Shared parental leave is, all things considered, a relatively new concept. Traditionally, the role of carer has been taken on by women, without any real discussion about what would work best for the couple and how careers are likely to be impacted.
Becoming a parent is something that is, of course, going to drastically alter one’s life. Priorities will have to change, the amount of disposable income available will be greatly reduced, and day-to-day routines will start to revolve around the needs and wants of the baby.
However, in the past, this is a change that has been delineated along gender-centric lines. The man would, generally, continue going to work and earn money, while the woman would stay at home to look after the child, putting any career or external ambitions on hold. This disparity in income is, in fact, one of the reasons why some women stay with their partners in the first place – even if they may want to leave. A survey from Direct Line reveals that, for 31% of women asked, the reason they stayed with their partner was because they simply could not afford to separate.
This is something that is beginning to change in many countries around the world, with more and more couples throwing off these shackles borne of custom, and instead embracing the idea of sharing the burdens associated with garnering income and looking after their child.
Unlike many countries around the world – with particular reference to those in Europe – Australia does not have any nationally legislated shared parental leave system. There would appear to be an increase in the number of people backing such a system, with an array of companies offering it, but there is not widespread knowledge around who is legible, and so take-up is still incredibly low. Research suggests that only one in 20 fathers take any paternity leave at all, and this is largely attributed to the fact that many don’t know they have access to such rights.
However, in other countries in Europe, the take-up is far more substantial. In Iceland, for example, parents are guaranteed 39 weeks off, which allows them to be paid at 80% of the parent’s wage. Here, fathers account for 45% of all of the total benefit use, which is another victory as the country strives for gender equality across everything it does.
However, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what the benefits – and potential cons – associated with shared parental leave are.
Is it a good idea?
Research clearly shows that many men are refusing to take on the traditionally ‘female’ role of taking time off work to look after their child, largely because they either don’t understand that support is available, or because they are unwilling to take a step away from a career they have worked hard to establish.
However, it could be argued that all that is required here is for parents to be better educated about their employer’s legal requirements, as well as the benefits that are available. One of the cons of shared parental leave is that employers may not be as understanding or forgiving when a father is taking considerable time off – but this is the employer’s problem, not yours. As attitudes continue to change, hopefully employers will become increasingly open-minded in future.
There is also a widespread misunderstanding that shared parental leave has replaced maternity leave. This is by no means true – both parental leave and maternity leave are designed to work harmoniously together. Women who are on the cusp of motherhood can, in actual fact, choose – following conversation with their partner – whether to use the traditional method of taking full maternity leave, or whether they want to use shared parental leave. While this decision ultimately rests with the mother, it’s obviously wise to discuss this with the other partner involved too.
There are, of course, an array of potential benefits. Research has found that children growing up in two-parent families, on average, end up having better careers and attaining better results at school, and are also less likely to end up having a criminal conviction.
Shared parental leave ensures that children get more time to bond with both of their parents, and it allows both mother and father a much greater degree of flexibility and choice when it comes to career choices. Research has also found that the amount of time a child spends with their father can massively impact a child’s development.