the modern family dynamic, including the financial ramifications of choosing to have children.
Some phenomenal work has been done to support the working mum, but for many it is too late, they have already made, in their minds, career defining decisions. Yes their hand was forced, but there are too many barriers to supporting the working family.
The barrier to a mother returning to work starts with baby’s arrival and ends with the financial decision to sacrifice 4-5 years of her career to avoid the obscene cost of childcare. The alternative is to work yourself to the bone just to cover the cost of childcare.
At home we’ve talked about the subject at length, and as the husband to a working mum I can see how conflicted my wife is. She desperately wants to be a mum, but she’s worked her socks off to get where she is, so in her eyes, shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. She’s working a condensed work week to try to cling on to the day she cherishes most, her day with Max. More than once we’ve considered taking the drop in collective salary to permanently reduce the cost of Max’s care. The problem is, as a conscientious, driven working mum the workload would not decrease, she’d still work hard, and her employer certainly wouldn’t give her the time or salary that reflects her dedication to her job.
Society and employers need to get to grips with the challenges of modern motherhood and collectively we need to start prioritising fathers' health. Both employers and the government need to be switched on to the challenges both parents face, and while both attempt to focus on mum, neither are doing enough to educate, support, or protect dad. Let’s take Men’s Mental Health week in 2023 did your employer run dedicated sessions to this important subject? Did they prioritise other key topics on their diversity agenda? We appear to be forgetting the importance of family, reflecting on the importance of the father figure, celebrating those with children and protecting those who might be more vulnerable following the arrival of their baby. As a man I admit I do not help myself. My own story points to silence being my preferred option. I needed a stern talking to. A strong word and a wakeup call before I took on my greatest challenge. I perhaps am more resilient than I’ve previously given myself credit for and perhaps I am the exception to the rule, but that doesn’t mean that as a new father I should be supported as I embark on my unique fatherhood story.
Today we are more present, more aware of the importance of our role, more willing to engage, and for the lucky few, some of us have even been gifted a better chance at working toward the holy grail… A better work-life balance! However, in a world that is failing to support mum, we are overlooked, and this can create conflict at home. Here in the UK, I must qualify for paternity leave, and while it's a statutory right (Once I've qualified), a significant drop in salary (Paternity pay = £156 p/w) is an unwanted pressure in those early days. Now more than ever, you (Dad) must understand your rights and understand if you have support available to you, beyond the statutory pay.
I’m sorry to tell you that we’re behind, but not the worst in terms of paternity support. In my humble opinion you must look at all the facts, not just that one country is better than another at providing support. It is the focus on family that sets other countries apart and I wonder if that is why we struggle to understand the pressure, both financially and mentally on the modern parent.
In today’s world I am encouraged as an employed individual to reduce my taxable income by paying money into a pension and even a cycle to work scheme or Electric vehicle scheme, but I am not encouraged to set aside additional resources for my new family. Yes, the government should do more, but should I do more too? My employer can set the tone by providing the right support, beyond the basic maternity package, but could I, the reasonable earner do more? I don’t have the answers, I just understand the financial burden and the obstacles to returning to work many mums face and the pressure that creates on the family unit. Frankly taking a financial hit in the first two weeks is completely unacceptable and that’s before you factor in the complexities that can arise after baby arrives. What I want to see as a minimum is the following:
Paid maternity and paternity leave starting once baby has left the hospital.
Enhanced paternity packages for dads
Schemes deployed that can help families better prepare financially for the arrival of baby.
Paternity leave that’s flexible. An enhanced package for dads is the minimum, I’m not convinced there should be a statutory minimum period. I personally would want to see employers significantly upskilled in dealing with parents returning to work before offering an enhanced period. I also think better preparation by dads would facilitate better health and well-being if they choose an extended period.
As a dad I would like the option to take extended paternity beyond a two-week period and I’m certainly not going to take days from my holiday allowance. For me the two are entirely separate. Again, I can because I’m in a fortunate position buy more holiday and that’s a benefit, I take on every year where I can.
Paternity leave should not feel like a financial burden and as a dad I should not be forced to decide to lose out financially or lose out on precious moments with my new baby. Flexibility in any policy is key and whilst shared parental leave is an option available for some, it’s not available to everyone and again, there is a financial burden associated with it and that’s why as a family you need to consider all your options carefully and to prepare fully you need to understand the financial implications for you and her before you plan to have the baby or at the very least consider them before she has to notify her employer. Get the policy, understand the implications for you both and consider the impact it might have on you both in the long and short term.
