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Jan. 28 2010 - 11:32 am | 94 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

Brit Fathers to Get Up To Six Months Paternity Leave


Image by Stephen Cochran via Flickr

The British government is proposing up to six months’ paternity leave for fathers, three months of it paid.

Mothers already get nine months of maternity leave. The proposal would give fathers three months, and enable mothers to hand three months of their leave off to fathers. The result, however they carve it up, is that they get 12 months’ leave between them.

This is a luxury only wealthy countries can afford, which is why we don’t get anything like it in the U.S.

That’s why I’m sitting in Starbuck’s with my three-month-old son sitting beside me–thankfully asleep in his stroller at the moment–while I scratch out this post.

This is a small thing when considered against the broad canvas of issues, problems, and solutions President Obama discussed in last night’s State of the Union speech. Indeed, while we heard a lot about jobs and working families and the middle class, and even education and college, we didn’t see the kind of enlightened focus on family issues–such as parental leave–that seems routine in Europe.

The term “family values” has, thankfully, dropped from the prominence it had in American political discourse over the past couple of decades. You might think I’d favor more discussion of family values, not less. And I do, if we’re talking about parental leave, day care, preschool education, affordable college tuition, and after-school programs. If we truly valued families and children, we would have far wider access to these things, which put family values into practice.

I understand the concern that many Americans have with big government. I don’t like bureaucrats; nobody likes bureaucrats. But tax and spending cuts will never get us to paternity leave or affordable preschool education. Nobody in what’s antiseptically called “the private sector” is going to make money from affordable preschool or reduced college tuition.┬áIf government doesn’t encourage these things with real financial incentives, they won’t happen.

Putting parents back to work is now undoubtedly the single most important thing we can do for our children; poverty is devastating to kids. But as we get that under control, we should look at England’s parental leave policy and see what it might cost us and how we might be able to make it work. Obama’s proposals to make college more affordable were commendable. Anyone want to bet on whether they will happen?

I’m happy to hear politicians say they support family values. I say, show me the money.


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    AMEN! What a fabulous post! I have long been angered by the “family values” spiel that has colored the American political discourse, when those who use the term don’t do anything actually about family values! Family values is less about religion and reproductive rights than about making the every day more family-oriented through all the things you mentioned: parental leave (for fathers as well as mothers!), affordable daycare, affordable healthcare, flexible work policies etc.
    Thanks for writing this.
    - Astri

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    Oh, to live in Europe. We are forced to make choices here because we don’t support “family values.” We had three kids in 17 months and did the math on daycare vs. one parent staying home, and guess which option won? The parent who made less money stayed home and freelanced in her “spare time.” Luckily, we could afford that option, but in other families, the choices are more stark. And parental leave is a joke in most fields. This is a critical issue, and we need to address it in this country.

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    I went on a job interview shortly after arriving in the U.S. from Canada — which offers paid maternity leave — to possibly fill a post for a an editor going out “on disability.” I expected to see someone with crutches or a cane or a wheelchair. She was pregnant. That language pretty much summed it up.

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    My employer has a generous parental leave policy. New mothers AND fathers can take up to three months leave to care for newborn children. We also have an on-site daycare facility for infants through toddlers. I took advantage of this when each of our three children were born.

    Yes, it’s expensive. However, there is a return on this investment: employee loyalty and continuity. Not all businesses can afford to treat employees as disposable freelancers. Some require long range thinking, extensive experience over a wide range of specialties, and broad institutional knowledge. I am a good example. I am continuing my career there for more than 20 years.

    For employers like this, parental leave isn’t just a luxury. Still, it is nearly impossible to quantify on a balance sheet, so it doesn’t get as much attention or consideration as it ought to.

    That said, I don’t know if this can or should be the norm for all lines of work. It certainly seems to be working in our business, but it may not be for everyone.

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    About Me

    Paul Raeburn is a journalist, author and blogger whose stories have appeared recently in The Huffington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and Psychology Today, among others.

    He is the author, most recently, of Acquainted with the Night, a memoir of raising children with depression and bipolar disorder. His next book is Why Fathers Matter, to be published in 2010 by Simon & Schuster. Raeburn is a former science editor at Business Week and The Associated Press.

    See my profile »
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    Contributor Since: October 2009
    Location:New York City