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Why Everyone Loses When Dads Don’t Take Paternity Leave 

And in Australia? Not many do

­­­Only one in three eligible dads are taking up their paid parental leave in Australia.

About 62,000 people received the dad and partner pay between June 2016 and March 2017.

This is only marginally higher than the number who accessed the two weeks of pay the year before.

Are more dads are taking the leave but they’re not accessing the pay? I truly hope so. 

Because the reason the package was introduced was because of the incontrovertible benefits paternity leave provides a mother, a father and a baby.

I fell pregnant far sooner than my husband and I had planned. We had literally just packed up our life in Sydney and moved to the other side of the world where my husband was due to study for two years.

There were challenges. We lived in a tiny student flat and our family and friends weren’t nearby, but it wasn’t without its upsides. The fact my husband was studying unexpectedly turned out to be a gigantic blessing.

He was busy but he was around and he was able to plan his study and day around us. I know how rare that type of arrangement is: it hasn’t been the case for our two other daughters.

But with our first he was there and we were able to learn the art of keeping a baby happy and alive together.

“With my first child, we were able to learn the art of parenting together. Sharing the load made it less overwhelming.”

It wasn’t my domain – it wasn’t his. She truly was ours: a 50:50 project. I did the feeding he did the nappy changes. He did the morning and I did the afternoons.

I often wondered how on earth either of us would manage without the other. Sharing the load made our foray into parenting less overwhelming. And the learning curve with an infant is almost by definition steep, unrelenting and overwhelming, particularly in the early months.    

At the time we had our first, I wasn’t aware of the research into an accidental experiment like ours. But I wasn’t surprised when I discovered the findings. 

A dad who takes two or more weeks off after the birth of his child ends up more involved in his child’s direct care nine months later than a father who doesn’t take leave.

Men who take paternity leave end up being more competent and committed fathers later in their children’s lives.

I thought of this today when I read that only one in three dads are taking the paid paternity leave.  

Possibly more than any other skill, parenting is learnt on the job. Changing a newborn’s nappy feels unfamiliar and scary until you have done it a few times. The same goes for settling, burping and playing. The same applies when it comes to coaxing a toddler into their bed for a nap, retrieving an unwilling three-year old from the park without causing a scene and navigating a supermarket with two small children out being evicted. 

These ‘skills’ aren’t inherently wired in the female or male anatomy. They are developed over time, on the job. And while those skills are built, the parental bond grows.

“Parenting is learnt on the job. The skills aren’t inherently wired in the female or male anatomy.”

If fathers aren’t spending the first few weeks of a baby’s life present, what chance is there of them developing those skills over time? How will they build the bond? 

Of the 170,501 people who applied for the paid parental leave scheme, which provides a primary carer up to 18 weeks’ pay at the minimum wage, Fairfax Media reports that only 620 were men.

There is no doubt that in Australia parenting young children remains a female-dominated zone. And it will continue that way until more fathers are willing and able to commit time to parenting: in the early weeks and months of a newborn’s life but also throughout their children’s lives.  To take them to the doctor, pick them up from school, go to the sports carnivals; and not as “special events” but as a matter of routine.

Recently I sat next to a man who is a partner at a large accounting firm. He told me about how he took six months’ parental leave when two of his children were born. His male boss was initially aghast: he was told it would be career suicide.

He did it anyway and is now a partner. It was, in his words, the best decision he ever made.

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