A few weekends back I walked outside our house on a Sunday morning to pick up the newspaper and was greeted by a front page that made me almost jump for joy. Seeing Nick Duffy and his two daughters smiling on the front page of The Sun-Herald filled me with glee. In the accompanying article, he spoke about why taking 10 weeks' of paid parental leave with both of his daughters was the best decision he's made as a parent.
Now, full disclosure, Nick's a local dad. His eldest daughter is around the same age as my youngest daughter, so five years ago Nick and I would quite often bump into one another, picking up medicinal morning coffee at a nearby cafe, each of us with a baby in tow while we were on parental leave. We ended up chatting quite a bit and I will never not feel emotional when I reflect on some of those conversations.
Nick loved being a dad. And ten weeks of paid parental leave meant Nick didn't have to settle for being a "secondary" carer or a version of the absent, bumbling stereotype we too often expect of dads. He didn't have to settle for just two weeks of leave while he and his wife navigated the seismic transition to parenthood. Paid parental leave meant he was able to be as hands-on as his wife in that first year, which evidently brought him satisfaction, contentment and joy, and set a pattern for how they would combine work and care.
Nick and his family are a rarity in Australia - and it's not because there aren't more mums and dads who want to share the care.
Aussie dads take less than 20 percent of the parental leave that dads take globally. It means new mothers here still carry the heavy expectation that they will assume almost all of the responsibility for caring for babies and children. It's overwhelming and isolating. And, it significantly reduces their ability to remain connected to paid work and progress their careers.
Dads Days, a new report released this month by the Grattan Institute, that we supported, recommends that paid parental leave be substantially boosted for fathers and partners in Australia to support men to be more engaged in the early years of their children’s lives. It really is a no-brainer: it's good for children, mums, dads and the economy!
Australia needs an adequate and equitable paid parental leave system that encourages mums and dads to share the care from day one. And, Dad days: how more gender-equal parental leave would improve the lives of Australian families, gives a compelling blueprint how to change the current system for the better.
Governments around the world now recognise the significant social and economic benefits of gender-equal paid parental leave. It’s time for Australia to catch up!
As lockdowns continue in many parts of the country feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation are common. And we know that for parents of primary school-aged kids it's especially tricky. As a mum of two primary schoolers and a preschooler, attempting to work and care and homeschool, let me say, unequivocally, that this is one of the most challenging experiences I've had as a parent.
If that's you too, and you're doing it tough, please know you're not alone and please know that there is help out there. You can find different kind of supports here.
On that note, Australians for Mental Health, a movement of people who have personal experience of mental illness, or have witnessed and felt the impact of mental illness in the lives of loved ones, is is doing a national survey on the impact of COVID on people’s mental health. You can take the survey here, which will take you around 5 minutes to complete. Supporting parents and children means supporting the mental health and wellbeing of parents and children so this is a subject we care about.
Take care and try to be kind to yourself and your loved ones in these trying times.