Since Saoirse was born I’ve learned just how important parental leave should be – Angus Robertson
Parental leave is crucial to the wellbeing of the baby and parents as well as to employers and society, says Angus Robertson
All mums and dads out there understand the importance of the early days and weeks when their first baby arrived. Early days are key to bonding, and also stressful for parents wanting the best for their new arrival but without first hand experience.
I’ve just been through these early times with my first child Saoirse who is now 13 weeks old. It has been an amazing, precious and sometimes sleep-depriving time. As a man you understandably play second fiddle to the baby’s mother, but there is still lots to do in support and sharing the load.
I must confess that before Saoirse came along, I was none the wiser about the intricacies of early parenthood and the intensity of the experience.
Even if you’ve read plenty advice books and taken good counsel there is no substitute for learning on the job.
Now it’s crystal clear to me why parental leave is so significant. Whether maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave or other variants, it is fundamentally important to the wellbeing of the baby and parent(s) as well as to employers and society in the medium and lower term.
Both my wife Jennifer and I are self-employed, so we have had to juggle our work commitments, and haven’t really been in a position to take formal parental leave. Normally, mums should be able to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, with the first six weeks paid at 90 per cent of salary and the rest at a minimum statutory rate. Dads get only 2 weeks’ (TWO!) paternity leave paid at a minimum statutory rate.
In our neighbouring Nordic countries, generously paid parental leave makes up the majority of leave available to parents.
A good part of the leave can be allocated specifically for dads in the shape of a “daddy quota”, which for example in Sweden is 90 days.
If the father does not take leave, the family loses the leave period reserved for them. The point is to encourage fathers to take leave and play a hands on early parenting role. As we know from a recent maternity study in England, this is important for the health and wellbeing of the mother as well as the baby. It has also been shown that dads who have taken paternity leave take on a bigger hands-on role with the baby. International studies, show that that early commitment is sustained into later childhood. There is also a proven benefit to the relationship between the parents.
Recent news reports have highlighted high-profile parents who have been juggling their commitments with a new baby.
Royal mum Meghan Markle has announced her return to public duties after taking a break to be with young Archie. Closer to home Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey has taken adoption leave to be with his young boys. Last year New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took maternity leave after becoming only the second woman head of government to have a child while in office.
A quick computer search shows that there are big ongoing debates on the issue from Switzerland to Japan. While the Swiss have been wrestling with the challenge of securing paternity leave take-up, in Japan there has been a high-profile court case because of an employer allegedly harassing a father who took leave entitlement.
Clearly there are big challenges to get a system that best fits all circumstances for parents and employers. Changes in society means this will need to be permanently under review. It’s a good thing for dads to be there to help. I know I would not change it for the world.