How can charities help new mothers? Increase paternity leave.

I gave birth to my daughter a couple of months ago (hence the hiatus in blogging). I received a generous amount of paid maternity leave, well over the statutory minimum, from my employer (a pregnancy charity). My husband also received six weeks of paid paternity leave from his private sector employer, which is extremely generous in the context of UK statutory provision (two weeks’ leave at statutory pay – approx £145 per week – or at 90% of salary, whichever is lower).

Throughout my pregnancy we had both been looking forward to this extended time together. Now we’re out the other end and he’s returned to work, I’m glad to say that we did enjoy this time immensely. I’d also argue that a long paternity leave provides an essential way to support mothers, fathers, and children, but I haven’t seen this discussed at length within our sector.

My experience

My birth plan went out of the window pretty quickly due to various complications, and I ended up having an emergency c-section. I was well cared for in the hospital (where I stayed for three days), but a c-section is full-on surgery and recovering women are advised to rest for six weeks, avoiding lifting anything heavier than the baby.

I also lost nearly a litre of blood, so felt very tired and couldn’t move or do much at all. Having my husband around for the full recovery period meant that I had someone to keep the household running and I could focus entirely on my recovery and looking after our daughter.

Why six weeks of paternity leave is good for the mother

These are some of the benefits I gained from my husband’s paternity leave:

  • Practical help with cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning, as explained above. Many women have c-sections, and those who don’t may still have recovery periods from a range of complications. Being able to fully rest is vital. We don’t have any other children, but I can also see how the partner’s presence would make a huge difference in making childcare manageable in these first weeks.
  • Support in building my confidence – I was able to go on short walks after about five weeks, and my husband was with me for the milestones of first bus ride, first train ride, first trip to the shops with the pram etc. By the time he returned to work I felt confident in getting around. Although I would have managed, I would definitely have felt anxious about being alone after two weeks.
  • Accompaniment to medical appointments – as most new parents do, we had a few concerns in the early weeks, and having company at appointments helped to provide a different perspective and someone to talk things over with. There was so much going on that at times it would have been difficult for me to remember all the details and maintain a sense of proportion about the challenges we were facing. My husband’s presence made that a lot easier.
  • Maintaining good mental health – I was lucky enough not to experience any of the severe mental health problems that can follow childbirth, but it is an emotionally vulnerable time. My husband’s presence meant that I had someone to talk things through with. Combined with all of the above, this definitely bolstered my resilience and helped me feel good about myself and more confident about my abilities as a mother.

What do charities generally offer in terms of paternity leave?

My cursory survey of other charities’ paternity leave policies indicated that two weeks at full pay tends to be the most generous offer (one fundraiser told me about a charity that provides four weeks at 90% pay, but this appeared to be an outlier).

I don’t think this is enough. I think it’s a shame that our sector lags behind the more enlightened parts of the private sector on this issue.

However, charities can currently be market leaders by providing two weeks of fully paid paternity leave, and additional provision would be costly, so why should they do any more?

In my view, it’s a continuation of outdated social norms that have led to an acceptance that fathers should receive so much less. There does seem to be consensus within the charity sector that mothers deserve better than statutory; many charities offer generous maternity leave packages.

Surely charities (or at least those with sufficient resources) should be leading the way in improving benefits for fathers, as we ought to be (but yet are lagging) with the diversity argument?

Why should charities do more for fathers?

There are many compelling reasons, in my view, why charities should have more generous paternity leave provision:

  • To benefit the wellbeing of the mother, as explained above.
  • To benefit the wellbeing of the father, including bonding and building confidence with the baby. Moreover, when he returns to work after an extended leave, he is likely to be more comfortable with the new routine, and a better employee as a result.
  • To benefit the wellbeing of the baby; extra time is more likely to lead to a calm, peaceful household which can only improve the baby’s start in life.
  • To benefit family cohesion overall. A household which is given plenty of time for all family members (including other children) to adjust to the new arrival surely has a better chance of maintaining strong relationships and good mental health all round. This has a host of knock-on positive effects for society, which charities should surely support.
  • If more fathers are as likely to take several weeks’ leave as mothers, this will reduce the likelihood of discrimination against women.
  • It may help us attract more men to a largely female-dominated fundraising workforce, improving our sector’s diversity.

Obviously, many mothers have partners who do not identify as male, or don’t have a partner at all. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t extend these same paternity leave rights to a nominated secondary carer.

Many fathers would love to have more time with their new children, and new mothers would benefit hugely from this vital additional support in the early weeks. I hope that those charities that can afford it will consider going significantly beyond what is normally offered to fathers.

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