If you’ve seen my Instagram feed recently, you might have realised that since the birth of our son, Harry, I’ve not been at work. Why you ask? Well, I wasn’t just being lazy. I’ve actually spent an amazing eight weeks bonding with Harry and Sarah, taking advantage of the relatively new Shared Parental Leave scheme.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard about it. Most people I’ve spoken to haven’t! It became law in 2015 and means that, subject to certain criteria around length of employment and returning to the same employer, fathers are now entitled to share what was previously just maternity leave. Mums have to take a minimum of 2 weeks maternity leave and dads will still receive their 2 weeks paternity leave. After that the remaining 50 weeks statutory “maternity leave” and 37 weeks pay can be shared between you.
I’ll let you read the official Shared Parental Leave guidance if you want more information but having done it myself, I thought I’d share
5 Reasons Why Shared Parental Leave is Such a Good Idea
1. They’re only young once
It might seem obvious but unless you are with your child all the time, you miss out on so much of their early development and first moments. I’ve seen Harry’s face, first confused then gurgling with laughter, as he learnt to roll from his tummy to his back. I’ve helped him begin to vocalise his emotions and desires, and conversed with him as he “talks” more and more. I mean, I’ve even seen the full spectrum of nappies as his body has developed. Arguably not much of an advantage but equally a burden that mum shouldn’t have to bear alone.
2. You can build an incredible bond
If you ask Sarah to describe my typical emotional state, you’ll most likely hear her sadly utter words like “cold” and “robot”. You see, we are very much diametrically opposed when it comes to feelings. Sarah is led by her heart and her emotions whereas I am rational to the core.
Spending so much time with Harry so early on has rather thawed me though. We’ve got our own little thing going on. He recognises my face and exceptionally terrible singing, often breaking into toothless, beaming smiles. I can’t help but love that cheeky grin. I want to fix him when he is crying. And whilst he is sleeping, I lose hours watching his little chest puff up and down, and hearing his little snores float into the ether. I can only imagine how much longer it would have taken to build that bond if I had been at work every day.
3. Mums need looking after too
One thing that has hugely surprised me since becoming a dad is how many people still consider raising a child to be “women’s work”. It’s clearly a generational hangover and I’m sure would fit wonderfully into a wider debate about everyday sexism. So many people have unsubtly asked Sarah if “Adam has changed his first nappy yet”. To their outright surprise, I’ve actually changed the majority of nappies and cooked most of the dinners so far. As Sarah had an emergency C-section, it was physically necessary.
But even if she felt as right as rain, it still wouldn’t have occurred to me that she should be doing everything herself. After all, it takes two to tango and it seems like the least I can do. She carried our child for nine months and feeds him every couple of hours. I have little to offer in that department but with everything else, these eight weeks have given us a chance to get settled, relaxed and into a routine without too much exhaustion.
4. It’s not just men who bring home the bacon
Again, generationally there seems to be an assumption that I must earn significantly more than Sarah due to her gender. It therefore makes sense for her to give up work for a year. In reality, our salaries are similar enough that the difference is almost non-existent, albeit that in bacon terms I could buy a bloody good sandwich with the extra.
For other couples, it is entirely conceivable that the mother earns more. Shared parental leave might therefore be the financially better option. Even if the mother doesn’t earn more at the moment, her career aspirations and prospects might make an earlier return more attractive. Some employers are even more generous; I’m lucky enough to get full pay rather than just the statutory maternity pay. I also have colleagues who separately took 6 months each; they shared the benefits whilst minimising the impact on their careers. It’s flexible, so make it work for you!
5. A mini career break is good for you
Before I start this one, let me just say that looking after a new child is definitely hard work and easily equivalent to a 9-5 job. Parental leave is therefore most definitely not a holiday…and yet it sort of is. Your mind and body will come under all sorts of new stresses and strains but you’ll very quickly forget the office even exists.
Even if you only take a month, you’ll return to the office refreshed and refocused. Your colleagues will cope without you and if you’re really lucky, fresh eyes might bring some much needed perspective. The main thing is that you can adjust to life with a baby without the pressure of a full time job too. Nobody needs two full time jobs and no sleep!
You also don’t need to take all your shared paternity leave at once or even decide upfront. Depending on how we are getting on, Sarah and I might decide that I should take another month later on to spend some more time with the little man. It really can be that flexible as long as you are upfront and honest with your employer.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s taken shared parental leave or is considering it. Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer any of your questions.