She gurgles as she stretches out that tiny podgy hand, taking your little pinky in her fist. She smiles at you and you know your world will never be the same. You will think of her night and day, of her happiness and of her pink - and for now wrinkled - face that smiles when she looks up at you.
You’ve been in it for the long haul - nine months of cravings, of late-night runs to the grocery; more than a day in the hospital worried sick about your wife’s labour; sleepless nights full of anxiety and happiness whirling a tight ribbon around your head. And now, a day on, returning to office and letting go of that precious minion’s hand, of walking away as she stares at your back as you leave - how do you do it?
Days on this exit will still cause heartache, but a sudden cut-off can be devastating. Fortunately, in the UAE, a law has been created to ease that transition back to work, to help fathers and mothers bond with their newborn, to get the basics - such as paperwork and dipper-changing duties - sorted and allow for some one-on-one time between daddy and baby.
What is paternity leave?
A report on family friendly policies, published by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), defines parental leaves as: “Job-protected paid leave of absence for working women and men, typically starting just before the time of childbirth (or adoption in some countries). Typically referred to as paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave and parental leave.”
How much leave are UAE dads entitled to?
In the UAE, this period is five working days that can be used up to six months from the time the child is born.
The amendment to the regulation of labour relations first announced on August 30, 2020, made the UAE the first Arab country to introduce paid paternity leave for fathers.
How are UAE firms helping their employees?
A number of firms, including Gulf News, have been actively helping families bond in those initial days of parenthood. Omar Channawi, CEO at Procter & Gamble Middle East, East and West Africa and General Export Markets, tells Gulf News in an interview that paternity leave is just as important as maternity leave and must be recognised as such by firms. “We believe that caring for your home and family has no gender and recognise the positive impact this has on families and on the overall environment of gender equality.
Our move to a global parental leave policy titled ‘Share the Care’ launched in January 2021 in P&G worldwide. It marked an important milestone in our journey to drive positive change by providing equal opportunity for both parents to share caregiving for new family members.
“Our move to a global parental leave policy titled ‘Share the Care’ launched in January 2021 in P&G worldwide. It marked an important milestone in our journey to drive positive change by providing equal opportunity for both parents to share caregiving for new family members,” he adds.
At P&G, employees are offered “eight weeks fully paid leave for biological parents, domestic partners, adoptive parents, parents in same sex couples. Birth mothers receive an additional six fully paid weeks birth and recovery leave, for a total of 14 weeks”.
Another company, WSP, also offers paid parental leave. Caroline Parsons, HR Director & Director – Shared Services, explains that running a family is a job for both parents.”Traditional ideas surrounding gender roles place a disproportionate amount of pressure on women to take time off and take care of their children after giving birth. This removes the opportunity for fathers to help with caregiving and hinders the adjustment phase that all new families experience.
“When it comes to paternity cover, the policy we have had in place since 2014 has offered new fathers the UAE’s now mandatory five days of leave, and the flexibility of this certainly remains very unique in comparison to many other organisations and geographies across the Middle East,” she explains.
Why is it so important for a dad to spend time with their newborn?
There’s no denying that taking care of a child - especially in the first few days post delivery - is tough work. A couple must navigate the new truth of having a whole person who cannot talk but has all the needs of a living, breathing human being, complete dependency, and a terrible, awful sleep cycle.
Add to this the roller coaster of emotions that are wending down the new mum’s body whereby she may be dealing with the baby blues or even post-partum depression; the fact that there may not be a familial support system nearby; and anxiety caused by a lack of sleep and the joy - and so fear - of losing a newborn, and it’s just too much to take on alone.
Tom Hoban, of WSP, recalls:“For the first few days - my wife had a C-section so her mobility was impaired so I was doing a lot of the heavy lifting and taking care of the feeding of him and things like that. Definitely feel like it helped us establish the bond and some routine as well when I returned to work after the paternity leave. We have our own little time together and even today, I feed him in the morning and give him a bath at night - that’s our little routine. So it helped us establish that bond.”
