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It's time to acknowledge fathers have babies too

CHILDCARE - not a women's issue.

Unless they taught biology backwards in Lanarkshire, which wouldn't be much of a surprise, children are the responsibility of two people and often one of them's a man. That's right, fathers have babies too.

Look at the SNP's new childcare policy. It's all about mums and women and getting women back to work, whether they really fancy it or not. Nicola Sturgeon, wanting women voting for independence, said: "If we can put the focus on issues such as childcare ... we can win."

We're told about the maternal pay gap - that a woman who has a baby will earn hundreds of thousands of pounds less over the course of her career than if she remained childless. But why is it still a maternal pay gap and not a parental pay gap? Ultimately, it may just be the case that women who have children are not so bothered about earning less money and would rather spend the young years with their children. But it may also be the case they are blazing mad about it.

Why is the mother's life more affected? Why is she the one more likely to take parental leave and then go part-time? Women invariably take the hit for a choice two people have made. Women's jobs are undervalued and we do it to ourselves, with the help of our dearest.

We are constantly told about decisions women make regarding children. There's never a mention men are involved in choices too.

It is almost refreshing to read current scaremongering about older dads - more likely to have autistic children, degenerating sperm quality - taking the glare off women a little.

Working mothers damage children, never working parents. Guilt is only forced on mothers who work. You hear men refer to babysitting their own children. Women express gratitude to their menfolk for taking a turn with the childcare.

It's still an acceptable aspiration for women to be full-time mothers. Not for full-time fathers. Women taking on caring roles is natural; for men to be financially supported by another adult is emasculating. For the narrative about parenthood to still be so completely stacked towards mothers, well, I'm amazed we get away with it.

Families Need Fathers is amazed too. The Equal Opportunities Committee is looking at the experiences of fathers in Scotland. The charity claims dads are eyed with suspicion by health professionals, teachers, social workers and the courts. And no wonder - children are a women's issue, stupid.

The Scottish Government has enabled charities, including Fathers Network Scotland, to look at how to improve workplaces. Research shows more fathers would ask for flexible working but, as chairman David Drysdale says: "Fathers don't use many of the family friendly initiatives ... they think their colleagues or employers wouldn't take them seriously."

Last weekend I bumped into an old acquaintance at a party. He said he was off work long-term. Everyone assumed he was ill. He was on paternity leave and mumbled it, looking abashed. I asked another chum, who's planning a baby, if he'd split the leave. "No way! Can you imagine if I walked into the office and asked for six months off? They'd manage me out. It would totally interrupt my career."

I tell him the gender pay gap in Scotland is at its highest in almost a decade, women are more likely to be in low-paid and temporary jobs. Also, it's your baby. Man up.

I would like to see the gold standard for parental leave at eight months for women and four months for men. For us to wait until 2015 to legislate that parental leave can be split between both parents is bizarre. But it's going to be an empty gesture unless we come up with some way to take the "women" out of "women and children". Like I said, fathers have babies too.

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Families

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