Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Paid parental leave another chance to bring down the patriarchy

Judy Horacek cartoon shows female employee asking
"I'd like paid maternity..." and employer responding "leave".
My number one reason for supporting six months' paid parental leave is that it will be good for the babies and mothers involved.  There's been plenty written on that aspect, so I'm not going to rehash that ground but do feel free to do so in comments.

I'm going to focus instead on the other big benefit I see from effectively doubling the amount of paid parental leave parents can access (from 14 weeks currently to 26 weeks incrementally).  And that is securing a clear role for the parent who wasn't pregnant, starting from the early days.

With the existing scheme partners can split the paid parental leave, as long as the pregnant one was eligible for it.  However I imagine that only happens quite rarely, particularly when breastfeeding is the main source of sustenance for the new person.  My personal experience has been that it would not have been practical to split paid parental leave in those first few months.  It may well be different for others (I hope so!).  But extend that period to 6 months and suddenly it becomes a lot more viable for many families to share the leave, and thus share the parenting, and probably the other domestic tasks too.  It's also likely to raise the number of men accessing the non-paid parental leave which they've been entitled to take for years.  Employers will need to become more open to considering supporting their workers who are parents, regardless of whether they are a mother or a father (or something else entirely). 

So often I hear of relationships where the domestic work was pretty even until the couple had kids, and then patriachal archetypes slowly but surely overtake both parents, despite best intentions.  If I have to read another article that tells me women do more of the housework and family caring work, on average, than men, even when both partners in a heterosexual relationship work outside the home, I think I may just scream in a non-ladylike fashion. 

Just as the initial proposal of paid parental leave sparked some change in the attitude towards parents who work outside the home (and the value of parenting work in general) so this increase could push that conversation further down the line towards something that looks a little bit like equity.

Here's a chance, a real chance, to show actual structural support for more sharing of the caring. 


Alex said...

Nothing wrong with being a stay at home dad, I know a few and in all cases both parents have good chances to bond with their kids. Sometimes it makes simple economic sense too, if the biological mother of the child can earn more money than the other parent then why try and shoehorn your family structure into that of a so called 'traditional family'?

homepaddock said...

I don't question the benefits of breast feeding, bonding and shared parenting.

But why is it a public responsibility to pay to pay PPL to any working parents?

I understand and support welfare for people who genuinely don't have enough but I really don't understand why wealthy people need it.

Tamara said...

@homepaddock - surely if a family can't afford for the father to take time off during the early months then it is not a wealthy family?

katy said...

I have heard that justification for the bill is to allow mothers to breastfeed for six months. Obviously a minority of NZ mothers are exclusively breastfeeding even at three months and if the reason for this is the need to go back to work which interferes with breastfeeding then I think this is a good idea. In terms of fathers taking extended parental leave, as i stayed away for longer than 3 months in our family the barriers weren't about money but more about the workplace culture my partner works in.

Fiona said...

I had no idea that you could split parental leave in New Zealand. I wonder how many people realise this and how often it happens?

I took my maternity leave in the UK, were statutory ML is 6 weeks at 90% and then 33 weeks at the statutory rate (about £100 a week). My work place topped this up if you agreed to return to 100% of salary for first 6 weeks, then 50% for another 10. You had to state your intention by the 28th week of your pregnancy and pay back if you change your mind. You also get free dental care while pregnant and until your child is 1 year old and also free perscriptions. Of course care on the NHS is also free.