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Monday, 17 January 2011

The rise of the stay at home dad?!

The Government has announced today that, from April, fathers will be able to share maternity leave with their partners. So, is this it, the dawn of a new era, the rise of the stay-at-home-dad?

I'd like to think so.

It's ridiculous that, at a time when paranoid HR departments across the land quiver at the mere thought of being sued by employees for biro-related trauma, let alone inequality tribunals, we new dads are given a paltry two weeks' paid paternity leave.

I can only imagine that the childless Whitehall pen pushers who originally set down the two week decree naively imagined that, by the end of their14 days, fathers would have settled their newborns into an unbroken routine of 12-hour sleeps, while also enabling their wives to have recovered enough from birth to fly around Tesco and juggle washing, hoovering and cleaning. I mean, you can do almost anything in two weeks!

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Two weeks is hardly enough time to nail nappy changing, let alone the infinite intricacies of parenthood. Going back to work at the end of it, meanwhile, and in my case leaving a wife at home who is still recovering from major surgery, can be traumatic for mum, dad and baby.

Dads should be allowed to stay at home to help ease families in to parenthood and to settle newborns in to their new lives. The choice of who stays at home and who goes to work - even solely over the maternity leave period - should be open and equal to men and women.

It's also a decision that shouldn't be taken likely and, in the B household, it's still one that has to be decided. There is lots to weigh up, of course, but in my opinion the decision rests with Mrs B. If she wants to stay at home and bring up our little man - being there for him at every step of the way - then that is her right to do so and I will do everything I possibly can to support her and him.

Should Mrs B really wish to return to work, however, I would have no qualms whatsoever about becoming a stay-at -home dad. Much better that than sticking him in an expensive nursery, where we'll effectively miss much of his early development and be unable to oversee those who are caring for him.

I have a feeling, however, that stay-at-home dads are a rare breed in our neck of the woods, one undoubtedly viewed with scepticism by the female-dominated buggy-pushing hoardes. Indeed, the prospect of turning up at a playgroup like a rookie cowboy in a Wild West saloon (cue silence, turning heads, whispered comments and tumbleweed) actually makes me more nervous than the thought of round-the-clock nappy changes and tantrums.

It's a brave new world.

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