Shout out to the Dad's

It wasn’t too long ago that stay-at-home dads were seen as a slight oddity, viewed with suspicion and a “what’s the story behind this situation” attitude by many. Stereotypes and the gender pay gap did nothing to help this narrative, with the traditional role of father as the main breadwinner, and the mother taking on the vast majority of childcare as the norm for a very, very long time.

However, during the past three years we’ve seen a change to this unlike anything we’ve ever seen previously. A recent article in the Guardian newspaper informs us that the number of stay-at-home dads in the UK is up by a third since before the pandemic. Experts have hailed this a “monumental” cultural shift that has enabled a surge in quality time spent by fathers with their children.

The stats speak for themselves really.

One in nine stay-at-home parents are fathers (up from one in 14 in 2019) analysis of the latest Office for National Statistics data shows.

353,000 babies are born every day worldwide - 255 births each minute. But from the moment the baby is born, the clock starts ticking in terms of the financial support that each country provides to it’s citizens. And this varies significantly country to country.

Guess who tops the league table in terms of financial support to dads?

South Korea. Surprised? I was.

However, not all parental schemes are created equal and as always, it’s the detail that matters. For example, the UK scores highly in terms of maternity benefits offering new mum’s 52 weeks of statutory leave.

However, the financial figures aren’t great, which means that many mothers have to return to work far earlier. Also, there are huge variances as to what the dad receives in terms of paternity benefits. Not to mention the long list of countries, including many of the worlds wealthiest, who offer pretty much nothing to new parents.

So, why the discussion and stats around maternity, paternity leave, and the support available?

Until very recently I didn’t really know any fathers who had decided to leave employment to become a full time carer to his children. However, in the past six months alone, my social circle now includes a significant number of men who are doing this very thing. Their reasons are varied, from their partners (including a Managing Partner of an international law firm, and the Marketing Director of a global hotel brand) earning significantly more than they can, to the costs of childcare simply not making it feasible.

When my son was six months old, I was fortunate to be in a position to take a year off with my wife Becca. Firstly, it gave me an appreciation of how difficult looking after a child actually is. And I have to admit, I had periods where I yearned for ‘normal’ adult company and the stress of meetings and deadlines to excuse me from the constant sleep-eat-nap repeat cycle. Now that I run my own business and can choose my schedule, I’m fortunate to be able to pick and choose when I work, and this also allows me to be present with my son on my own terms. Yes, it can be bloody hard at times but I know when I look back that I wont regret a minute of it.

However, massive stereotypes still exist and I do believe this still puts off many dads from taking the plunge. Not to mention things that can still be a little awkward – I remember when William was around 9 months old, I used to take him to a parent and toddler class. Yes, it may have been called a ‘parent’ and toddler class, but I was the only man there. I’d walk in carrying William and there would be eyeballs on me, and dare I say it, a look of “where’s his mother?!” And things could get even more awkward while sitting in a circle singing Frere Jacques and the kid besides me starts fussing and mum whacks out a boob (*disclaimer here…no judgement and massive respect for anyone who can/choses to breast feed. Becca did it herself for two years and I’ve seen exactly what it entails). Not to mention talk of painful birthing stories with all the gory details. What’s a man to do…? By the way, if you’re reading this thinking “poor guy, sounds like you hated it”, you’d be wrong; as someone who likes to throw himself into things, is inquisitive and genuinely wants to get to know people, by week two in toddler class I was on first name terms with everyone, arranging play dates and I still keep in touch with many of them to this day. Even got a couple of candidates out of it…win win!

I also have to credit that time off with my son for everything in my life that followed. I make better business decisions, I have a completely different take on (pretty much) everything, I am healthier, and I'm more compassionate. And I can openly initiate conversations with other men surrounding topics which would have previously been seen as too difficult to bring up.

Back to the stereotypes

In more progressive countries there isn’t such a problem. Take Sweden for example. In 1974 they were the first country to replace the word ‘maternity’ leave with ‘parental’ leave. Parents benefit from 480 days paid leave for one child, shared between them 240 days each. This has given rise to “Latte Dad” culture, where groups of men can be seen at baby groups, café’s and playgrounds looking after their kids. If men in the UK and the rest of the world could see these images on a daily basis I think there would be a massive change in how parental leave would be considered.

Positively, the UK has made some progress too. Since April 2015, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between each couple. This has resulted in a rise in both men and woman evaluating how they look after their child in the first year or so. Many of my friends have taken up the offer and without fail it’s been a highly enriching experience for them. However, it also has to be said that economically its still remains a very difficult thing to do, as the rates aren’t high enough for most people to consider using. Statutory Paternity leave is still an abysmal one to two weeks, which further fuels the gender disparity between parents and contributes to the gender pay gap. Did you know that the rate in which it pays out is actually under the minimum wage? No wonder dads have to race back to work to simply earn enough to keep the bills paid.

Notwithstanding the shockingly high costs of childcare in the UK, which often means that mums can’t return to their previous full time positions. Many fall out of the workplace altogether as the figures simply don’t add up.

Come's 2023!

We see it in our jobs every day, and to be honest, the most recent round of strikes at local schools is exacerbating it. I’m having conversations daily with women who are stretched to the limit because rightly or (in our opinion) wrongly, the bulk of the childcare commitments falls on her in over 80% of cases. The term “default parent”, which hits you between the eyes doesn’t it, was thrown around during lockdown, and it’s easy to see why. But it simply shouldn’t be that way.

I mean, it’s 2023…!

As a business, and as a couple, Becca and I took the decision very early on with Vero, that we would try to only work with companies who truly value their employees, and a big part of this is life balance. Right now, a senior finance professional we placed during lockdown is gearing up for his shared parental leave which will be a period of four months with his young child. And we have another three arranging their extended (as standard) paternal leave! This wasn’t really heard of a few years back and we think this change is absolutely brilliant!!

So when we’re talking about the gender pay gap, and the need to keep mothers in work, let’s also shout out to the dads. Let’s make it the norm, lets make it OK to take more time off. Lets stop emasculating men when we’re donning our Baby Bjorn papoose with pride as we walk our little munchkin around the park. Lets stop raising eyebrows when a man takes a year or more out of work simply to spend time with his family. This doesn’t mean we’re not hard working, committed and driven; we just want to try to “have it all” too.