The government introduced Shared Parental Leave in April 2015, which lets parents share the time they take off to look after their newborn baby. With only two percent of parents taking up their offer, I want to share my story to show how positive the experience has been for me.
I wonder what holds people back from sharing parental leave? Does the gender pay gap mean families can’t afford dads taking time off? Is there pressure on mums to go it alone? Are both scared of being displaced in work? I’d hate for anyone to miss out simply because they didn’t know it was possible.
When I was pregnant, my husband Oli and I chatted about what we imagined time off work with Rae, my now 19 month old daughter, would look like. There was a maximum of 12 months available, we both wanted to return to work, and there were two of us – so six months each was our first idea. In the end, I took seven months off, Oli took four, and overlapped for a month in the middle.
Our month off together happened at the right time. Rae became a nap-refuser, a status she has proudly clung to ever since, so it was a relief to muddle through as a team. Potentially there won’t be another time that we’ll have a whole month off work together as a family before retirement!
As well as the joy of a month off together, Shared Parental Leave made coming back to work a really positive experience for me. When I returned, I didn’t need to go through the turmoil of leaving Rae at a nursery for the first time. I could be confident Oli was on it and focus on getting my brain back into work.
The experience was a real test for Oli. He had to learn how to parent single-handedly. And it was a test for me too, in learning to let go. I had to leave the routines that Rae and I had created in her first seven months, and allow her and Oli to establish their own patterns and ways of doing things. This experience has shaped the equal way we parent today.
I’m really enjoying the balance of working and going home to Rae. Sometimes I lose the balance but, with Oli’s help (and a back pocket filled with an emergency ration of blueberry rice cakes), I’m grateful for the sense of ‘team’ that sharing parental leave has left us with.
Chief of Staff