It’s not very often that I get political on my blog! There are many reasons for this, but one of those reasons is not that I don’t have my own informed position. Politics can be devisive. We can get so caught up on one issue, that all of a sudden we realise that we have lost our sense of the bigger picture. So today, I forget politics on a greater scale and instead focus on one issue that I feel (a little) qualified to talk about… The role of the father.
Having just completed my Paternity Leave, my family have been extremely lucky that the company which I work for, have been super supportive of me as a father, and as a worker. They have taken the time to discuss my needs within my job role and at home. Most workplaces do not offer this. Working in the arts, I have found management to be approachable and supportive at various turning points in my career, when I have needed assistance, support or just simply to talk to someone. And this has certainly been the case with this important stage in my life.
The reality of being at home with a new baby and a mum who has either had a natural birth or some kind of emergency surgery, is that they need all of the support that you can muster between the sleepless nights and the feedings. As well as adjusting to new surroundings and a wildly different family dynamic, there is a recovery that needs to happen for all involved and it is not like applying a plaster on a wound, it’s a delicate balancing game of mixed emotions, physical exhaustion and constant learning (both for the parents and your little one).
Which brings me neatly into my point (and this is where I will get a little political)… Statutory Paternity leave is a joke!
There I said it.
Consider that when a woman goes through a Caesarian section, she has had major abdominal surgery. It will hurt to walk, it is excruciating to pick your little bundle of joy up, it is uncomfortable to hold your baby for extended periods of time (like when your cherub feeds for over an hour…) and yet she will do it because she has to. It takes at least six weeks on the road to recovery to start feeling human again after a C-Section and you are doing that whilst having to be a functioning human being and take a new life into your hands. Bear in mind that for any other abdominal surgery you would be on bed rest, not multi-tasking and with sleep deprivation!
So the very fact that the law states that us Dad’s only get two standard weeks at home (without taking leave away from the mothers) is outrageous.
The role of the father generally has to be considered in a new light. We continue a cycle of degrading the role of “Dad” simply by the attitudes that we are presented with from our politicians and the media.
A healthcare professional asked my wife where her baby was, she replied with his dad. And their response was “will he be alright? I bet the house’ll need a tidy. You do realise you could have brought baby?”
I will add at this point that this person has never met me, if she had she would realise that I am the tidiest person in my household, I cook, I clean and most of all I am perfectly capable of looking after my son for 45 minutes. But because I am a dad… automatically I must be useless.
Throughout the pregnancy, I made it to all appointments (bar one), where I wanted to be a supportive and loving partner to my wife. I was asked “what are you doing here? you’re not needed.” When my wife had to do a blood test, I was asked to leave the room even though she had said that she wanted me there. After watching mothers settling their children by walking the corridors of the small ward, I decided to do the same… Finally settling my son down, I was told it was irresponsible for me to do so as I might drop him!
These are just a handful of examples of the dad shaming that occurred throughout my wife’s pregnancy and after the birth, but there were many others too.
I’m a big boy! I can handle this, I haven’t afterall been in painful labour for 14 hours. As long as my wife is getting the support that she needs, why should I complain?
But when you consider it, it all comes from the same political place. Whilst fathers are undervalued at a government level, how can we expect attitudes to change? How can fathers offer a decent level of support for their partners, when every positive action seems to be tinged by negativity.
I am not saying that the support for pregnant women or new mothers should be sacrificed in favour of fathers, quite to the contrary, support fathers as well and then the mothers will get even more support. It’s more that society should stop degrading the role and instead embrace that we do not do enough for dads, and the best place to start is to allow them time to support their loved ones at home, no matter what the financial implications are to a company.
The care that has been given to us by the beloved NHS has been second to none. From midwives to surgeons, health visitors to triage, the care is exceptional. But even amongst these incredible people, attitudes towards dads can be massively varying. As a parent you have to accept that these miraculous people cannot fix your every problem, sometimes babies do cry… Although being told that, when at your wits end, by an emergency triage line is not always the most helpful approach! Especially when my wife was then shown a LOT more compassion over the same issue. I was just trying to be a good dad.
The other symptom of this lack of belief in fathers, is that there is much less of a community of dad’s. In any classes or social situations for the little ones, invariably l was the only man present. As nice as the mums are, it would be good to chat other men about their experiences too. This can only be achieved though when we invest in our dads and give them the opportunity to develop a proper relationship with their children by being at home.
Other countries (like Sweden) have already led the way. It’s possible to make a huge difference to the next generation, so I urge our government, whichever party they might represent, to action this and ensure that Paternity leave is extended and more easily achieved for the majority of men. This is a step for fathers, mothers and the families of Great Britain.
I am lucky to have been given the leave that I had and not the pitiful level that the government deems fit. But this should be reality for more than the lucky few – it should be the standard, not the exception.