Jan Ravens: Paternity leave? Good idea, but can we have just a bit at a time?

Hair encrusted with purée won't go down well with the chicks


So, what do we think about men getting six months' paternity leave? It will certainly even things up in the world of work. Now, men too will have that "Sorry? And you are?" treatment that women returners have had to go through when their mothering responsibilities are discharged. But a good idea to give couples more choice over how they divide up paid work and childcare. Yes?

Ripple dissolve and plinky flashback music to 1987. I have been in labour (and agony) for 18 hours. We had attended active birth classes, so I had expected a drug-free, squatting earth-motherly experience. I am only five centimetres dilated and approaching the end of my tether. "Give me some drugs!" I scream. "I want an epidural!"

"Now," my then husband intones, "remember the birth plan." At this moment, I know our marriage is doomed. Since then, too, I have wondered whether it is at the obstetric and post-natal stages that men's time can most valuably be used. Couldn't the six months off happen later? Possibly in bite-sized chunks?

It's like when you were little, saving up your sweeties to eat later when all the other kids have finished theirs. Similarly, my sisters, put your time in early on, and later you can reap the rewards. When your offspring requests endless games of football and cricket; when it is time to train him to ride a bike; and when it's time to go tenpin bowling, paintballing or to one of those ghastly deafening places where they all fire lasers at each other, then you can tell your darling co-parent it's his turn, and that you are off to indulge in some late-onset binge drinking or to run up soft furnishings - whatever.

If a woman is going to breastfeed for the first six months, say, then she has to be around anyway. No, don't talk to me about expressing, because I'll have no truck with that. Enough painful and unattractive things have happened to the mother's body without sticking your breast into something that looks as if it were invented by James Dyson. So Mum's in the milky-den stage, where the nearest you get to a funky accessory is a congealed muslin square; and where you imagine your partner leaves you every morning for some golden land full of glittering chatter and glamorous assignments (which is in fact more likely to be a day cooped up with all the other arses at West Ruislip Polymers).

At this point, most women don't really want the guy to take paternity leave; they want him to take husbandry leave. Women can look after the babies (genetics, programming, etc), but we do then need someone to look after us - to cook the dinner, buy us some carrot cake, stroke our heads (no, don't go near my tits), and generally do the kind of pampering that doesn't involve infant sanitary products.

I am not some person from a Tory think-tank on family policy. I don't think that men who want to spend time with their babies are a bunch of wussy Jessies. I know lots of men who take to fatherhood very naturally. Great that they can choose to be with their new offspring. But gentlemen, beware. Remember that Nineties poster of the muscly boy in the faded denim jeans sharing a fond gaze with a gorgeous cherub? It isn't going to be that way. So any guys contemplating full-time childcare as an image-enhancing exercise, think again. Trackie bottoms and hair encrusted with Hipp Organic spinach purée isn't a look that's going to go down well with the chicks.

But the trade off is that you get to spend all those precious moments with your little treasure - and a few years down the line it's Mrs Highflying Businesswomen who has to go to Laser Quest.

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