Guest post: "Shared parental leave brought us closer"
Alice Hoyle had to give up some control over her newborn and adjust to having her husband at home more - but says she has no regrets about taking shared parental leave
Posted on: Wed 02-Mar-16 10:23:26
(10 comments )
In those first few weeks after we had our third baby I was told one thing repeatedly: that I seemed to be coping incredibly well. It was as if I was exuding some zen-like aura of calm and serenity - even though I was still experiencing the usual woes of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, sore breasts and tantrumming older siblings. The only thing I could say in response was that if I looked like I was doing ok, it was because of shared parental leave.
When we first heard about shared parental leave, we both knew it would be perfect for our family. My husband has always been a more than equal partner in parenting and running a household, so the idea made sense to us.
As shared parental leave was only introduced in April 2015, we needed to do a huge amount of research ourselves to work out the details. In the end, we decided to take three months off together and for me to then return to work when our baby was 12 weeks old. My husband would stay at home for a further three months and then return part time for another six months.
It did take us a while to get used to all being at home together. But it meant that I could concentrate on establishing breastfeeding and recovering from childbirth. My husband, meanwhile, took on the bulk of the care of our older two children, and also the housework and the cooking, as well as the school runs. Our six-year-old and four-year-old have coped with the change admirably. We are sure this is because we have been able to give them much more one-to-one attention than we would have with one parent at work.
I have now gone back to my work part time while my husband has remained on leave for three months. Things can be a struggle as our baby is waking frequently, but we now tend to both take on the night duties so I can maximise my sleep on workdays. As I work mainly from home, it has been a bit of an adjustment for me to get used to working with other people in the house. However, bonuses such as spending lunchtimes and tea breaks breastfeeding and the multiple tea and flapjack deliveries to my loft office far outweigh any negatives.
Being back at work means I haven't had as much control over things. I have also found myself feeling a bit fed up and sad when I have had to express. But on the whole, shared leave has the ideal option.
I feel much closer to my partner as a result of spending so much time together, however there has also been the odd sleep-deprived squabble over the baby's nap or feed routines. Being back at work means I haven't had as much control over things as I have had during previous maternity leaves. I have also found myself feeling a bit fed up and sad when I have had to express instead of breastfeeding (for example if the baby is full and asleep after I've been away from her for the day). But on the whole, the flexibility I have been able to achieve with my work whilst having a tiny baby has been wonderful and the perfect balance for our family.
Being able to choose to take shared parental leave has been the ideal option for us. I'm a freelance, self-employed health educator and was in a strong position in my career when pregnant for the third time. I'd published my first book, Pretend Friends, and having my husband home has afforded me time to work on my second book on children's mental health. It just didn't make sense for me to take time out from my career for a year.
My husband's work (EIP - an intellectual property law firm) was very understanding, especially as my husband was the first person in the company to take shared parental leave. We worked with human resources to help develop a plan for absence and we both did a lot of research online.
When our first two children were born, my husband had only been able to take the statutory minimum leave. It was wholly inadequate - partners shouldn't be forced to dash back to work. The image of a forlorn mother on the doorstep with a wailing baby in her arms and a hysterical toddler clinging to her ankles didn't feel far away from my reality in those days. Both parents need time and space to bond with their children, mothers need support with childcare and they need to be looked after too - especially in the early days.
Financially it has been tight, and we are on a very strict budget - but, it has been worth it. We are much closer as a family and all three girls have, and will have, a stronger bond with their dad than they would if he was away at work every day. Plus our transition to life with three has been so much easier than the transition from becoming a parent of one and then two. I would always recommend taking the option of shared parental leave if possible for your family as it has been incredible for mine.
MNHQ are interested to hear about Mumsnetters' experiences of shared parental leave. If you've considered it or are taking it, do let us know how it's working out.
By Alice Hoyle
We are taking shared parental leave. I've had 4 months off and DH takes over next month
The only thing I'd disagree with here is the statement that shared parental leave has only existed since April 2015. That's how long it's been around in its current form, where parents can take the leave concurrently and in blocks, but shared leave for fathers taking leave after the mother reruns to work (after 26 weeks) has been around since 2011.
