Paternity leave, breastfeeding and gender equality

From the 1st September this year, Ireland introduced statutory paid paternity leave to the amount of two weeks to be taken within the first six months of a baby’s life. In the UK a father is entitled to up to two weeks, to be taken within the first 56 days. In Sweden, the promised land, fathers can take 3 months paid leave.

Whilst two weeks is, marginally, better than nothing, what kind of message are we sending out by placing so little importance on the provision of paternity leave in the UK and Ireland? We are saying that this is women’s work and there is no place for men in the raising of young children. That there is no benefit to the child, the father or the family unit in having a father at home. Reinforcing tired stereotypes of men providing for the family , and women staying at home. Increasing paternity leave would go a long way to shifting the wider societal perception of childcare as solely a woman’s role. It would also help to strengthen the bond between father and newborn, allowing him to spend precious moments with his child, some skin to skin action, helping out with night feeds.

Consider the standard situation: the baby wakes frequently during the night, as is normal for a newborn. The mother gets up to the child because the father has to go out and do a full day’s work the next day, whilst she can stay at home and nap with the baby during the day (I know, right?) This pattern continues for the 6-9 months of maternity leave, until eventually the mother returns to work. Now both parents get up during the night when the baby cries. Do they though ? The baby is used to mammy in the middle of the night, so cries until it’s mammy she gets. Too often because the mother is at home alone for the first few months with her child a dependency is created that can be hard to shake, even as the child gets older.

paternity-leave

Which brings me to breastfeeding. I breastfed both my kids, mainly out of laziness, but I am totally thumbs up for breastfeeding if it works for you. Likewise I am all for formula if that’s your thing – I mix-fed my second from around 6 weeks for convenience, and because I really wanted to be able to leave the house wearing something that didn’t have to provide quick and discreet access to my boobs. The thing about breastfeeding, though, is that it’s very much something only a woman can do – and it can be uncomfortable, annoying, boring and restrictive. I can recall with my first feeling trapped by it. I know that’s not helpful to the debate but that’s my experience, and its why my interest was piqued when I recently came across a blog on the Tyranny of Breastfeeding. It’s a few years old and based on the publication of a book ‘The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” by French feminist Elisabeth Badinter. I haven’t read the book, but from reading the blog I surmise the argument is that the promotion of breastfeeding is detrimental to women’s personal and career based progress. Whilst I can’t get fully on board with this, I can see the point from where the argument starts, but the answer is to normalise breastfeeding not to stop it. If breastfeeding is restrictive , so is maternity leave and motherhood as a whole –  stop getting in the way of my life, damn child.

Which is why paternity leave is so important. We’re not going to make real strides forward in gender equality until childcare is shared. This can only be done by increasing paternity leave, adopting a model of shared parental leave and introducing state subsidised childcare. I don’t think we should create a situation where women are pressured into feeling they should return to work before they are ready, but we do need to create a situation where families are able to make choices which suit them best, rather than have situations thrust upon them out of financial necessity.

 

 

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8 comments

  1. […] much hope for my grade. Anyway it’s done, and I used the skeleton of it to write a blog post Paternity Leave, Breastfeeding and Gender Equality. And here I am writing a post about how difficult it was to write it, and so the world folds in on […]

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  2. This is interesting. So your paternity leave on Ireland is statutory and paid? I do think that is definitely something that should be more universal, though I’m also a big supporter of shared parental leave and think that dad’s should be supported more in this.

    We did 6m each of shared parental leave in our house, and after the 6m were up, my husband decided to leave work and become a ft sahp. He thinks its the best decision he’s ever made, yet he met quite a lot of negativity from his work colleagues which I think is unfair. There’s also not enough clubs or groups during the week tbat actively promote for dads to join, so in essence were still a very “mum is the key parent” orientated society. Hopefully this will change in the next few years, but we shall see! #stayclassymama

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    1. Shared parental leave is great , I would imagine tho that you are in a minority with your outcome; but that’s great! Someone has to be the trailblazer that moves on society!

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  3. mummymiller · · Reply

    We have shared parental leave now in the UK so the father can share the mums maternity leave. I don’t know anyone who has used it but I do think it’s a shame men get such a little amount of time for paternity leave #fortheloveofblog

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    1. I think that’s the thing isn’t it? My husband and I work for the same public sector body and can share parental leave. I imagine in 90% of cases the woman takes the mans leave to extend hers. ( that is just a guess and no way scientific !)

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  4. Apparently in the UK we are now allowed to have shared paternity leave, although I have still yet to meet a couple that have done this. I would have LOVED it if my boyfriend could have done 6 months, maybe the 6 months after the first 6 months, so basically when I returned to work and started doing mix feeds. I completely agree breastfeeding really made me feel trapped at first, honestly I hated it but after a while I got used to it and enjoyed it. Anyway, to your point it does hinder us as women because you are seen in a very different light. I noticed when I returned to work that nobody really talks about their children (or breastfeeding), especially men. Is this because they don’t want to be seen as a father? Does it make them less professional or less “in charge” / dominant? I followed the status quo but I still wonder why. I am totally getting off subject, I agree with you and really enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for sharing with #StayClassyMama!

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  5. The Pramshed · · Reply

    This is a really interesting post. We now have shared parental leave in the UK which means that my husband could have taken time out of work too, however he would have got statutory pay rather than any enhanced pay. He works for a much larger company than I do, but I still got 6 months full months and therefore made sense for me to take the time-out. This worked for us. I think that more needs to be done to support the Dad’s by offering them some sort of enhanced package. Even now if my daughter wakes at night I am the one that goes to her, because we’ve got used to that. I’m also the one that does all the nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. Something definitely has to give, and there is a much needed need for greater flexibility in the work place, not just for Mums, but for Dads too. Thanks for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

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  6. […] written before about the tyranny of breastfeeding and how there’s a fairly robust argument to be made for maternity leave, in fact motherhood […]

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