Friday, September 10, 2010

Put parenting first


A paid parental leave scheme is not about the money, it’s about putting our children first
There’s been a lot of talk about parental leave provisions in the past few months, particularly in light of the election, so I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at this hot topic.
The trouble with our current system is that there are too many scenarios that can cause upheaval within family life.
Firstly, you fall pregnant and worry about how you will live on one income, and how soon you would need to go back to work.
Then you have to put your unborn baby’s name on a waiting list for childcare, hoping they’ll be accepted by the time you need to get back to work.
You also wonder about whether the cost of childcare is worth going back to work.
And while you’re at work, you fear you’ll be treated differently if you go back part-time, or if you need time off work to look after a sick child.
You probably sometimes wish your partner could take care of the children while you went to work.
Well, in Sweden, none of these scenarios take place because parents are paid to stay at home with their children for 16 months, two of which are mandatory “daddy months”.

Sweden is a world leader in gender equality in parenting through its parental leave provisions.
Australia’s current parental leave offerings allow you to take one year’s leave without pay, with no guarantee that you will resume work in the same position upon your return.
From January 1, 2011, this will change so that parents of children born or adopted on or after that date will receive 18 weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage, currently $570 per week before tax.
If you are employed in the public sector or private enterprise, you are likely to have access to a number of weeks of paid leave, however some industries such as hospitality, offer very little financial security.
While Australia will no longer be lagging behind the world’s developed countries by introducing the paid parental scheme, we still have a long way to go.
Sweden is known for its progressive policies and generous tax-funded welfare system, and since the 1970s, reforms have been in place to support working parents, and to foster the notion that the role of the father in raising a child is just as important as the role of the mother.
In Australia, new fathers are entitled to only one week’s unpaid leave when their baby is born.
There is little importance placed on the bonding of a father with his newborn, and certainly not enough discussion on gender equality parenting.
The idea that the man is the breadwinner is still dominant, even if we don’t say it out loud.
Fathers need to spend quality time raising their children, so there should be a provision of paternity leave within our paid parental scheme. 
There must also be a change in attitudes, so that it is socially acceptable for a father to take leave from work to raise children.
Having a child in Sweden is a right, not an inconvenience, and a woman’s career is valued just as highly as a man’s.
It is expected that both men and women should be economically independent and that both share equal responsibility for supporting the family financially as well as child-rearing.
Sweden’s social welfare system ensures narrow economic gaps between social classes, with tax-financed systems of education, health care, child and elderly care and parental leave.
Day care centres and preschools are all funded by the public sector, with day care fees on a sliding scale adjusted to the parents’ income and capped.
Schooling through to university is free, as is health care. The aim is to guarantee basic financial security among all citizens.
Although Swedish parents are sharing parenting responsibility, there are still problems trying to achieve a work/life balance.
With so many parents taking leave, it is expected that their work will be covered by colleagues, instead of hiring replacements during the period they are away.
In our society, a man’s worth is often defined by his ability to earn money to support his family, but their most important role is as a parent, and the government should be encouraging more fathers to take leave.

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