Becoming a parent is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences of your life.
Spending quality time with your child in those important first months can help you to develop a bond with your child that will last a lifetime, something Rob and I have been very fortunate to have been able to do and to share.
We have a son, now aged two, and when we adopted him as a baby, we opted to take Shared Parental Leave. It’s a statutory scheme for eligible parents. It offered us what we wanted in that alongside giving us flexibility when balancing work and childcare, it enabled us both to participate and share childcare in our baby’s first year, whilst also maintaining our careers.
Rob’s a lawyer and I’m an NHS doctor and our experience of Shared Parental Leave has been very positive and hugely rewarding. It is something we’d urge parents and those thinking about having children, to consider.
I took ten and a half months of adoption leave, followed by six weeks’ annual leave. In our baby’s first month with us, Rob took two weeks’ paternity leave followed by two weeks’ unpaid leave; then at the end of the year he took a month’s Shared Parental Leave. His job is also flexible enough to allow him to play a role in caregiving during the working week.
I received 6 months of enhanced pay and 3 months at the statutory level. Rob received two weeks of paid leave at the beginning of the adoption; his month of SPL was unpaid. We now work four day weeks and our son goes to nursery three days per week.
Spending two months on leave at the same time – one month when the baby first arrived, and another month at the end of his first year – has been particularly beneficial in terms of Rob’s relationship with our son, and his confidence as a parent.
For Rob, part of it is just about seeing what it’s like from the other person’s perspective, which he feels you can never quite understand until you actually do it. One of the best parts of it for him has just been having that opportunity to bond with our son in a way that I don’t think is possible otherwise…it’s all about having that time with your child.
I took on the role of ‘lead’ caregiver during the first year. Rob’s time at home has also helped clarify that now I’ve gone back to work, it is definitely a shared thing that we’re doing, rather than it being me that continued with the, kind of, primary responsibility.
When you’re on maternity leave or parental leave, it’s very easy to think that you’re the only person that’s involved, and that you’re the person that has most of the responsibility, and that’s not necessarily desirable if you’re in a team, and if you’re in a unit.
The fact of having taken the leave together was also important. I remember, at the start, thinking this would have been really daunting if Rob hadn’t had another two weeks off. We were able to actually just pass the time of day as a family, playing with toys, reading books… just kind of hanging out. That’s something that we were able to do a bit more of because we were off together, rather than just, kind of, snatching moments of that when you’re busy at the weekend.
Whatever the pattern of leave you end up taking, the important thing is to look seriously at the Shared Parental Leave scheme and think about the possibilities it might throw up for your family. There’s a worry about what people are going to think if you take the leave: will it have an impact on your career; will people think, maybe, that you’re a bit less committed to work?, which is clearly nonsense. Wanting to spend some time in the early year of your child’s life is not inconsistent with being dedicated to your career.
Words Richard and Rob