Shared Parental Leave in Action – Part 1

Shared Parental Leave in Action – how it’s working, how time is being split and any problems faced.

I am thrilled to report that I am now meeting working parents on a weekly basis who are either considering or actually taking up Shared Parental Leave.  Louisa, a solicitor in a City Law firm, attended one of our maternity coaching workshops recently, and she was happy for us to interview her during her personal journey of applying for SPL.  This is part 1 – the planning stage – we will be catching up with Louisa again later in the year to find out how it went:

What made you decide to take up Shared Parental Leave?

My husband and I both have careers that we are serious about and that require a lot of commitment and focus.  Our daughter is obviously the top priority in both of our lives but there’s no doubt that taking an entire year off would present some challenges to furthering my career.

My firm also encourages women to take 9 months maternity leave (as opposed to the full year) with financial incentives to return at 9 months.  Consequently I was always planning to take 9 months’ leave (plus accrued holiday) and then return to work.  However, we both liked the idea of our daughter not being looked after by a nanny or nursery until she was 1 – or thereabouts.  That was why we started discussing whether my husband would be able to take 1-2 months’ leave at the end of my leave.  We’re in the process of discussing this with our employers at the moment but we’re both hopeful and fairly confident that it will happen.

How are you planning to split the time?

My husband feels comfortable asking for 1-2 months but, given that he will be the first man in his organisation to ask for this and it is still such a new concept culturally, he didn’t feel that he would like to ask for more.  I also wanted to have 9 months off as I am breastfeeding my daughter and didn’t want to have to stop that before 7-8 months, which I would have to do if I were going back to work earlier and my husband was going to be at home!

Have there been any difficulty in applying for SPL? (logistical or cultural)

One big practical issue is ensuring consistency of care for our daughter.  When only one parent is having leave the child has only one transition – from mother to nanny or nursery.  When both parents are taking leave before childcare starts, the child has two transition periods.  Obviously handing over to daddy is much easier and more familiar than handing over to nursery or a nanny, but anyone other than the mother providing care does resent the issue of when to stop breastfeeding.

Most people who hear what my husband is planning to do think it’s great – and lots of dads are quite envious!  However, we both think there is a big difference between a dad taking a few weeks’ leave at the end of the mum’s longer stint of maternity leave and  a dad who asked his employer for a long period like 6 months.  I’m not sure that a dad asking for a long period of leave wouldn’t be met with a view that he wasn’t serious about his career.  In other words – I think the attitudes towards men providing a small proportion of their child’s care have changed such that people think it’s great when dads have a small amount of day to day responsibility – whereas attitudes towards men providing an equal proportion of childcare to women have not changed as drastically and people still expect women to do the most.

How will Shared Parental Leave benefit you and your family?

My daughter will hopefully be looked after exclusively by her parents for longer than she would if SPL wasn’t possible.  Plus my husband will hopefully get to have a few weeks where he is the primary carer for our child and he is really looking forward to that bonding time.

Have you considered taking shared parental leave? or is this something your employees are taking advantage of? We’d love to hear from you – contact us to discuss your experience.

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