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Shared Parental Leave

Author: Lauren Coleman

Today Penny’s husband returned to work after seven weeks shared parental leave. It’s a hot topic at the moment and one we’re keen to discuss in our new family category as there can be a lot of confusion over eligibility. Penny from Birth Of A Mummy has a dedicated section over on her blog but for now let’s hear about her family’s experience.

Imagine the scene. Friday night, the first trimester. Pregnancy hormones raging and you are struggling to eat food due to morning sickness. Then your husband drops a bombshell. “I think you should give up 8 weeks of mat leave so that I can take shared parental leave”. “Woah, back up. Me give up some of my precious maternity leave. Basically so that you can have an extended holiday. Not a chance kiddo.”

That was the scene in my house about 13 months ago. My husband, not so subtly confirming that he wanted to be part of only 2% of UK fathers who take shared parental leave {SPL}.

I am now quite ashamed by my reaction. With hindsight my reaction should have been one of encouragement and pride. My husband, after all, was saying that he wanted to fully support me, have a decent chance at bonding with our baby and wanted a bit of equality in raising our baby.

I won’t lie, I did have some concerns. How would we afford to live and pay the mortgage? How would my husband be perceived at work? And what would happen to my husband’s careers prospects as a result?

We are in a fortunate position. My husband, W, is a banking lawyer {yep I know, sexy isn’t it}. He works for a law firm that puts their employees at the heart of their business. After listening to their staff, the firm decided to offer an enhanced SPL policy {alongside a package of other pro-family policies}. My money concern was therefore not warranted as W received near enough his full salary whilst off. The firm have proudly promoted their family centric policies and as such we were both comfortable that there would be no negative impact on W’s career. It is, however, really sad that other parents are gobsmacked when I tell them about the pro-family policies we have the benefit of. It is 2018 people, these type of policies should be the norm.

So how has it been? Well SPL has been the best thing ever for our family.

It has been amazing to see our son and W develop a fantastic bond. Sure a bond would have formed had he not taken SPL but this is something different. It would have taken them years of weekends, and the occasional family holiday, to form the bond they now have. It is noticeable that our son is now happy being consoled by W. My heart melts almost daily when I hear our son chuckling away as they play together.

There will never be an opportunity in W’s working life for him to take such a long time off work whilst still being paid. We all know how fast our children grow up. By taking SPL, W has had the opportunity to experience all those amazing “firsts” that happen in the first year. W has also had a chance to join the ‘mum life’ and come along to GP appointments, weigh ins and baby classes.

We have both matured as parents. Our parenting now feels like a relationship of equals. W has always been keen to help out, work permitting, but now we are a real team. There are certainly no blue or pink jobs in our parenting relationship. We are both determined that our team ethic will continue when we both return to work.

W has admitted that he now appreciates being the stay at home parent is not easy. He now has a much greater empathy for what I do at home. Not only has this made our parenting relationship feel stronger but I hope it will change W at work. I hope his SPL experience, will mean that he would be more supportive of a colleague who needs flexible working etc. We need more Dads to undertake SPL in order for the work places of tomorrow to be different.

Having W’s support at home, has, unexpectedly, made me feel stronger about my own career. W has seen the stay at home parent life and he now better understands why I want to go back to work. We are also clear about how the family needs to operate for my return to work to be successful.

An overview of SPL from gov.uk

You may be able to get Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you’re having a baby or adopting a child.

If you’re eligible for SPL you can use it to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work, instead of taking it all in one go.

To start SPL or ShPP the mother must end her maternity leave (for SPL) or her Maternity Allowance or maternity pay (for ShPP). If she doesn’t get maternity leave (but she ends her Maternity Allowance or pay early) her partner might still get SPL.

If you’re adopting then you or your partner must end any adoption leave or adoption pay early instead.

If you’re eligible you can take:

the remaining leave as SPL (52 weeks minus any weeks of maternity or adoption leave)
the remaining pay as ShPP (39 weeks minus any weeks of maternity pay, maternity allowance or adoption pay)
If neither of you is entitled to maternity leave or adoption leave then SPL will be 52 weeks minus any weeks of maternity pay, Maternity Allowance or adoption pay.

You can share SPL and ShPP between you if you’re both eligible.

We appreciate that we were incredibly lucky that W had the benefit of a fantastic SPL policy. The reality is that in 2018 we should be pushing all employers to offer much better benefits.
In a time of equality it doesn’t seem right that Dads aren’t allowed to see their children grow in the way mums can. No one should be put off from taking SPL because of concerns about their career or money. If your partner’s work don’t offer enhanced SPL then get your partner to talk to their employer. It is amazing how bosses are encouraging of SPL when employees are pro-active. Today we need to start pushing employers and questioning them about SPL, flexible working and other pro-family policies. If we do that, when our children are adults taking SPL or working flexible will be the norm. And for that society will be a much better place.

We will be around on the comments section to answer any SPL queries you may have. We are also blogging and instagramming about our SPL experience.

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34 thoughts on “Shared Parental Leave

  1. Thanks for this, Penny, it’s an interesting read. How did you decide when would be the best time for you both to be at home?

    1. Thank you Polly for your comment. There were a couple of factors that went into us deciding on the best time, one ultimately was the pay. My husband’s firm were offering 3 months at full pay (they have now increased it to 6 months!) but not in the last 3 months of my maternity leave. Therefore we worked backwards from 9 months of my leave. He also wanted to take it later rather than earlier, when our little one was interacting more. Our little one turned 6 months in January and so this seemed a good age to choose. And although I have to now go back to work slightly earlier, the time together has been amazing.

  2. Can I ask when your husband started SPL? Was it within the first 6 months? My firm offered full salary but only up to 6 months after that, it was standard maternity pay at whatever £135 a week it is months 6-9 and then 9-12 unpaid. I think that’s pretty standard in the City.

    I have quite a few male friends who have taken it but they aren’t city lawyers – they’re in house or smaller firms and took it when their wives went back to work. Its brilliant that something like this might inspire junior lawyers to think in the same way. Ultimately, until someone does it and sticks their neck on the line, its still taboo.

    I’d be great to have an update once your husband goes back to work after SPL from his point of view to see whether he feels it has affected him.

    1. Thank you for your comment Rebecca. My husband started his SPL when our little one was 5 1/2 months old. His firm were offering up to 3 months on full pay (they have now increased it to 6 months!) as long as he took it in the first 9 months of my maternity leave. Therefore he couldn’t take it between 9 and 12 months (my section that is unpaid) or else he wouldn’t get paid either.

      It is nice to hear that you know of dads who have taken up the opportunity of SPL. We only know of one other father who has taken the chance, and he also took his leave at the same time as his wife.

      I do think you are right that it is still taboo and more men should be offered the chance, they might not want to use it but if the chance is there then I think they should.

      I will ask my husband if he’ll do an update in a few weeks, and we’ll post it on my blog.

  3. Excellent post, and I do think it’s pretty sad that ShPL has so little take-up, though it is easy to understand why from talking to others about the policies at the places they work. Of my friends who’ve recently had babes a couple have taken up the opportunity, and have been very happy with the extra bonding time. One of those that hasn’t Dad works from home and so is on hand to help out if needs be anyway.

    In my own case we had plans to take up ShPL and ShPP, with me opting to return to work after 6 months. As it turns out my husband was made redundant around the same time that our daughter arrived (I can’t remember the specific dates involved – but to be fair I had a lot else going on 😉 ) and as a result his ShPL was cancelled. However, having been given 3 months notice on full pay his boss told him that he didn’t need to go back to work once his Paternity leave was over. And yes, he did do a little bit of job hunting in that time, and managed to secure a job to start as soon as his 3 months was up. He actually ended up with both more time at home on more money than if we’d ended up being able to stick to the original plan (which was the best possible outcome given the situation). Having him around was invaluable, and he loved being there for that tiny new born time. His new job is also only 4 days a week, so he gets 1 day a week with our now toddler which is special just them time, and they both clearly get so much out of it.

    1. Thank you Rebecca for your kind words.

      I am sorry that your experience of ShPL wasn’t what it was supposed to be but it seems to have all worked out in the end.

      I agree with you that most men aren’t inclined to take up the offer because the firm they are working for doesn’t offer them anything that makes it worth while. We would not have been able to afford to do ShPL had my husband been paid statutory pay. I feel very much that if a company offers women an enhanced maternity pay policy then there should also been one for men.

      That time for my husband and son to bond was invaluable. I am so glad I agreed to the ShPL but I definitely am missing an extra pair of hands to help!

  4. We used SPL too and it was great. My husband took three months off right at the start, on full pay, and I went back to work after almost 9 months. Having those three months together was invaluable. I had an EMCS so it was great having lots of support at the start. Then we got to spend some lovely time working things out as a family, and all bonding. My husband works long hours so it’s hard now as he doesn’t see our daughter as much. Although it meant me going back to work a little earlier, I think it was really worth doing – I currently work part time and it’s great having mummy time and me time.

    1. Thanks for your comment Joolz, I am so glad to find other people who have also taken SPL.

      My husband too works long hours and so doesn’t see our little one much, maybe 30 minutes in the morning during the week. It is hard for him and I know that he is going to find work a shock now that he has gone back.

      I too am going back to work early but I agree with you, in terms of the SPL being really worth while, as it gave us such a wonderful time as a family. It cemented our relationship and also gave my husband and son a fabulous bond.

  5. Hi Penny. I will go over to your blog in slower time but could I ask as it’s not specified in your article, did you take the time together or did you return to work when W took his SPL? At what stage did he take it? What mat leave were you offered and how did it fit together, especially financially?

    I love the idea, I am in the civil service and get excellent mat leave, my partner works for a small national company and he doesn’t know what he’d be entititled to – it’s a good few years off for us anyway but I like to be thinking abotu these things!

    1. Hi Bunny, thank you for taking the time to post about the article. I love that you like having a plan and being prepared!!

      My husband and I have taken our time off together. I have given him 7 weeks of my maternity leave (so I return to work 7 weeks before the 52 weeks finishes). I am unpaid for the last 3 months so it does mean that I will be earning again a little sooner. Our little one was 5 1/2 months when my husband started his leave and has just turned 7 months. My husband has enjoyed being off at this stage as he has seen our son change and develop so much, he has also enjoyed how much more he can interact with our son at this age.

      I was offered a good maternity policy but the last 3 months are still unpaid, my husband was also offered a fabulous SPL policy of 3 months full pay. He couldn’t take that in my final 3 months though, as he would have also been unpaid. We just couldn’t have afforded it then.

      I think that having taken the time together for us was fabulous, my husband earns substantially more than me and so it wouldn’t have made sense for him to take the leave and me go back to work early. My salary just wouldn’t have covered everything.

      I think that your partner (when the time is right) should ask his firm what their policy is and hopefully they would be open to discussion even if they don’t currently offer an enhanced SPL policy.

      I hope that you get the opportunity to make the most of SPL when the time is right for you.

  6. We have also taken advantage of SPL.
    My husband has 10 days left and it’s been brilliant.
    I took the first 6 months and he’s coming to the end of 3 months.
    Our experience hasn’t been as well paid as yours (his last 8 weeks went unpaid) but we felt so strongly that we should do this that it was a price worth paying.
    Knowing that he has experienced the highs and lows, as I did and is a true partner has been the most precious thing for us both.
    We’re also both returning to work part time so that we each have one week day at home with baby too (I’ll have Mondays and he’ll have Fridays).
    I have been most shocked by the reaction from friends who can’t believe I would ‘give my leave away’.

    1. Thank you for your comment Charlie. I am so glad that you have had such a positive experience of SPL too!

      I agree that there are so many benefits to SPL, whether it is experiencing the highs and lows or bonding more with your child. I think that fathers should have a right to spend time with their children in the same way as mothers do. Not all will want to use it but when you look at the statistics from Scandinavian countries so many fathers do use SPL.

      My initial reaction was ‘I don’t want to give my leave way’ but I am so glad that I have. I do think that one of the main barriers to overcome with SPL is the mothers who do react that way.

    2. I’m going to comment further down Charlie but I had this reaction too – along with lots of women who told me their patteners would have loved to do it but they didn’t want to give up their time! I felt so sorry for their poor partners missing out on that precious time. I was a little sad I ‘ missed out’ but it was more than made up for by seeing the amazing bond my husband and son have.

