Finding your feet as a father: SBS Insight

“My parenting style depends very much on what my wife says …” So comments a dad taking part in a discussion on Fathering on SBS’s social issues program Insight tonight.

Another man tells host Marc Fennell. “I always have a need to right the wrong, it’s always been a gut need since I was about 12.”

Finding Your Feet as a Father’ premieres at 8.30pm and takes viewers on a discussion about the ‘trials and tribulations of modern-day parenting’ from the perspective of a diverse group of dads.

One participant is stay-at-home father Cameron Whittaker, who made the decision to become a full-time dad and found that not all employers support work-life balance on a practical level.

“When push comes to shove it’s a lot of lip service,” Cameron reports.  

Newcastle University associate professor Richard Fletcher is a guest speaker on the program, and says it is hard for men to form deep bonds with their newborns in the two weeks typically permitted for parental leave.

“When you are with your baby, you're often not sure what you're doing because you're not there all day so you're then asking 'well, am I doing this right?' says Professor Fletcher, founder of the SMS4dads service, which provides new fathers with information and connections to online services through their mobile phones.

That doesn't help make that balance between the mother and the father. So I think it's an awkward situation that our cohort of dads are in now.”

In Australia, fathers can take two weeks off at minimum wage while mothers have the option to take 18 weeks leave as the primary carer, also at the minimum wage ($740.60 a week).

VIEW: Paid Parental Leave Scheme (DSS) 

Primary parental leave can be transferred but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only five per cent of fathers take on a full-time parenting role and most are labelled as ‘secondary carers’.

2019 report for the ABC by Annabel Crabb stated that men don’t take parental leave beyond the two-week ‘cigar break that the Australian culture views as permissible.’

Crabb asserts that men, ‘know on some molecular level that these policies and entitlements are not really meant for them.’

The Australian Men’s Health Forum recognises that a healthier future for men and boys starts right at the start of life, and that involved dads improve outcomes for kids.

However, according to the 2019 report (State of the World’s Fathers), Australia has one of the least effective parental leave systems for dads with men accounting for less than 1% of parents who receive leave and benefits.

This falls significantly short of the global average of 18% and is in stark contrast to Sweden, Iceland and Portugal where men account for nearly half of parents who receive publicly administered leave and benefits.

According to the authors, if leave is not specifically designed for fathers or is not adequately remunerated, few fathers actually take it. Longer parental leave, with paid, non-transferable days for fathers, is the most effective in encouraging fathers to take leave and in supporting families toward greater equity between men and women, they say.

Parents at Work say dads want to be more involved in their children’s lives and employers can do more to help dads balance work and family. Twelve months ago Parents at Work CEO Emma Walsh told the Australian Fatherhood Research Symposium that parental leave progress in Australia had stalled.

"More than 50% of Australians have no access to an employer-supported paid parental leave scheme and rely on the minimum wage. Less than 5% [in Australia] of men access paid parental leave," she said. 

“Australia will not close the gender inequality gap if we don’t advance parental leave equality."

So what’s holding men back? Watson highlighted a number of factors including:

  • Language barriers and confusion over what constitutes primary and secondary carers
  • Eligibility – length in employment against due date
  • Awareness – companies may have a PPL policy, but employees don’t know about it
  • Financial barriers – men traditionally earn more
  • There is a stigma associated with men taking
  • Few role models leading the way
  • Gate-keeping – some women don’t want to share the care

A radical change in men sharing parental leave would allow men to bond with their children, as well as creating more equal division of work at home, improved work-life balance and more productivity and engagement at work.

There would also be more opportunities for women to advance their career potential, reduce the pay gap and increase women-in -leadership positions.

TAKE ACTION FOR MEN’S HEALTH

View: Finding your feet as a father (SBS Insight) 

Read: Australia must do more to support new dads says report  (AMHF)

Read: Want men to share parental leave? Just give them equality (The Guardian) 

Read: Why Australia needs to catch up on making parental leave fairer for men (AMHF)

Read: Parental leave for dads – Australia trails the world (AMHF)

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