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Should Fathers Take Shared Parental Leave?
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Should Fathers Take Shared Parental Leave?

Should Fathers Take Shared Parental Leave?

Should Fathers Take Shared Parental Leave? Four Dads Open Up

Since 2015, parents in the UK have been entitled to shared parental leave. The scheme allows mums and dads, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. The leave can be taken at the same time – so parents are at home together with baby for up to six months – or alternated in blocks of time to suit their schedule.

But of the approximately 285,000 couples eligible for the scheme every year, uptake could be as low as 2%, according to the Department of Business. So why aren’t dads opting to take shared parental leave?

One reason is because couples don’t know what they’re entitled to, or that the scheme even exists. Another reason is that, because many men are still the main earner, couples simply can’t afford to take SPL – a direct result of the gender pay gap. But there’s also the cultural stigma that exists around men taking time out of their careers to focus on childcare – some companies aren’t properly supporting male employees who want to take the time out, and men therefore feel like their careers or position at work will suffer.

A government report published earlier this month found that dads are losing out in the workplace, because employers aren’t keeping up with social change and have outdated ideas about men’s/women’s roles at work and at home. The good news? The government has pledged to spend £1.5 million raising awareness for the shared parental leave scheme with its “Share The Joy” campaign.

To find out more about it, we asked four dads why they did or didn’t take shared parental leave – and how it’s affected the experience of fatherhood.

I felt a little bit like, as a man, I was being dared to take that much time away from work.

The Dad Who Took Shared Parental Leave

Adam, 35, accountant

“My work hours can be very demanding, so for our second baby I wanted to take shared parental leave just to spend more time with my growing family.

"The experience was different, but not how I‘d expected. Because of the breastfeeding, baby and mum were inseparable. It probably took me the same amount of time to bond with the new baby as it did with the first. Instead, I was able to give my full attention to our by-then two-year-old – just messing around and even doing potty training. Stuff I hadn’t really thought about when I decided to take the extra time off.

"My partner has since said that having me around for all that time made her experience during the first few months with baby number 2 loads easier. The benefit of having that physical and emotional support – after her body had obviously been through so much – cannot be overstated.

"I was pretty fortunate with the deal I got through work. I got statutory parental leave pay from the government throughout my time off, but my company topped me up to my full salary for the 12 weeks I was off. Therefore, the financial impact was only felt at the back end of my partner’s maternity leave, because her statutory pay ran out 10 weeks earlier than it would have if we hadn't taken shared the time off. The result was we were £1,400 worse off over the first year of baby number 2’s life.

"But it was a massive ball-ache to arrange! Nobody at my job knew how the system worked or exactly how much of the time off I was entitled to. It took forever to get an answer.

"Also, because I knew I would be taking away £1,400 statutory pay away from my partner, I asked if I could take just 6 weeks rather than 12, and be back at work sooner. I was told no! I had to do either 2 weeks standard paternity or 12 weeks shared. There was no in between. I felt a little bit like, as a man, I was being dared to take that much time away from work."

I don’t know anyone who has taken the leave. While I was assured that my role would have been safe, in real terms it wouldn’t have been.

The Dad Who Wanted To Take SPL But Couldn’t

Rich, 38, police officer

“When we had our first daughter, I felt like I missed out hugely on watching her develop. My work often involves long hours and in my first week back after standard paternity leave, I worked 65 hours. Once my wife went back to work and my shifts allowed me more time, it felt like I really got to know my daughter. With our second daughter, I would have liked the extra time allowed by shared parental leave, so I wouldn’t have to wait until my wife went back to work before getting some proper one-on-one time.

"The main reason we opted not to do it was because of the potential impact on my pension and how it would affect my role, as work was going through a massive organisational change. Even now, there’s no real information on whether my pension would be adversely affected by taking the leave. Also, I’m a supervisor, and there was very little cover available. The upheaval of being away would likely have caused more stress. A more minor issue was the fact my daughter is breast-fed. While we have used the bottle occasionally, it’s something we were keen to continue.

"Shared parental leave is a huge step to having more involvement with the early days of fatherhood. I feel, though, that while the opportunity is there, and perhaps there’s a willingness from men to use it, a lot depends on the employer and your position at work. I don’t know anyone who has taken the leave. While I was assured that my role would have been safe, in real terms it wouldn’t have been.”

Almost six years later, I’m convinced it’s why I have such a close relationship with my son.

The Self-Employed Dad

Matt, 34, writer

“I’m lucky – very, very lucky. I changed careers by trying to become a writer at pretty much the same time my first son was born. The downside was, because I was just starting out, I had barely any work for three months. Financially, it was tough. We scraped by on the little money I had saved.

"But the upside was, I had three months with my beautiful baby boy. The time was invaluable. I was there for everything – every development, every gargle and goo-goo. Almost six years later, I’m convinced it’s why I have such a close relationship with my son.

"With my second son, I was busier – but still lucky enough to be working from home. Once again, I got invaluable, irreplaceable time with the baby. Again, I’m very lucky – particularly because the self-employed work I do allows me to work (mostly) from home. Because shared parental leave doesn’t apply to self-employed dads.

"My advice to first-time dads is this: if you’re eligible, take it. If there’s some reason you can’t – such as your work making it difficult or financial reasons, the system is deeply flawed.”

If I had been more aware at the beginning, I could have stood my ground with my employer and argued for a better deal.

The Dad Who Regrets Not Taking SPL

Giles, 33, dad blogger at YOU THE DADDY

“My wife's quite a traditionalist, so the idea of shared parental leave never really crossed her mind. When she found out she was pregnant, she immediately started making plans for her year of maternity leave. When I suggested that she go back to work early and I take over at home, she was initially reluctant. But after discussing it together, the idea became more appealing; I could spend more time with our son during his first year, and it would make her transition back to work less of a shock to the system, knowing that our son would be at home with me rather than in nursery.

“But the main reason we didn't take shared parental leave was financial. The terms of my contract meant I could only get full paid leave if I took it during the first three months of fatherhood, and only if my wife had returned to work at that point. Given the impact this would have had on our household income, it just wasn't realistic.

“When the Government launched its #sharetheleave campaign last month, I realised that I hadn't previously understood exactly what I was legally entitled to, particularly around my rights to take time off at the same time as my wife. If I had been more aware at the beginning, I could have stood my ground with my employer and argued for a better deal.

“I know quite a few dads who have taken SPL – mainly those who work at progressive companies like Google, Facebook and big management consultancies, which offer excellent paid leave packages for dads. Plus, I was also contacted by a load more after writing on the subject recently and was really encouraged to hear that every single one absolutely loved their time as stay at home dads. Some even decided not to go back to work after their SPL ended.

“I do feel like I've missed out by not taking SPL. As a working parent, I only really get to see my son over the weekend. Of course, the two of us have a really special bond but it breaks my heart that during the week the only way I can keep in touch with him is via FaceTime.”

Giles started his own campaign, called We Can Do It, to encourage dads to take shared parental leave and share their experiences of fatherhood. To get involved all you have to do is post the campaign on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with some words on your own experiences and the hashtag #sharetheleave.

For more info of shared parental leave visit here and to find out if you’re eligible visit here.