We chose Shared Parental Leave; traditional Maternity Leave wasn’t for us

Parents who chose Shared Parental leave with their baby

“Traditionally, having a baby can impact a mum’s career much more than a dad’s. For us, Shared Parental Leave was a good way to address that. Adele has always loved her job and she is very driven. As her partner, I knew that anything that we could do to help her continue in her career, we would try to make happen.

And my time alone with my 4-month-old baby daughter was more physically and emotionally draining than anything that I've ever had to do at work – but I loved it!”

Tom, a marketing co-ordinator from Sussex, chose Shared Parental Leave with his partner to care for their daughter Maeve this year. Tom rolled up his sleeves and got stuck right into those endless nappy changes, doctor’s appointments and soothing of sobbing. He chose those joyful cuddles and first smiles, carrot mashing and bottle washing over life at the office during the early months of his daughter’s life.

“It has benefited all of us” Adele tells me. “Maeve has spent dedicated one-on-one time with her dad. Tom is a fantastic parent and I can see how comfortable they both are with each other.”

The new opportunities of Shared Parental Leave

A mother and a father cuddling their baby

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has been available to UK employees since 2015 and enables two parents to share the leave following the birth or adoption of a baby or child. It doesn’t provide any additional leave for parents, but it does give more choice in how parents can care for their child.

It’s still uncommon to go for this option; in the UK government’s 2023 evaluation of the Shared Parental Leave Scheme, it was reported that 5% of employee fathers and 1% of employee mothers are recorded as taking SPL. This was in line with their predictions.

Who’s holding the baby?

The pattern of working and caring that Tom and Adele arranged was:

  • 2 weeks’ Paternity Leave plus 10 days holiday for Dad
  • 4 months’ Maternity Leave for Mum (at the same time)
  • Then 21 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave, using a rotation of 2 weeks working and 2 weeks with baby for each parent.

It’s important to note that they both in fact work for Posturite. (Not an office romance but one partner joining the other at their place of work!). Head of HR Rosalind Perrin says:

“It was perhaps simpler for Tom and Adele to make the most of this opportunity as they are both in the same company and therefore we had total ‘control’ over the process. At Posturite we want to enable our employees to have the work / life balance that suits each individual and I’m glad that our Shared Parental Leave policy allowed Tom and Adele to share the leave together as a couple, whilst maintaining successful careers.”

Father taking his baby out to Eastbourne

Adele’s role is as a Training and Events Manager, with additional responsibility for wellbeing at work. It did take some negotiation and discussion to decide on the best way forward for both the employer and the employees for the SPL. Originally the couple had asked for 5-week rotations, and although managers were open to this, they suggested that it might actually work better for both parties to try 2 weeks instead.

Why did Adele choose Shared Parental Leave?

“I felt quite strongly that co-parenting should be a part of our story and I wanted our baby to get to experience her early months with both of us” explains Adele. “Although I am still the primary care giver in many ways, our roles are a lot more balanced than they would have been should I have taken the whole amount of leave myself.

I have always felt there was an unfair amount of pressure on the traditional mother role, and I didn’t want this for myself. I wanted choice! It may sound selfish to some but I wanted the best of both parenting and my other responsibilities.”

This doesn’t sound selfish to me.

Encouraging more dads to play a greater caring role

Dad looking after baby during Shared Parental Leave

Adele wanted Tom to have the opportunity to bond with Maeve in a comparable way to her. And indeed one of the official objectives stated by the government for the SPL scheme was to encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role.

“When I was growing up, my dad was commuting to London from Eastbourne for many, many years” Tom says. Obviously in the 90s there was no working from home and this was over 3 hours a day on the train, meaning long days away from home. “My experiences and opportunities are now very different to his.”

Not forgetting that experiencing parenting is no walk in the park. There are devastatingly awful days – and of course nights. “Sharing the leave also allowed Tom to see firsthand some of the challenges of full-time parenting” Adele pointed out.

