When David Lawless told some of his friends that he was thinking about taking several months of paternity leave, he came across a degree of ribbing.
There were some who said he would spend all his time playing Fantasy Football and having a coffee, “he says.” But that’s not the case: the day comes flying by. You have so much work to do. ”
For many working moms and stay-at-home moms, these types of comments may sound a little familiar. The idea that leave taken in the weeks and months after a baby is born is “free time” or an extended vacation is a “joke” that women face for decades.
But attitudes are slowly changing. In recent years, a growing number of companies in Ireland are offering paid paternity packages. While an astonishing 45% of Irish parents do not take the paternity leave to which they are entitled (according to the latest CSO figures), paid leave encourages some to break with the convention.
In recent months, Simon Harris has announced that he is leaving paternity leave after the birth of his son Cillian so he could “meet this little man.”
Last week, Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s husband, Paul Hickey, talked about his decision to take a six-month leave now that his wife is back at work. Hickey said his decision was received with some “mockery.” “You won’t have equality until that thinking changes,” he said.
According to Seamus Sheedy, an accredited psychotherapist and vice-president of the Irish Counseling Psychotherapy Association, this macho attitude may be an obstacle from previous generations.
“I come from the 60s and the mentality of that time was that fathers provided and mothers stayed at home. For my generation, seeing a man pushing a cart down the street seemed strange. There was no paternity leave and it was a shame. ”
AcAccording to Mr. Sheedy, parental involvement in the early days of their children’s lives has a lasting impact on child-parent relationships.
“After parents finish their sheets, they tend to remain invested and involved in the child.”
As it stands today, all new Irish parents are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave. New parents will receive 245 euros a week from the state, and it depends on your company if they supplement it or “recharge” it. There are some limitations to legal paternity leave. For example, it should be taken within the first six months of a child’s life. Some companies like Aviva and Diageo are more flexible and allow parents to do so at any time within the first year of their child’s birth.
The amount of time for paid parenthood varies considerably from company to company. Hewlett Packard Enterprise offers six months pay, Twitter offers 20 weeks, Google 14 weeks and Vodafone Ireland 16 weeks.
Parents can also take parental leave and parental leave (this is where it can be tricky to keep track).
Parental leave entitles each parent to five weeks of leave during the first two years of the child’s life. If you meet the requirements for the parental benefit, you will receive € 245 each week. Your employer is not required to “top up” this payment. Meanwhile, parental leave entitles parents to take unpaid leave from work to spend time caring for their children. This is up to 26 weeks.
It is perhaps not surprising to hear that Sweden, often regarded as the gold standard when it comes to raising children, was one of the first countries to introduce paid paternity leave in 1974.
Recent research from the Nordic countries shows that this was a smart move. The benefits are substantial; mothers are less likely to suffer from postnatal anxiety, couples are less likely to separate and there are huge benefits for the child in terms of emotional and cognitive development.
The first weeks and months of a child’s life are crucial for their development. In 2015, Harvard medical professor Kevin Nugent told the Oireachtas Health Committee the crucial importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Spending time engaging with our children can increase the chances of them becoming “happy, well-adapted people,” he said, and helps develop neural pathways.
Dr Damien Lowry, a senior counseling psychologist and a founding member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, agrees with this analysis. The father of two says that during those first weeks and months it is possible to see his “new brain” flourish.
“The importance of these days is so significant. It can set emotional patterns for the rest of our lives … so many of our patterns of behavior are set in early childhood,” he says. “The first six to 12 months are critical to a child’s emotional and cognitive development.”
He added: “The dividends for taking paternity leave are huge. It leads to family cohesion, there is a stronger bond with the child, and also a stronger bond between mother and father as there is equity in the care of the child.”
This was certainly the case with future father of two Shane Kelly.
Shane, head of Diageo’s Society for Europe, and his wife Anne Marie are expecting their second child in early spring next year.
Diageo offers employees 26 weeks of paid paternity leave and Shane took his in 2020, just when Ireland went into blockade. Despite the myriad of restrictions, it looks incredibly idyllic. “We spent it walking the country roads, watching cows and chasing chickens,” he says.
The time she spent with her son during those months helped foster an intense and deep bond with her eldest son Ben.
“I just had time to be present and experience their world,” he says. “I had no other commitments and I didn’t have to run to a meeting. And we are very close. It was such a special moment. It also gives you time to figure out what kind of parent you’d like to be and gives you time to be the best partner you can be. ”
There are many reasons why some men around the world still feel inhibited from taking paternity leave, such as getting lost in pay raises and promotions, and having a questionable commitment to the company they work for.
Neil McDonnell, of the Irish SME Association, says that in Ireland there are “hard and soft obstacles in the way for new parents to want to take paternity leave”.
First, many parents are often the main recipients of income and simply cannot afford to take time off. In addition, most small and medium-sized businesses cannot offer the same financial support to employees. “These businesses can’t compete with multinationals,” McDonnell says. “It’s much more burdensome for them to find a replacement.”
This is especially significant in Ireland because micro, small and medium-sized businesses employ the largest number of people in this country.
In addition, some men are still concerned that taking extended leave may result in them being discriminated against professionally.
“In areas such as law and accounting, it is very competitive. Taking time off can affect your career, ”McDonnell says.
However, Shane Kelly thinks the idea that you will be penalized for choosing to spend time with your family is losing its currency.
“Our company’s policy only came into play in 2019 and it’s amazing to see how quickly the culture has adapted. It’s had a positive impact on my career since I returned. In no case has paternity leave negatively affected conversations around my career “.
David Lawless, an IT testing analyst with Aviva, is the father of three children Jack (14), Dylan (8) and Sophie (2).
With her first two children she had no choice but to take paid parental leave.
His wife Lisa had to return to work six months after Dylan’s birth and that meant putting him in childcare from an early age.
With Sophie, the couple could leave their family in a row, meaning their little daughter spent more time at home.
Aviva offers 18 weeks of paid paternity that are available to employees once they have at least six months of service in the company. The policy has been in place since November 2017 so although David was able to take advantage of it with his third child, it was not implemented at the time of birth for his other children.
At first, David (45) was apprehensive about taking on the role of primary caregiver.
“But it was very natural. I loved it, I never experienced that connection and I will be eternally grateful that I could take it. I spent a lot of time with her, we danced in the kitchen; you can’t value that experience and that time in your child’s life. It benefited everyone: our life at home, Sophie’s life and us as parents, ”she says.
Although four- or six-month paternity leave periods may not be available to most Irish parents, Seamus Sheedy says there has been a marked change in attitudes towards paternity in the wake of the pandemic.
Working from home has resulted in a more practical approach to parenting. “Now we see people looking for jobs that make it easier for them to have more time at home.”
Banker Fergal Whitty welcomed his first daughter Bebhinn this summer and describes working from home as a gift.
“That was a bonus,” he said. “I want to absorb every minute … [Having a child] it’s a big upset and you really need four hands on the deck. I would not hesitate to take more time. ”
There has also been a slow erosion of the idea that families consist of a primary income generator and a primary caregiver and that the two will never meet. Now there is a fading of these roles and this results in equity in domestic life but also in the workplace.
The problem of parental leave and the creation of positive and supportive structures for early childhood affects us all, regardless of whether or not we have children.
“If we invest in the emotional and mental stability of future members of society, it benefits everyone,” says Dr. Damien Lowry.