This morning my wife brought a news article to many attention. The headline was simple; “Shared parental leave take-up may be as low as 2%” (BBC). Reading those words nearly broke my heart as it by far one of the best choices we’ve made as a family. While I will admit that there are many that are unable to access the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) thanks to the myriad of financial reasons, many chose not to partake in the scheme simply because they do not know it exists, or perhaps worse, an unwillingness from the mother to “sacrifice” her maternity leave to allow her partner to spend time with their child.
Why we chose Shared Parental Leave
When we decided we wanted a baby all the way back in 2016 then we knew that we had to approach it as a team in the truest sense of the word. We didn’t want one person to shoulder any more responsibility for the baby than the other, especially when she was a newborn.
This, however, is only part of the reason. In truth I wanted as much time off as I could have to get to know my little baby. The discrepancies between Maternity and Paternity leave has always grated on my, but SPL does provide a poor middle ground that allowed us both time off with our bundle of joy. In our family it happens that my wife earns more money, and is extremely dedicated to her job, when we were splitting the leave up she would return to work before me. What was most important was that we both got to spend 4 months of simultaneously.
Those 4 months recently came to an end, but they were truly fantastic. For 4 months my wife and I spent our time together with Gracie, having fun, and doing whatever we wanted to with our days. We were able to travel around the UK visiting family members, and introducing Gracie to the world. Without this time off together we would not have been able to see our parents as often as we did.
There were moments that were financially difficult, and no doubt that might deter others from splitting up their SPL like we did, but that really is the beauty of the system. If you are eligible for SPL then you can split the time up however you like, while we chose for me to take 8 months, and my wife 4, you might be so inclined to split it 11-1 for that couples might tackle the first, most difficult month together!
Getting Shared Parental Leave
I am lucky enough to work for a large company so my application for SPL was relatively painless, however my wife had more issues. It was not that there were anyone actively opposing her application, but she was just the first person to ever apply for the scheme. That actually blows my mind! It is not like she works in some tiny 5 person company, but there has just been so little interest in the scheme that it is practically unheard of for people to take it. Out of our social circles, we are the only ones to take it, and amazingly seems like the only people who even considered it a viable option.
Perhaps the greatest barrier for entry to the scheme is the maddening difficult bundle of forms that you are required to fill in, let alone your own employers forms that might supplement it. My advice here is to sit down with someone from you HR team and go through it with them, this goes for both parents, as extra pairs of eyes never hurt.
Opposition to our Shared Parental Leave
Perhaps what was most surprising to me was the amount of opposition we received from people when they found out we were taking SPL. While our families fully supported us, there were many colleagues, and even the occasional friend, who would question why my wife would ever want to give up any time with her child, even if it meant that I would be able to spend time with them both. To me this is the true reason why many men do not take-up the SPL scheme, there is just so much passive opposition to it. Speaking as someone who is currently a stay-at-home dad there are many women who view it as their right to the maternity leave and to time off with their baby, and they can be very cold or dismissive of men entering these domains. I’ve experienced this ingrained, and often unintentional hostility first hand, and I am sure that this certainly exists pre-birth. I remember feeling furious at the sort of comments my wife was forced to deal with on a regular basis.
Men can be just as bad sometimes in expressing what they want from life. If I hadn’t said that I wanted to split the time then I would have got my standard 2 weeks and then been straight back to work. Men need to be honest about wanting to spend time with their babies, and not feel like it is their place to suffer in silence. Parenting is a cooperative effort by both parents, and the amount of time off together should reflect that.
Ultimately I am aware that Shared Parental Leave is just not right for everyone, but I am damned sure that is right for more than the measly 2% of men who have taken up the scheme. It is deeply upsetting to me that men are unaware of this option, or feel unable to access it for various reasons. And while I would love to see significant reform to Paternity Leave in the UK within my life time, and am desperate for more men to take-up the scheme because they don’t they I am worried that it will be scrapped and millions of men will be robbed of the chance to spend time with their families.
This is a subject I am extremely passionate about, and would be happy to answer any questions you might have, or if you want to give your own opinion or experience of Shared Parental Leave, then please use the comments below.