Shared parental leave
I start the day by running through my to-do list as is my usual practice. I have a 10.30-11.30 and 3-5 and need to factor in travel time. Then there are a number of essential things that have to be done today between times. All seems manageable. Then it is on to the ‘would like-to-do’ and I should have time for a couple of those as well as some time for those unforeseen things that inevitably crop up.
Sounds like a pretty standard day for a newly promoted partner in a city law firm. Except it isn’t. The 10.30-11.30 is an hour of nursery rhymes, soft play and madness in a local church hall with about 20 other under 1’s. The 3-5 is a meet up in the park with some friends from our NCT group. The essential tasks include buying nappies and pouch food. The non-essentials include washing, pureeing food and a constant need to tidy up. The unforeseen things I can leave to your imagination.
When my daughter was born I had two weeks paternity leave then it was back to work but I had saved my annual leave so only had 2 or 3 weeks back in before an extended Christmas holiday. A good time to adapt to a new way of life at home. Then the New Year came and reality hit. The sleepless nights would continue even when I was having to work. I would arrive home for the worst part of the day – an angry, screaming baby who wanted mummy not daddy. But mummy needed a break so she was stuck with daddy. Eventually after several hours she would exhaust herself for an hour or two before waking up hungry and then repeating the screaming cycle. Some nights she was going to sleep as my alarm went off and I ‘got up’ to go to work’.
The great thing with Sackers is that everybody understands. We have so many parents that they remember what it was like. But we do have a job to do however exhausted. And it is tough. Really tough. The challenges are different for a parent who stays at home and the parent who goes to work but they are equally difficult. And you start to feel guilty if your child becomes more attached to the non-working parent. I wanted her to want daddy as well as mummy but she didn’t. I was doing more and more with her at the weekend to try and bond but it wasn’t enough and it was relentless.
So we started talking about shared parental leave. My wife had always been keen, even prior to baby arriving, that we share the responsibility. I wasn’t reluctant but when I mentioned it to non-Sackers friends they looked at me like I was crazy. However progressive we all think we are there remains a status quo that when a baby is born mum stays at home and dad goes to work. But we agreed we were going to do it – September and October away from the office in advance of her first birthday. A bit of time with the three of us at home together and then just over a month of me on my own when my wife went back to work. This would let her focus on the transition back to work without having to worry about childcare or nursery pick-ups.
The firm could not have been more supportive. I tentatively mentioned in around March that I was thinking of doing this. I was apprehensive given promotion time was coming up and I was hoping to be in the mix but I should have known better than to worry about that. The reaction from the partners I spoke to about it was ‘go for it, why wouldn’t you?’ We have so many successful people who have taken maternity leave and we have a very generous, progressive policy that treats male staff members in the same way. The more I thought about it the more it was an absolute no-brainer.
It is genuinely one of the best things I have ever done. Was it strange at first? Yes, of course. I find it hard to let go of work and switch off, but I had to. It was also somewhat daunting at first to be the only dad in a baby group with 20 mums but as I spoke to people and told them what I was doing they all thought it was amazing and great that I had an employer who was so supportive of such things. And the best thing, daddy and mummy became interchangeable. She was happy to see either or both of us.
Then the time came to go back to work. I was sad the time was over but also looking forward to getting back to the day job. The transition was seamless as I returned and picked back up as though I had never been away. Colleagues had picked up the work and managed it while I was away but happily handed it back when I returned!
Shared parental leave is a great initiative and I genuinely encourage anybody who can to take it. The only way to rid the world of the idea of ‘working mums’ rather than ‘working parents’ is for people to take up the opportunities that present themselves when they are fortunate enough to work for an organisation that positively promotes family life.