The 2019 UNICEF report says: “Giving parents the opportunity to bond with their infants at this critical phase in a child’s life ensures essential preventive care, and healthy development in childhood and across the lifespan.” It adds that fathers who take paternity leave are more involved in early childcare, share household work more equally, and can support mothers’ breastfeeding – all of which help to reduce post-partum depression.”
Parenting is a joint responsibility, and the awareness is prevalent in this generation, much more than the last. The fact in itself entails a need for paternity leave alongside maternity leave.
Geeta Ramakrishnan, Wellness and Ontological Coach, adds: “Parenting is a joint responsibility, and the awareness is prevalent in this generation, much more than the last. The fact in itself entails a need for paternity leave alongside maternity leave. Once the little one comes into your world, the more hands, the better. And bonding with the new baby is a not-to-be-missed emotional experience for both parents."
Hoban explains that the pandemic makes paternity leave all that more important. “With the pandemic it’s more difficult for our parents to travel and for anyone to travel to give that support, so I thought it was even more important given the situation that I took the paternity leave.”
And it’s proved to be a boon; he says he will “100 per cent” use the option to take paternity leave if the need arises.
Killing the biases
It’s time to put aside the conditioning of society say dads and professionals alike. A child is the reponsibility of both the mum and the dad. “[Often], a father is conditioned to thinking that child-rearing is more of the mother’s responsibility. Mothers also tend to be protective and thinking that giving birth naturally makes them more tuned of the baby’s needs. While not denying some truth, I believe it is an unconscious bias by both parents, with no malice intended. As a child, you see and learn from your parents. The critical point is to be aware of this conditioning of the mind and do something about it. The concept of paternity leave thus becomes relevant and a need rather than an option or a luxury. It helps bring about a mind-set change,” says Ramakrishnan.
How does it help a couple?
For new dads, being around and helping with baby-rearing can be an eye opener, leading to greater understanding and appreciation of a care-takers’ difficulties and a greater bond between couples. “Before my babies arrived I felt unsure about my role as a father but being there to emotionally and physically support my family has helped me realise that my presence is essential to the stability of the household. I feel like I’ve formed a special bond with my baby and my partner,” says Tarek Ibrahim – Pampers Finance Director.
According to a study undertaken by US-based Ball State University titled ‘If I [Take] Leave, Will You Stay? Paternity Leave and Relationship Stability’, which was published in the November 2019 issue of the Journal of Social Policy, fathers who take parental leave to spend time with their newborn are 25 per cent less likely to see their marriage or relationships end within a few years.
The study found evidence that fathers’ leave-taking is associated with more stable parental relationships. (The research was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health)
Having a baby is hard work. But there’s no reason either parent should go it alone. Paternity leave helps bridge that gap between parents, cultivating greater understanding and a more solid support system. Ultimately, as the UAE and various companies in it have learned, the happier the family, the better it is for the firm, the country, the world.
First-person account: 'I just wish I had more time'
-By Omar Shariff, International Editor
Years ago, when we had our first child, on a whim I asked our HR contact: “Chief, do we get ... paternity leave, by any chance?” He literally went ‘ha ha ha’. I had a good laugh too, amused at the absurdity of my question.
But things have changed! This year, we had our latest baby. And I learnt I was ENTITLED to 5 days of paternity leave. (Months earlier, my brother and his wife in the US had a baby, and he got four months paternity leave. He was still on paternity leave when my son was born. But that is another story).
Things have changed! This year, we had our latest baby. And I learnt I was ENTITLED to 5 days of paternity leave.
Clubbed with the weekend, my paternity leave came to one full week. I took an extra 10 days off from my annual quota. But even if I hadn’t, the one week came in really handy.
My wife was in hospital for three days, and during that time, I could take full care of the older kids at home, and take them twice daily to meet their mum and new sibling. I was able to deal with insurance related paperwork at the hospital. By day four, I had procured a birth certificate, and applied for it to be attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. I used it three days later to apply for the passport.
Even the limited number of paternity days in the private sector can be used to good effect, especially if you club them with other leave days. Of course, more would be helpful.