One of my great pleasures when home in Ireland is the Sunday papers. Here we have the paper delivered everyday but it’s just not the same. It’s not just because I often have to consult a dictionary to get through an article, which of course does take somewhat from the pleasure, but I miss the sense of humour and the familiarity of the culture that runs through so much of the Irish and British press. Some Sundays here I download either the Sunday Tribune or the Sunday Business Post from http://www.newstand.com/ for the same price it would cost to buy the papers in a shop at home. I print off the pages I want in low-resolution black and white to peruse during the week. So it’s hardly perfect reading a newspaper printed on A4 paper but the size is convenient for use while breastfeeding.
Last weekend, courtesy of the Sunday Business Post, I discovered that maternity leave in Ireland is to be increased from 22 weeks to 26 weeks from March 1. Yes, things have come a long way since the marriage ban whereby women like my mother were banned from working after they married, but compared to Norway, new mothers in Ireland still have it pretty bad. Irish mothers read on and weep!
In Norway, full-time working mothers can choose between 53 weeks leave at full pay or 43 weeks at 80% pay from three weeks before a the baby’s due date. Of this, a mother must take nine weeks and the father five weeks; the rest they can carve up between them. At least this is want I understand from reading the rules. As long as one parent is back at work during the leave period, the parent who has chosen to care for the child still receives full pay. Hence it is very common to see men pushing prams here as they enjoy the paternal benefits of living in a country that not only recognises the importance of parents being with their children during the first year but also the importance of a father’s role in raising his children.
In addition, most employers allow fathers to take two weeks off work, fully-paid, straight after their babies are born. This privilege is offered irrespective of whether a mother is working or not. As I work freelance, I didn’t qualify for paid maternity leave but I did have my husband home for two weeks to bond with his son as well as do the shopping, cooking and chauffeuring while I recovered from the birth. In addition the government gave me a tax-free lump sum payment of almost €4,000 as I wasn’t to get paid maternity leave.
Contrast this to Ireland where the amount of time allocated for maternity leave may be growing, (although is still half that on offer here) but where the salary received during the leave period is capped at €280 per week so that any woman earning over €15,000 per year will be penalised financially for availing of maternity leave.
And as for paternity leave? Well let me quote The Sunday Business Post, “Paternity leave is still not recognised in employment law in Ireland, so employers are not obliged to grant male employees paid or unpaid paternity leave when their child is born.”
There’s a lot more to be said on the the benefits of living in Norway as a parent of young children and I’m researching a full feature article in which I plan to say it. In the meantime, I will continue to remind myself that having to print off my weekly dose of Irish culture on my printer or use a dictionary to read a local paper, while paying slightly higher taxes than in Ireland, are worth it for the benefits of living in a state that values families, and Dads in particular.
It’s WINTER FERIE (Winter Holiday) this week which is code for: the kids are off school, it's snowing heavily, the temperature is -11 ˚C (according to the paper), the dishwasher has been broken for exactly seven days and when I swallow it feels like there are lumps the size of marbles in my throat. The girls are playing a game which involves pretending that they're travelling to the Canary Islands, which in their world involves 10 flights, fake American accents and much trundling of pink pull-along suitcases up and down the stairs. It all sounds very busy. Next week, we'll be doing the trip for real. Thankfully the pink suitcases will have to take only one flight, as the girls say, "for ree-al". Ye hay!

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