Why fathers are being shortchanged on parental leave

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Cameron didn't think twice about being a stay-at-home dad. But trying to take on a role, that for years has largely been held by women, proved challenging. And workplace data reveals he is not alone.

Preview above: Insight hears from a diverse group of dads about the trials and tribulations of modern-day parenting. Finding Your Feet as a Father, Tuesday, August 4 at 8:30pm.

Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, Brisbane local, Cameron Whittaker was a successful warehouse manager and husband to an electrical engineer. He describes the move to take on full-time fathering as “purely a financial decision to start with”.

But, behind the bushy beard was a man determined to “break the cycle” of his own fatherless childhood.

“My mum was the one that gave up everything for us, so we could have shoes on our feet, schoolbooks and things like that,” Cameron said.

But when Cameron made the decision to be the stay-at-home parent, he soon realised how hard it was for other dad's out there trying to juggle work and family commitments.

“A lot of these big organisations love to preach work-life balance, but when push comes to shove it's a lot of lip service,” Cameron said.

Unfortunately, Cameron’s not alone, research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies suggest that dads are more likely to choose flexible work, than they are to reduce their hours, to spend more time at home.

Cameron
Cameron said the initial reason he chose to be a stay at home dad was purely a financial one.
Supplied

Fathers and Families Research Program leader, Associate Professor Richard Fletcher, finds that dads not spending that crucial time with their infant children “puts them behind the eight ball”.

“If you're trying to make a connection with your baby and you're going back to work after two weeks, which is the average, then you've only got that time before and after work to make that connection,” Associate Professor Fletcher said.

“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?'

“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.”

For me it's about breaking cycles, I want to make sure Max knows that his dad is always going to be there, you know, forever.

Currently, the Australian Government offers two weeks of Dad and Partner Pay at minimum wage, while mums are offered 18 weeks leave as primary carer.

Additionally, Australia lacks a nationally legislated “shared parental leave” approach and that means most dads are labelled as “secondary carers,” continuing a gendered cycle of parenting.

“What does that say on the value we place on the parent?” Associate Professor Fletcher said.

While couples are able to transfer primary parental leave between each other, the Australian Bureau of Statistics finds that only five per cent of fathers take up that arrangement, as Cameron did.

Now four years into his stay-at-home dad journey, Cameron has finally found his fathering rhythm - after a shaky first few weeks.

“For me it's about breaking cycles, I want to make sure Max knows that his dad is always going to be there, you know, forever.”

Source SBS Insight