In the UK, I can take up to two weeks paternity leave, but if my employer doesn't offer me an enhanced package or I don't meet the criteria, then can I really afford to take it? Many face this exact dilemma, spend time with baby and support your new partner and sacrifice pay or sacrifice something truly incredible and get paid to ensure the family is protected.
For some, the burden without an enhanced package is just too much to carry and frankly, being forced to choose between your family and financial security should not be a decision you need to make. Many dads are forced to choose financial security, but at what cost? I think the decision has several consequences, and depending on how strong your partnership is, you’ll want to understand the impact to:
Your early finances. With your partner on a reduced income over an extended period, what’s the true financial hole that this creates? How will you cover the lost income and what will you need to cut back?
What she sacrifices isn’t just her finances, it’s her independence too and as you embark on your fatherhood journey you are taking a pay cut and her taking a cut too can put your relationship under intense pressure. It’s not just adjusting to having kids, it’s the challenge of balancing and recovering from that financial hit.
Now depending on her maternity pay you might be covered at full pay for a limited period, but once that period moves to statutory maternity pay you really begin to feel the pinch. The challenge of course is once your partner is ready to return to work the financial pressure increases, not only are you recovering from a financial set back, but the reality is also it is going to take time to recover. The financial hole will reduce over time and it’s that additional pressure that will potentially create more conflict between you. This of course can result in her sacrificing more, yes, she is doing it for the good of her family but is she able to make a choice or is the financial burden forcing her into that position.
Reflecting, it took us almost 18 months to get back on track and back on track enabled us to save some money and reduce the financial strain attached to baby number two. That coupled with the pandemic and the costs of two working parents commuting removed, we’re grateful that we were in a position that allowed my partner to go back to work. The second time around the financial hit was much less but only because the pandemic slowed everything down, outgoings were reduced, and we both made sensible cutbacks.
I think for now your paternity or maternity package will never be sufficient to cover the true cost of bringing a family into the world. However, there are steps that we can take, our employers and the government can take to improve the situation. In today’s crazy climate and with financial insecurity rife I personally think that everyone should have an eye on the financial cost of bringing a baby into the world and everyone should be clear on the emotional cost that it can have on the short-term security of your family. The added financial pressure can create a divide and a divided family will struggle to make the key decisions together, communicate effectively and prioritise what’s important, whilst understanding the cost of the sacrifices made to everyone involved.
We’ve talked about the financial pressure, so let’s say you are both ready, you’ve considered all your options and you’re ready to start a family. As a couple, regardless of the planning and the attention to detail, circumstance might just force you onto the backfoot, and as a partner you need to be aware of the challenges she will face. You must be empathetic to the situation and understand or try to understand the conflict she will experience. Your decision to take or not take paternity isn’t driven by a lack of desire to bond but it’s driven by your duty to provide during that all important early period.
I had read the policy. I’ve read my current employer’s policy and I understand the financial implication of having another baby and whilst my paternity policy isn’t above a basic enhanced package, my partners employer has stepped up a level, so if we decided to expand our family there is potentially the financial headroom to do so.
For me I want to know the financial impact and if you’re exploring expanding or starting your family, start with the basics:
What’s the paternity policy in the country or state you reside in?
What does your employer offer?
Do they offer an enhanced package or just the mandated package?
Do you qualify for either?
What rules are in place and when do you need to notify your employer?
If there is paternity, will you take it?
If so, what’s the financial impact on your family?
If you're choosing not to take it, what's the short and longer-term cost to your family of you not taking it?
If there is no enhanced package but there is an opportunity to take paternity leave, are you eligible?
If yes, you'll need to give notice - Make sure you don't miss the date for giving it.
Don't forget to consider the financial impact of statutory paternity.
If you're not entitled or don't qualify, what is your plan?
Now run through the questions as a team and make sure you understand her policy too and consider the financial cost and emotional strain the wrong decision might have on you both.
First things first - get the facts! Once you understand the policies, your collective entitlement and the financial burden of both maternity and paternity get a better understanding of the positive impact a father can have on his young family, the importance of your emotional bond with baby and I can’t stress this enough, get clued up on the conflict a mother faces, pressures she’ll be exposed to on a daily basis and consider the obstacles to her returning to work. That’s not just the financial pressure but the cost of “lost time” and how she’ll be perceived on her return to work.
