I have recently returned to work after taking advantage of shared parental leave. As soon as my wife and I knew we were expecting a baby we had discussed what options were with regards to parental leave. Shared parental leave is something that has gained more press coverage in recent months but only a minimal percentage of fathers take advantage of this opportunity.
We decided that my wife would take the first six months off work and then I would take the following three months to look after our son, Samuel, on my own. It was quite a daunting prospect but a challenge I really wanted to take on.
I was keen to develop my relationship with Samuel and also I wanted to be in a position where I wasn’t completely reliant on my wife when we were looking after him together. I learnt what needed to be packed in his bag, his routine and how to deal with some challenging toilet situations! This has set us up well to be able to know exactly what needs to be done and given me the confidence that I can spend time on my own without any dramas. It also allowed my wife to go back to work without the worry of having to leave Samuel at nursery from an early age.
Six - nine months was a great time to take shared leave. Samuel was at the stage where he was a lot more interactive yet luckily he wasn’t at a stage where he could move. I knew if I was to take my eyes off him for a minute or two he wouldn’t be able to get too far. Just after I returned to work he started to crawl so I had a lucky escape – that has certainly been a game changer!
It was great fun taking him to classes and being able to experience different things with him. We went to music classes as well as swimming lessons and I got to watch him develop all of the time.
Shared parental leave is such a fantastic initiative and it is a shame that more fathers don’t look to take advantage of this. I think part of the issue is the awareness of this. The government and press are starting to push the message more and more but I think the lack of awareness is only part of the issue. The financial impact this may have on you as a new family as well as how some fathers feel that it will be perceived within their company are both aspects that might put you off taking this time. Until more is done to address these issues the take up is likely to be relatively small unfortunately.
I was incredibly lucky that my workplace was so supportive of me taking this time off. A number of senior people in the company have had babies at a similar time including our COO. As soon as I mentioned to him that I wanted to take shared parental leave he was extremely supportive of my decision. I am also incredibly lucky that I have a great team in place that was able to pick up the work in my absence.
Also, the HR team was fantastic in helping me through the process – especially as I have been the first father to take advantage of this within the company. It was as much a learning process for them as it was for me but from initially saying I wanted to take the time off right through to coming back to work, they have been brilliant. I was also able to take advantage of some stay in touch days to make sure that when I returned to work I was fully up to speed with everything and made it easy to come back.
I would highly recommend taking advantage of shared parental leave. It was an incredible experience and one that I am glad to have had the opportunity to take. It has certainly helped me develop a wonderful relationship with Samuel and I am so glad I was able to spend this time with him.