We did it with DS1 in 2011 (6 months each), and we're looking forward to sharing leave with DS2. Was brilliant.
DH and I are due our first child in July this year. We would love to share parental leave. DH is great with children and babies and would be truly great as a stay at home parent. It would allow him to enjoy all the good bits of spending time with his young child and the career break would probably revitalise his attitude to work as well. I enjoy my career and want to return to it as soon as I am comfortable leaving our child, which would be a lot sooner if DH was looking after him.
However, the reality of the situation is that for us the scheme is not worth the paper it is written on. The fact that DH would only get statutory shared parental pay means that we cannot afford for him to take more than a very short time away from full employment. I am self employed, so us both being on ShPP for the best part of a year would be crippling (and our current savings are being wiped out by a sizeable building project).
I really wish we could make this work for us but I just don't see how it is possible.
We're doing this - DH's work pay enhanced same as maternity leave which clinched it.
We did shared parental leave. Our nanny had resigned and left, we had moved into a temporary home while doing a major renovation on a new house (what is it about pregnancy that induces house projects?), and ds was due to start a new afternoon nursery, all in the few months before and after ds2's arrival. We concluded that having dh around for some continuity was best. At times I felt like a mother of three, but for the most part I was able to use the newborn "sitting on the sofa with your boobs out" time to be sourcing tiles or radiators or, later, once getting out of the house was possible, inspecting the building site. Figuring out the admin between my job and DH's took a lot of patience and a crazy spreadsheet to manage what was maternity leave while dh was on paternity and annual leave, then us both on shared parental leave. Dh was off for five months in total which meant I looked after two once ds2 was nearly 5 months old and we'd been in our new house a month. Financially it was a stretch to say the least but we had budgeted for it
could have done without building budget overruns though
We are in the same boat as Thistle, except with DC2. My maternity benefits are much better than the statutory paternity pay he would receive and we simplt couldn't afford for him to be off work for longer than the initial 2 weeks. Even when I go down to just statutory maternity pay, me being the one to go back to work for a bit is not an option as my part time hours (since having DC1) wouldn't cover our outgoings. It's another one of those government policies (like 30 hours free childcare) that sounds amazing but doesn't get enough invested in it to make it a reality for a lot of people.
I was about to say the same as Jassy - shared parental leave was around long before 2015. However it was made more flexible at that time. My husband and I shared leave in 2014, under the old provisions.
^Today 07:24 SerenityReynolds
We are in the same boat as Thistle, except with DC2. My maternity benefits are much better than the statutory paternity pay he would receive and we simplt couldn't afford for him to be off work for longer than the initial 2 weeks. Even when I go down to just statutory maternity pay, me being the one to go back to work for a bit is not an option as my part time hours (since having DC1) wouldn't cover our outgoings. It's another one of those government policies (like 30 hours free childcare) that sounds amazing but doesn't get enough invested in it to make it a reality for a lot of people.^
It's an issue with workplaces rather than the government, isn't it? The government has made exactly the same provision for men and women. My workplace offers exactly the same packages for men and women taking parental leave, though I'm aware that many still don't. It will be interesting to see if the next few years bring legal challenges on that front.
It's just a bit hard to blame the government for the circumstances based on your choices and circumstances - they've put the right infrastructure in place, but workplaces have always and will have different pay enhancements for maternity leave, and that continues for paternity leave. It will probably become a factor when more men want to take the leave and choose companies with good paternity packages.
What do you think the government should have done to 'invest' in it properly?
We did this. I took 6 months off, DH had 3. We had a bit of overlap thanks to annual leave. He went back to work in Feb.
We earn about the same and neither of our employers offers enhanced pay, so financially the hit was the same.
(DH's employer offers enhanced pay - a very generous package actually - for maternity but nothing for shared parental leave, which is disappointing.)
I work for Working Families (a charity giving advice on employment rights for parents) and we are seeing more and more enquiries about shared parental leave....It's good but not good enough for most parents to afford time off, particularly at the same time. And it doesn't give any additional rights to self-employed dads, who still don't get any paid time off. Still, it's well worth looking at if you meet the conditions and everyone who has used it is very positive.
So many dads are put off by the statutory levels of pay; even just a couple of weeks at a level closer to normal pay would help.