The importance of parental leave for dads

When you’re about to become a dad — especially for the first time — you are hit with a flood of emotions, fears and questions, and parental leave is likely one of the things that’ll have your mind racing.

Why is it important? How long should I take? Can I afford to? What will my employer say? 

It’s absolutely natural to have those questions swirling around your head as you prepare for the daunting task of fatherhood. 

Let’s dive into what you need to know.

What parental leave entitlements do Australian fathers get?

In Australia, men are entitled to what is known as ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ under the Australian Government’s Parental Leave Pay scheme. 

This is a payment for up to two weeks while you care for your new child. The payment is based on the weekly rate of the national minimum wage, and there are various conditions and timeframes you must meet to access this payment. 

There is also the option of taking unpaid parental leave — the National Employment Standards entitle employees, male or female, to take up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave but only if you've already worked for your employer for 12 continuous months.

Who can get Dad and Partner Pay?

Australian parenting website states: 

You can apply for Dad and Partner Pay if you have a newborn baby or newly adopted child and you’re the:

  • Child’s biological father
  • Partner of the child’s birthing mother
  • Child’s adoptive parent or partner of the adoptive parent
  • Parent of a child born of a surrogacy arrangement

To get Dad and Partner Pay, you’ll need to:

  • Be caring for a newborn baby or newly adopted child
  • Be living in Australia and meet residence rules
  • Have worked for at least 10 of the 13 months before the start date of your Dad and Partner Pay
  • Have worked for at least 330 hours in that 10-month period (just over one day a week), with no more than a 12-week gap between each workday
  • Meet the income criteria for the payment
  • Be on unpaid leave or not working during the Dad and Partner Pay period

You might be eligible for Dad and Partner Pay if you work on a full-time, part-time, casual, contract or seasonal basis, are self-employed or work in a family business.

So, that’s the nuts and bolts of what government support is available to you when your baby is born. But there’s plenty more pieces of the puzzle to put together. 

Why should you take parental leave?

In short, because spending time with your newborn benefits you, your child and your partner.

The first 1,000 days of your child’s life, from conception until they reach two years of age, are crucial, and a father’s involvement can have long-lasting effects for everyone in the family unit.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states “fathers who care for children early tend to stay more involved as children grow up. Where fathers participate more in childcare and family life, children enjoy higher cognitive and emotional outcomes and physical health. And fathers who engage more with their children tend to report greater life satisfaction and better physical and mental health than those who care for and interact less with their children.”

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, says family dynamics have changed in many ways in modern times. 

“For so long it (raising children) has been seen as a mother’s job and (there has been a) breadwinner vs. caregiver stereotype in society that most people came to expect,” she says. “This is decades, even centuries of expectation about what is a dad’s role and what is a mum’s role.

“But in the past 40 or 50 years or so, (there’s been) more and more women accepted in the workforce and there’s an expectation now that many women will participate in the workforce equally. However, we’ve not had the same expectation of men having the same equal contribution to caregiving — that is a problem, as there’s a lack of education and awareness around the critical role fathers play in children’s lives.”

Derek McCormack, Director of the Raising Children Network, says men shouldn’t hesitate to take leave when their children are born.

“Being present for those first weeks, for however long is possible, is really, really good for dads,” he says. “It helps them do some really important bonding (with the baby) and bonding is quite critical for a child’s development — it’s a great opportunity for fathers to connect with the baby and get to know them.

“And what we know from the first stages of life is, these connections help with babies’ brain development and overall health, so it’s definitely good for dads and their children. 

“It’s time that won’t come back again. Any contribution you can make in those first 1,000 days for your child is significant.” 

Taking leave can help your relationship too, says McCormack.

“Another (benefit) is to be home with your partner and help transition into this new phase of a relationship,” he says. “The relationship will undergo a little bit of an overhaul during that time and what can really help is working through it together, if it’s possible. Things can get quite chaotic, and there’s a lot of change (in those first few weeks and months), so it’s a good thing to work together.”

How much leave should you take?

While you’re entitled to two weeks’ paid leave via the Parental Leave Pay scheme, you may be able to take additional leave on top of this (annual, carer’s or unpaid leave, for example).

Taking a big chunk of leave at one time won’t be practical for every new father, of course, so McCormack suggests trying to do the best you can in your situation.

“As a starting point, don’t be afraid to have a conversation in the workplace with your manager or leadership,” he says. “Even if it looks hard or quite restricted or difficult to take leave, maybe look at what might be possible around flexible work — even if you can’t take a full block of leave, maybe there’s flexibility with your work arrangements, which is something that’s more common in organisations these days.

“It's going to be different for everyone in different circumstances, there may be barriers or other factors like financial (issues) that might come into play. But if the motivation and opportunities are there to maximise your leave, then have a chat with your workplace.”

Walsh agrees, stating that flexible work arrangements may be a good course of action for new dads, if available.

“Do your homework from the get-go; there could be opportunities to take carer’s leave — for example, if your partner needs a caesarean — if not annual leave (as well as parental leave),” she says. 

“There can be some great arrangements where both parents go to work four days per week later in the baby’s life — any sort of flexibility you can take is great. With the rising popularity of the four-day working week, that might be an easier conversation to have (with your employer) than a few years ago. 

“Remember, parental leave doesn’t have to be taken in one block”.

How should you approach an employer about parental leave?

This very much depends on each individual, their circumstances and workplace culture.

Walsh says discussing the issue with your employer as early as possible is the best move.

“Be upfront at the beginning — the minute you are expecting a baby, start the conversation,” she says. “You’ve got time to plant the seed and introduce the conversation, especially if you’re worried your leader might not be on the same page as you. 

“This makes the next conversation a little bit easier — you can say ‘remember a few months ago, I was talking to you about having a baby? Well, it’s now three months until the baby comes and we should think about who can take over some of my work while I’m off, as I do want to take some time off.’

“It’s much harder to say nothing through the pregnancy and then talk about it when the baby is about to arrive!”

Related articles

Subscribe to the monthly newsletter

Each month we release two email newsletters – one written for men, family and friends, and another for health practitioners.

Which newsletter/s would you like to subscribe to?