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MY PATERNITY LEAVE STARTS TODAY BUT I’M NOT SURE WHEN IT WILL END

September 30, 2022 by: Dominic Barrett
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Sharing maternity, paternity and parental allowance

Living in Finland has more than enough perks and privileges, and shared maternity, paternity, and parental allowance is certainly one of them. As a family, you get a large portion of your previous year’s salary paid by the government for about 12 months. In fact, recent government changes in policy mean that the system of how families share this time away from the workplace is even more flexible. But are these changes being taken advantage of by parents, and is the job of raising a child becoming more equal in the early years thanks to such policy changes?

As this was our first child deciding how to share this time was tricky. As an ideal, and from the position of equality we thought about sharing it 50/50, but for convenience and practicality, this didn’t feel like it was our best option. In the end, we opted for a roughly 75/25 split, with my paternity leave beginning when our daughter was 7½ months old. But why, when given the opportunity to share 50/50 did we choose to go towards the cultural norm?

In hindsight, I think it was simply the case that when we had to make a difficult decision, and we weren’t too sure of the best solution we found safety in defaulting to a norm. After all, when we initially made this decision, we had no experience of being parents, if I made the decision again today I’d probably make it differently. Furthermore, we’re probably not the biggest risk takers in the first place, but with children, I feel that most of us tend to play it safe the first time around.

FOMO

I love my job, but I love my daughter more, and I’ve been really looking forward to spending more time with her. I feel like I’ve missed out a bit in the last 7 ½ months but luckily, I work from home most days. Plus, I had an initial 3-week paternity leave when she was born in February, and a 4-week summer holiday in July (more perks of Finland). This ensured that I could both support my partner, and we could have enough quality time together as a family.

After my paternity leave is done in January, we may opt to put our child into daycare part-time but knowing if she’s ready for such a big step is proving to be stressful. Although academic research suggests that children so young don’t need such a high level of socialization for development, it is also believed that if separation anxiety is handled correctly sending a young child to daycare won’t necessarily have a negative impact. But as with most choices you make as a parent they should be based on a deep knowledge of your own child, and not solely on a generalization.

A career that's just beginning and a life that's just begun

In an ideal world, I would stay at home to look after our daughter, but my career is only just getting started after a decision to re-educate that took 6 years of hard work. For this reason, I feel like this could be a decision that future employers would view negatively, thinking that someone who chooses family over work is not a good hire. Of course, on a personal level, this is a choice I am more than willing to take, and I am mindful that women normally are the ones making this sacrifice.

Due to women staying at home to watch children there’ve been many publicized negative consequences to careers, especially as careers have historically been put on hold only a few years after beginning. This has contributed to inequality and caused discrepancies such as the gender pay gap, lower pensions, a disproportionately low number of women in management positions, and the cementing of outdated gender roles with women as the caretakers and men as the breadwinners. Moreover, the idea that caring for children and taking overall responsibility for the home (including all the meta work that these tasks entail) isn’t work at all seems ill-informed at best.

Stay-at-home dads - striving for equality or taking advantage of their privilege?

When I recently discussed the option of not only taking a 3-month leave but an extended one it was suggested that in a society such as Finland it would be likely that future employers would see this as a positive. Initially, I thought this sounded like great news, but I wondered if the same logic is applied to women, or if this is a case of male privilege.

Ultimately, I will make a judgment call with my partner in the best interests of our child. What do you think? How did you and your partner split your shared maternity, paternity, and parental allowance, and why did you decide such? Does policy to support this kind of equality act as a catalyst or do we still lean on cultural norms? Do stay-at-home dads get preferential treatment when returning to the workplace when compared to stay-at-home mums?

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