Rob Williams: Reserving leave for fathers could unlock the potential of truly shared parenting

The pressures created by a system out of step with attitudes and expectations are enormous

Share
Related Topics

In the government’s campaign to improve outcomes for children and help couples to stay together, employment legislation may seem an unlikely place to start.

But the Coalition’s proposals to increase leave available to fathers will bring big benefits for families and the children who grow up in them.

Men who take significant periods of leave in the months after the birth of their children are more likely to be involved in their care throughout their childhood. And having strong links with an involved father means a child is much less likely to underachieve at school, get into problems with drugs, alcohol, low self esteem and antisocial behaviour. The evidence on this is so clear and substantial that the only question left to ambitious policy makers is how to get men to strike a more balanced arrangement between career and family aspirations.

Reserving leave for fathers is the key to unlock the potential of truly shared parenting. Simply making maternity leave transferrable is not enough. Across Europe, allowing leave to be shared between parents is much less successful at getting men out of the office than setting aside a period of leave which is reserved for fathers on a use it or lose it basis.

This helps to explain why only a tiny 4% of fathers were expected to take advantage of the recent change in UK law which allows a mother to transfer some of her maternity leave to her partner. In truth, this change was a tinkering with the system whereas the Coalition’s proposals amount to a significant culture shift in official assumptions about the role of mothers and fathers.

This is long overdue. The real culture shift, what real men and women expect from their work and their family lives, has been happening beneath the official radar for more than three decades. Between 1989 and 2008, the percentage of men who believe that it is the “man’s role to earn the money” while the woman stays at home dropped from 32% to an historic low – 17%. And whilst other countries have reflected these changes in new systems allowing men much more time at home with their young children, we have stuck firmly to the founding principles of maternity leave, whose primary purpose was to enable women to keep their links to the workplace whilst expecting them to take on the full responsibility of caring for young children.

The pressures created by a leave system out of step with attitudes and expectations are enormous. Relationships are sorely tested by the transition to parenthood but for both parents, relationship satisfaction tends to be greater when work and caring roles are more equally shared and to be lower when roles within families are more traditionally observed. Allowing parent to share their leave flexibly holds out real prospects for happier and more stable families in the long term.

Shared parenting offers us stronger families with more educated and better adjusted children. At what cost to our business community? Well, despite what lobby groups may claim, this set of proposals holds significant benefits for employers. Women will be able to go back to work earlier. Instead of being forced to loose their employees for large blocks of inflexible time, employers and parents will be able to agree a timetable for leave which fits the needs of both family and business. Career gaps for mothers will be shorter, with much less likelihood of them dropping out of the workforce altogether or coming back in at a skill level way below their training and experience. The pool of talent from which businesses recruit will be much more fluid, adaptable and undistorted by gender based assumptions about who can be relied on to man the pumps and who will disappear when babies come along.

The research on business performance consistently shows that the low road of rigid work places and low wages is much less suited to an advanced economy that the high road of an educated workforce with flexibility and family friendly enterprise.

We may need to support small businesses to embrace the new arrangements, but we surely can’t afford to stay where we are.

Rob Williams is Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping the child abuse taking place now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower