On Monday, I will head to the office for the first time in six months as my maternity leave ends and my husband takes over at home as primary carer for our baby boy.
According to figures, take up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is as low as 2% and with enhanced packages mostly reserved for mothers, it’s easy to understand why. Some of the large private sector companies that really want to do their bit for gender equality, offer generous packages for Dads but for many, SPL is a luxury they just can’t afford to take up.
As someone who campaigned for parents to have the right to share their leave in whatever way they see fit, it’s only right that I would swap with my husband and let him take the strain at home while I go back to work. Financially, it makes sense for us too which is what SPL has always been about – families being able to manage their responsibilities with the main earner able to continue to work and baby being cared for by a parent regardless of which one it is.
Looking back, I remember how many people said I would change my mind both about sharing my leave and about going back full time but I haven’t and I’m ready to go back to a job I love and let father and son have their own time to bond.
As the big day approaches, I’m excited at the prospect of a full nights’ sleep and freedom to just ‘pop to the shop’. Plus, actually, I think it makes sense to have three months to recover from so many sleepless nights before we both have to adjust to a new life in which we battle to balance work and family life.
In terms of Dad’s thoughts, it’s his last day at work tomorrow and he is looking forward to having lots of quality time with his son and continuing to show him the world. He is both excited and apprehensive about having three months away from work for the same reasons as many of us mums. Some of the things he has mentioned include concerns about a reduction in wages and how we will manage, missed career opportunities and a fear of being left behind at work.
I do feel a little sad that this special time is nearly over but I’m happy that my husband will also have the opportunity to care for our child and take an active role. I’ve known all along that I can’t do it all on my own and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share the care right from the beginning.
So what stops more Dads from taking the opportunity? Many mums don’t want to cut their maternity leave short to allow Dad to take a turn and many that are happy to do that can’t afford to. It seems to me that employers should offer the same enhanced package for Shared Parental Leave as they do for Maternity Leave but until they do, the uptake will remain low.
Only yesterday, a campaign to provide access to baby changing facilities for Dads was in the news, highlighting the role of fathers in raising their children. It’s right that the world should change to recognise that children have two parents. Traditional attitudes to gender roles still linger but during my leave, I have come into contact with lots of fathers who are at home caring for their little ones and think this is something that will become more and more common in the future.
Have you taken Shared Parental Leave? How did you find it and what were the benefits for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.