  7. Currently deciding what we’ll do about mat leave/SPL when I go off to have my second. Glad it’s worked out well for you Penny. We are currently planning for my husband to take a month off at the end and I’ll return to work, when I would be unpaid anyway (his company doesn’t offer any enhanced SPL). And my first maternity leave didn’t feel like much of a holiday anyway, babies are hard work!

    Right now we both work a 4 day week and he’ll continue this through mat leave, so we’ll all be at home every Friday too. I found that now we both have the same time at work and the same time at home we are very much parenting equals. I don’t prep anything for his day off and he doesn’t prep anything for mine. We have our own routines, and we both understand the needs of our child. It works really well for us and I’m looking forward to our long weekends together.

    1. I agree Linsey, mat leave is no holiday!! I have very much enjoyed having an extra pair of hands to help out though!

      I think that anything that helps you become more of a team and parenting equals is a good thing. Spending more time as a family really does allow both parents to fully involved in the care and upbringing of their children.

      It sounds like you have got things all planned out for your second one! Good luck!

  8. My husband took SPL when my LO was 6.5 months old, as I went back to work. He too formed a wonderful bond with our LO and was so appreciative of the time he spent with her (as was I for being able to go back to work – although I appreciate it isn’t everyone’s choice to go back at that stage). I would say for anyone thinking something along similar lines, where you will not be at home at the same time, think about how you plan to feed your baby. With breastfeeding you need to be far enough along that you are only doing a couple of feeds a day to minimise expressing. Also bear in mind sleep deprivation, for me it was a fine to go back at this time but I admit that still being up in the night was tough, no matter how much my husband took over it was often only me that could get her back down quickly, and going on work trips (or even just sitting in the work loos) with a pump wasn’t fun either! It made him very appreciative of the amount of work it takes, especially as I landed him mid-weaning so he was cooking several times a week too! We are fortunate in that there was a dad’s playgroup nearby and various other activities for him to take our LO to, but he found a lot of groups so mummy-focused he felt like an outsider, which is a shame (and he isn’t shy!). Lots of factors to think about, not just financial. I think it is sad not many firms are supportive of SPL, as I really do think it is invaluable where possible. My husband is really keen to do it again for our second, although we will have to see whether it will work out this time or not.

    1. Thanks for your story Annie. You are right that there are lots of factors to take in to consideration if splitting the leave between the two parents rather than taking it at the same time as we did.

      I completely understand about the baby classes, my husband found that he felt like an outsider also and that was even with me there.

      We really need to get more people talking about SPL {along with other pro-family policies like flexible working}. If we can get more people talking about SPL, that will lead to better awareness and then an increase in uptake. It is interesting that lots of organisations now view SPL as being important in helping decrease the gender pay gap and help bring better equality for mums returning to work.

      Of course, one the glaring issues at the moment, which we I didn’t mention, is the whole debate around self-employed dads being able to take SPL.

    2. This is exactly why we haven’t used any shared leave – I wanted to breastfeed for as long as I could, and at 8.5 months I am still breastfeeding and not just at night (especially with all the teething..!); our son is still waking 3 times a night and like you, often will only go back down with a feed from me. I think the idea is great but I would have thought that breastfeeding past 6 months will cause a problem for many couples who want for the mother to go back to work and the father to stay off?

      1. I’m back at work part-time after 9 months, my husband took leave at the start with me. I’m still breastfeeding, and I thought that LO would feed less by this point, but babies make their own rules! I express twice a day at work, and nursery do give some formula as well. When she’s with me, she’s exclusively breastfed. So it can work! The sleep deprivation thing… well, sometimes she sleeps well, sometimes she doesn’t! That is tough. We are both working so both share the night wake ups. One day she’ll sleep. Hopefully…

      2. I was still breastfeeding when I went back to work at 7.5 months. I expressed during the day, and my son would have expressed or formulate during the day with his dad and I fed him morning and night.

      3. As others have said there are ways around the breastfeeding issue. It is really no different to when the mum goes back to work and the child who is still being breastfeed is in nursery. However I can see how it could put some people off SPL.

        For us the breastfeeding point, had my husband taking his leave not at the same time wouldn’t have been an issue, as I haven’t been able to breastfeed since day one.

