Lack of pay, concerns about career path, and employer reluctance — when it comes to parental leave, there are many deterrents. But employees who do take it tend to be female. So why don’t dads take parental leave?
A recent UK report showed that only 1% of fathers there have availed of shared leave, since it came into legislation in April 2015. There are no statistics available here, but anecdotally, it is mostly women who take parental leave — often on a day-per-week basis.
“In 17 years of working in HR — seven years in the UK and ten in Ireland — I have only had one man ask for flexible working to accommodate family life,” says Alex Kotsos, co-founder of Mumager.ie. She feels there are a variety of reasons for the low take-up. “Some men may think that if they apply for parental leave, they’re not considered ‘serious’ about their careers, as they’re putting their families first.”
Also childcare is still perceived as ‘women’s work’. John Owens who works in IT agrees. “I think women are better at minding kids. And men can be egotistical and too proud to say they’re minding their kids for the day. I think this is changing, but slowly,” says the dad of three.
“There is no precedents for men taking a four-day-week ahead of women so far,” he says. “Plus men may be paid more, so the drop is greater. Parental leave gives great balance, but it comes down to debt level and desire to spend more time with the kids. We have no precedents for this with our dads, but maybe our kids will have it with us.”
For many families, it’s not financially possible for both parents to take unpaid leave, but whether or not there’s a disparity in salaries, it may well be the mother who takes it — because she wants it more.
“The reason I haven’t taken parental leave is mainly down to the fact that it’s unpaid and, as a result, it becomes a choice of who should take it, me or my wife,” says dad of four Cian Ó Moráin, an IT project manager.
“For the time being, we’ve agreed that Adele is best placed to take parental leave, as her work allows her some flexibility on when to take it, and also she wants it more.”
Dad of two Marc (not his real name) hasn’t taken parental leave, and believes many men worry it will affect their careers negatively.
“Regardless of what employers say, managers of people on parental leave are rarely jumping up and down with happiness about the arrangement. I’ve heard some women say that it affects career trajectory.
“That, in my opinion, is why most ambitious, chief-breadwinner-type men don’t ever even consider it.”
One dad who has taken parental leave is marketing manager and dad of two Rory Whelan. He took two months during the summer, and was a little self-conscious requesting it.
“It felt a bit strange all right. The only long-term leave that had been taken in the company before was maternity leave, but my attitude was, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’.”
Like Marc, Rory Whelan suspects that there’s a ‘breadwinner’ perception holding men back.
“Some fear that if they take the time off, the company will find a way of replacing them and they won’t have a job to come back to. Others may worry that the neighbours will think they’ve lost their job, or people will think of them as somehow emasculated. But perceptions are changing, and any time the neighbours asked me about it, the men in particular thought it was a great idea and many were envious.”
And was it worth it? “No-one on their death-bed is ever going to say ‘I wish I spent more time at the office’ — your children are only children for a finite period; very soon they grow up into teenagers and at that stage they want to go off and do their own thing,” says Whelen.
“My own father who is in his 80s now wishes he had spent more time with his sons as they grew up, but the opportunities and the legislation just weren’t there. I found the time with the kids very fulfilling and it’s one of the best things I ever did.”
Parenting can be just the job for dad