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Is Shared Parental Leave an Option?
Through our Journey to Parenthood series, we are exploring various paths to parenthood and the journey of parenthood itself, showing different perspectives of how there is never a straight-forward route to being a parent and shared parental leave may seem like an unknown.
There are twists and turns that many of our Dribble Community have been brave enough to share with us. There are some exceptional and inspiring stories in the series and we hope they bring comfort, understanding and acceptance to you, and maybe even open you to alternative experiences, as you hear what other parents have to say.
We are continuing with our story series hearing from Alison and Pete who decided that it was important for them to share parental leave for their baby and for themselves, as well as sharing childcare thereafter. Read their story below…
In a recent survey we conducted at Dribble 68% of people still consider the mother to be the primary caregiver, however 30% consider themselves to be equal caregivers. With 48% of mums working part time, we feel it is important to let people know there are alternatives.
We are Alison and Pete. We live and work in Edinburgh and we are parents to a vibrant and fun-loving 18 month old!
Originally from the west coast of Scotland and Bristol, we met here ten years ago and now call it home. This story has been written by Alison about our experience of the last 18 months.
We currently share 2 days of childcare between us through a combination of flexible working and compressed hours. The other 3 days when we’re both at work are covered by nursery. Whilst right now we’re still getting to grips with the childcare/working/general life balance, we’re no strangers to sharing the caring responsibilities: following the birth of our baby, we shared the parental leave. I was on leave for 7 months, and Pete took the next 5 months off.
How did we get to this point?
Shared Parental Leave was something that we had talked about long before we were in a position to use it: although we didn’t know the full details, we liked the concept behind it. When I was pregnant and we were making our own plans, we did some reading and considered what it might look like in reality for us.
When our child was born, from the outset it felt like a team effort. The further into maternity leave I got, the more we knew we were making the right decision – and for more reasons than we had initially considered before the birth. Right from the start, we had both been keen for Pete to have a good amount of time off with the baby. However as it happened, I had a traumatic birth, and continue to struggle with postnatal anxiety.
Having a partner who was already so committed to being a co-parent turned out to be more important than we could ever have predicted. My mental health hadn’t been a factor in our initial decision to share the leave, but knowing that the ongoing caring responsibilities were, and are, not entirely down to me certainly gave some added reassurance that we’d get through things together.
I was lucky to be able to take annual leave at the end of my maternity leave so we had several weeks of overlap. We decided to spend that time going on a rail trip with our 7 month old through the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. We had an absolute blast, and it really felt like a lovely way to mark the end of my leave and the beginning of Pete’s.
Given how few parents make use of Shared Parental Leave, Pete’s work have been really accommodating and taken it all in their stride. He was able to spend five months getting involved in playgroups, NCT meetups, and Sing and Sign classes (highly recommended – so useful for helping babies/toddlers express themselves). Meanwhile, I went back to work, where I was supported to keep expressing milk to take home for the next day’s bottles, and was finally able to have a tea break with hot tea again!
So when it came to thinking about childcare arrangements once the parental leave came to an end, we were both still keen to share the responsibility (and the fun!)
How do we fit this in with our work schedules?
We are lucky that we both work for employers who have policies that have allowed us to alter our work patterns, and so far it feels like a good balance. We both get some one-on-one time individually with our child during the week as well as family time at the weekends. It means we’re both responsible for the nappies and the baths and the cooking – but also the silly and fun times too. This is something we hope will have a lasting impression on our child: either of us are just as likely to change a nappy, or to play with the football, or to brush their hair.
Of course, just like most parents or carers of newborn babies and toddlers, we’ve had the usual ups and downs of navigating parenthood. But having the shared parental experience already under our belt gave us both the confidence to feel that this would work for us just now.
Yes, it’s tiring. But who wouldn’t say that when you’ve got a tiny human who is totally dependent on you?
Yes, there are still pockets of frustrating misunderstandings or stereotypes about dads and childcare (questions like “are you babysitting today?”, “did you enjoy your 5 month holiday?” etc).
Yes, there were some comments about abandoning my baby to go back to work (cue additional guilt on top of all the other things there are to fret about).
But we wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s not for everyone, but we’re not alone either. We know other families who have also chosen to split their leave in various ways, which is great. I should also add that the negative comments were largely from people we didn’t really know, compared to the great support we’ve had from family and friends!
Our top tips to anyone who is thinking about sharing parental leave:
- Talk about it as a family. The current policy requires the birth parent to give up some of their leave entitlement; there’s no individual right to access shared parental leave for the other partner so it’s good to discuss how you both feel about it to decide what is going to work for you.
- Check your work policies sooner rather than later for what the pay arrangements will be (for you and your partner) so you can take that into account when you’re making a plan.
- Consider all the options: you can use the 50 week allocation in several different ways, including taking leave at the same time, taking alternating chunks, or splitting it like we did. You can share as much or as little as you like. There is usually flexibility once the baby arrives too, so no need to set plans firmly in stone (handy, because it turns out babies sometimes don’t follow plans!)
If you have any questions about our shared parental leave/childcare experience, we’d be very happy to answer them!
Alison & Pete
To find out more about Shared Parental Leave, visit the gov.uk site: https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay
If you are on Shared Parental Leave the Dribble app offers lots of indoor/ outdoor and free places to visit when you’re ‘on duty’.
All these spots have been reviewed honestly by parents like you to provide lots of top tips and to give you complete peace of mind- so get out and go explore!
*Remember there are lots of offers to make use of and one-off events for something special4