Your objective is to fully support her and be conscious of the things you can’t see as a man. There will be things you’re oblivious too and things you might be choosing to ignore. Ultimately your role in the early days to support, communicate, empathise, and recognise that a mother pausing her career, something she’s worked her entire life for, is not an easy decision, regardless of how strong her drive to become a mother was or is.
Once you’re clued up on the basics of paternity and maternity leave you can start to focus on the finances and limit the financial hit. Ultimately during the later stages of maternity leave you need to be alive to the cost to her confidence not returning to work can have. Yes, there will be other financial hurdles to overcome (cost of childcare), but your role is to keep that ship afloat and engage your partner in open conversations about the finances and find out from her what she wants to do.
You are going to have notify your employer that you plan to take maternity. For mum, the paperwork and process is covered in the HR policies, but for dad the administrative aspect is covered, but that’s where the support falls away. It’s important you engage your leader in the conversation, and you are open and honest (within reason) about the plan for your partner to take maternity. In most instances you’ll tell your employer, they will notify HR and that completes the process. Your next task is simply to tell them your partner is going in labour, see you in a few weeks! My advice, know the detail of the policy and be clear on your plan and what it means for you and them. Be sure to go to the conversation armed with the facts, how you will plan for the time off and how you will return.
Once baby is here and you’ve had your paternity leave, don’t expect a welcome back interview, or documented or even informal conversation about the last few weeks. I’m sure you’ll be keen to get back to work and work will be keen for you to be back and getting the job done. This is where a lot of us make mistakes, for those who had traumatic births or experienced very difficult circumstances you’ll shy away from sharing that information, why? In part because you don’t want to look vulnerable and by vulnerable, I mean, exposing an area of weakness that might be exploited later down the line.
Like I said, I was eligible, and I knew what package I qualified for and that took the early pressure off. Your employer should make the policy available to you, and if it's available on your intranet or in your employment contract, you can discreetly do your due diligence before having a conversation with your manager. If it's not available or not detailed in your contract, it's important (early in the pregnancy) to get a copy and understand what you're entitled to and what the process is for notifying your employer. Once you've got all the facts, you can start to plan.
Employers play a vital role in supporting working fathers. Well-being sites or intranet platforms can be used to signpost events and resources. Special occasions like Father's Day, Men's Mental Health Week, and Parental Mental Health Week offer opportunities to create awareness. Designated physical spaces within the workplace can be used for meetings and support group gatherings. Employers can champion and support these events to encourage participation and engagement.
Diversity and inclusion should include both mums and dads. Incorporating discussions on the challenges faced by working dads within Diversity and Inclusion committees provides a comprehensive understanding of modern parenting experiences. Engaging returning moms and gaining insights into the challenges faced by working dads contribute to a supportive work environment.
Individuals can actively contribute to supporting working dads. Well-being champions or designated mental health first aiders can provide relatable support. Early interaction upon a dad's return to work helps establish support systems. Connecting with dads before they go on paternity leave ensures they have access to resources and understand the policies. Encouraging engagement and providing tailored support is crucial for the well-being of working fathers.
Resources for supporting working fathers are continually expanding. Tailored approaches can be discussed and implemented to provide effective support. Keeping dads engaged and providing access to well-being tools, advice, and shared experiences is important. Signposting financial resources helps dads understand the costs of having a baby and the impact on their lives. Acknowledging the financial burden of childcare and the partner's career path is essential for a holistic approach to support.
I cannot stress this enough. The paternity and maternity policies do not go far enough. That said you need consider the true financial cost of both and recognise that the financial uncertainty during the early stages of parenthood can have a profound impact on the happiness of the family unit. There is no silver bullet, no quick fix to the challenges new parents face, but as a dad you can take a more active role in the early planning and understand the financial impact and importantly the time it will take to recover from the early pressures.
To today’s busy society, employers need to do more to support new parents. Why? It creates loyalty, and in a world where diversity and inclusion are important facets of organisational culture, we must not overlook the role of a father and mother and the value they contribute to society and to that organisation.
I urge you to think differently and engage in the paternity process and take positive action to ensure you are not overlooked. A confident, strong, and resilient father can teach his children how to overcome adversity and play a pivotal role in the development of his kids. Finally, it’s time the government and businesses took a lead and supported and encouraged new dads to make the most of this unique chance to build a bond with their baby and support their partner as they adapt to their own motherhood journey.
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Aidan, Founder of TMFC
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