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Why Shared Parental Leave Was The Best Thing For my Family

If the stats are to be believed then I'm one of very few mums who has taken advantage of the new option to share my maternity leave with my husband. 

Since he was born last summer my son has experienced having both his mum and his dad as his primary caregiver. I looked after him until just before he was six months old and then my husband looked after him until he was nine months old.

I can honestly say that having the opportunity to take Shared Parental Leave rather than traditional maternity leave has been the best thing for me, my son, my husband, my employer and my career. 

Yet still the statistics show that men feel uncomfortable taking time out to look after a new baby - worrying about the impact on their career and stigma attached to being a stay-at-home dad - and that mums don't want to share their maternity entitlement. 

What was right for my family won't be right for every family, but here are my top 10 reasons why I will always encourage couples to consider taking advantage of Shared Parental Leave: 

  1. You May Never Get The Opportunity to Take a Month or Two Off Work to Spend With Your Child Ever Again

This may sound depressing but it's a harsh reality. Children grow up fast and if you don't make time in the early days you could easily find that the longest period you have ever spent with your child is the annual two week holiday. It's also a chance to take the time off work whilst continuing to earn money.

Dads will be entitled to statutory parental leave just like mums are and would also be entitled to take advantage of any enhanced maternity pay scheme their company runs. Everyone's entitlement is different and I was fortunate enough to have a pretty generous entitlement for six months. But dads should be treated the same as mums are by their employer. If you aren't being offered the same enhanced pay you need to talk to a discrimination lawyer

  1. My Son And His Dad Now Have an Incredible Bond

About halfway through his stint as full time carer, my son was happily consoled by dad as much as mum. They also have their own secret games and activities I'm not part of. This is lovely to watch and means that I never need to worry that he is missing me.

It also means that if he is poorly or sick it's not just me he wants. This will be great as he gets older as it won't just be me taking time off work when he is too unwell for nursery or school. 

  1. My Husband Now Understands Why I Want to Cry if he is Late Home From Work

When you are at home all day with a baby you count down every hour and minute until you can have an adult conversation. And go to the bathroom...

  1. It Was Easier For me to Return to Work 

By sharing my leave with my husband I was able to come back to work earlier and keep in touch with the business more closely than if I had taken more time off. This was good for me as it made it easier to pick right up where I left off and it was also good for my employer. 

  1.  We Both Appreciate That Being The Stay-at-Home Parent Isn't The Easier Option

Unlike a lot of dads he never balked at doing the night feeds or getting up in the night. He never said he was tired or that 'he had been at work all day'.

This was because he is a fair and decent person who understood that it was just as important for the person looking after our son all day to be well rested as the person going to work. He knew this as he had been both the one at work and the one at home. 

  1. It Feels Like an Equal Partnership

Ok, so I did the heavy lifting in the early days dealing with morning sickness and the trauma of childbirth. But we truly are an equal partnership now.

We each have our strengths and bring different skills to the table while appreciating the other’s strengths.

Feeling like a team and a family unit makes everything much easier. I have never felt like the responsibility to make sure the nappy bag is well stocked and the bottles sterilised falls solely on me. 

  1. He Knows Things Other Dads May Never Know

Like how to trick our baby into taking calpol. How to get him to stick to the nap-and-feed routine. How he likes to feed himself rather than be fed. How to clean stains from his clothes. How to pack a nappy bag. What his favourite baby class is. What noises scare him. How to cheer him up instantly. 

These things are things other dads must miss out on. 

  1. My Husband Got to Enter The Mum Bubble

The mum bubble is the secret world you exist in during the first year when your life revolves around baby sensory, baby swim and the weighing clinic. 

Any dad that hasn't experienced their baby's delight during a baby sensory class has truly missed out. 

  1. I Still Believed I Could do my Job

Because I had the support from my family and employer to go back to work early I didn't suffer with the low confidence and imposter syndrome that a lot of mums struggle with on their return to work after a longer period out.

Don't get me wrong, there were moments in the first week back where I felt completely overwhelmed but it passed quickly, my confidence came back and I soon slotted right back in. From talking to other mums it sounds a lot harder to go back after a year. 

  1. It's Good For my Son to See Both Parents Working

He will never grow up thinking that only daddy goes to work. Hopefully this will mean that he will see men and women more equally in the workplace.

My son has been born into a world where there is a gender pay gap of 18 per cent that gets bigger once a woman becomes a mother. Where there are more men with the same name as him running FTSE 100 companies than women.

By seeing that my career is just important as my husband’s, I'm confident that when he is eventually in the workplace he will see women as his equal, and not assume that once they have children they aren't capable.  

 

We are luckier than any other generation to have the option of Shared Parental Leave. So why aren't more people doing it? 

In a recent Mumsnet poll 82 per cent of users said they wanted dads to take more parental leave and research from the Women’s Business Council revealed 63 per cent of fathers would like to make use of Shared Parental Leave.  

Legislation is there to protect both mums and dads from being penalised by their employer for taking Shared Parental Leave. 

Hopefully there will be more take up of Shared Parental Leave year on year. My husband and I would certainly do it again.

If you are considering taking Shared Parental Leave and want advice about how it works –read our Shared Parental Leave Legal Advice Guide and if you want to hear more about how it worked for me contact me on Twitter @alisonmjackson 

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