Baby sitting on the floor at home and crying

Is Tom more confident with baby care than many fathers would be?

“Having a baby has not exactly been something that I've wanted to do for my entire adult life” he admits. “I kind of thought, well, I think babies like me, but I'm not sure if I'm a natural at it! I didn't really have any experience of looking after kids before Maeve was born.”

We all muddle through, no matter our gender.

“I was excited about my turn to look after Maeve when Adele went back to work. A small amount of nerves too perhaps. But I also knew that I wouldn't know how it would actually be in practice until I did it for myself. I was determined to enjoy it as much as I could, even though I knew it was going to be challenging.”

Taking baby to see the meerkats

‘Hands off my maternity leave!’

This is not at all what Adele has said. There was no element of Adele having sacrificed anything coming across in her interview.

“I was happy to share my leave. It was good to know Maeve was with Tom in those early months and took away any worries I had about what she was up to when I was at work! Let’s put it this way, she wasn’t fussed about me leaving her at all!”

What were the financial implications of Shared Parental Leave?

“On Shared Parental Leave, ultimately our income was the same as if one of us was on maternity leave and one of us continued working full-time. Our two salaries are not wildly apart so that wasn’t an issue to be factored in” Adele explained. “Should our salaries have had large disparities, then SPL may not have been an option for us.”

Same-sex couples and Shared Parental Leave

Fathers with their toddler at home

Richard, an NHS doctor, and Rob, a lawyer, talk about their Shared Parental Leave and caring for their adopted son in this video captured by the Working Families charity. “I wanted to have some quality time with my son, free from the distractions of work” Rob says. He took:

  • 2 weeks’ Paternity Leave followed by two weeks’ unpaid leave
  • Then at the end of the year he took 4 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave.

Anna is a lecturer and gave birth to baby Edward. She took:

  • 6 months’ Shared Parental Leave
  • Her partner Katy, a teacher, then took 6 months’ Shared Parental Leave.

“We get to share both the responsibility and the fun!” enthuses Katy in her video.

You can take SPL if you are an employee and the mother, father or the mother’s spouse or partner, including same-sex partners and civil partners. You can also take SPL if you are an employee and the ‘primary’ adopter or the adopter’s spouse or partner. More information is available from Maternity Action.

Two weeks of work followed by two weeks home with baby

Baby in a buggy

I’m fascinated by the ‘rotation’ system these two parents set up because I think I would have found that quite unsettling and difficult. But for Tom and Adele their chosen pattern went well, perhaps assisted by baby Maeve being a pretty good sleeper. Adele established a babycare routine during her maternity leave which Tom was happy to pick up.

And when he went back to the job he enjoys, Tom valued being able to switch off from that relentless schedule of bottles, nappies, bottles, nappies. “Just being able to drive to and from the office with a podcast on and have that headspace entirely to myself was nice!”

Is Shared Parental Leave difficult for an HR Manager to organise?

Head of HR Rosalind Perrin commented that “There is a fair amount of paperwork that needs to be completed and eligibility requirements to satisfy in order to request Shared Parental Leave, from both parents. But it’s a good challenge! I’m happy that SPL allows for families to choose the best option for their circumstances.”

Adele fed back that everyone at Posturite had taken all the stress out of organising SPL for her and Tom.

The value of this opportunity

Baby eating in a high chair

“I'm delighted that we did it” Tom reflects. “I feel very sorry for dads whose circumstances won’t allow it. I had freedom to plan our days out. For a short time, I had a day-to-day life that didn't revolve around work. I was seeing my daughter develop in a more leisurely pace and not coming home from work and feeling sad that I’d missed out. She hit a few milestones in the period that I was with her exclusively – trying new foods and so on – and they might seem quite small in the grand scheme of things, but I was glad to see them with my own eyes.

For me there was a feeling of Shared Parental Leave being a special, unique thing to do; a privilege.”

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