  9. Fantastic blog Penny! I totally agree with all the reasons why you say SPL is wonderful and a wish more people would do it. My husband and I did SPL in 2016, I went back to work when J was 7.5 months old, and my husband stayed at home with him until he went back to work just before he turned 1. The benefits for our family have been huge – J has a great bond with both of us, we both appreciate the roles and responsibilities that come with running the house (or being the one that has to go out to work). We only received the SMP, although I did receive 13 weeks full pay from my employer for the first part of my leave. We had a budget and had set aside saving to cover the extra costs that we had to cover during the remaining months.

    As mentioned above, I received a lot of negativity from other mothers, mainly shocked that I would ‘give up my leave’ and that they could ‘never do that’, the unsaid implication being that you were shirking your responsibilities somehow and a ‘good’ mother would want to stay with her child for as long as possible. Some even said their partners would have loved to do it but they wouldn’t let them. Affordability seems to be the biggest barrier to more people taking it as often men are the highest earner. My husband was the first person in his company to take SPL, and in that year only three people in the company did SPL, in a company of over 1000 people.

    My husband had only positive responses to his decision, although he does believe that it may have impacted on his career, with another single, childless male colleague being promoted over him. He whined endlessly to me about this and I would just say ‘this is what women experience, every day, get used to it’!!! (I actually got a promotion while on ML, after being told ‘you will feel differently once you’ve had a baby’…I put a stop to that sort of sh*t talk pretty quickly and I think scared them into giving it to me!!) But in all seriousness, I believe more men taking leave will help to ease the gender pay gap – most men have children so if most men started taking leave, then anyone, at any time, could potentially go on leave…it would be such a great leveler. But more men need to do it for that to happen, and unfortunately, in the meantime until it becomes the norm, potentially suffering the same consequences women do.

    We are now living back in New Zealand and planning baby no.2 which is going to require a heck of a lot more savings, as NZ only supplies 18 weeks paid parental leave, and no paternity leave. Take advantage of what you have in the UK because its pretty good!

    1. Thanks for the comment Emma.

      I think you are right, affordibility is the biggest barrier. It is quite striking that when families do SPL the experience is positive but the trick is getting over that affordability hurdle.

      It is only day three back at work for my husband but so far his colleagues have been positive. And I completely agree that increasing SPL will help tackle the gender pay gap. No doubt about it.

      I am surprised by the position in NZ. I always felt that, of all the nations in the world, they would be leading the maternity/paternity legislation environment and be rather progressive.

  10. It’s interesting to read all the different experiences. My husband took the last two months of my maternity leave with our first daughter. He was at a medium sized engineering firm and he was the first to do it. It was unpaid but seeing as I would’ve been unpaid at that stage anyway it didn’t make a difference financially. I saw it as a good way for him to bond, and to ease my transition back to work leaving my baby with my husband rather than going straight into the nursery situation. I didn’t bank on the fact that I would struggle with not being the primary carer. Probably due to my personality I found it hard to let go and relinquish the responsibility after 10 months of deciding what she would eat, when to nap her, etc etc so it was hard not to text my husband and check he’d put sun cream on, packed snacks, done the washing etc, and it did create a few arguments of frustration both ways. I’m on my second mat leave now and my husband is now a teacher so we are fortunate to have more family time due to the school holidays (even if he is working a lot more at home), so I’m taking the full 12 months to myself this time.

    1. Thanks Natalie.

      I know where you are coming from on the relinquishing control point. I am a control freak and found it hard when my husband would take Our son off to a class or for a walk to give me a bit of time to relax or catch up on sleep. I would have found it even harder had I been back at work and my husband was at home.

      It is interesting that you aren’t doing SPL this time around. Does your husband’s work offer a proper policy. I am a teacher and well aware that schools aren’t always the best at offering pro-family policies in the work place.

  11. My husband and I are just embarking on this adventure. I’m taking months 1-8, and he’s taking months 9-12 of our mat leave. He wanted to be around when our little one is more active too, so he’ll get the walking/talking months. It’s so good to hear that you guys had a good experience! I’m back to work soon and I’m a little nervous, but excited to see how littluns relationship with her dad grows <3 Scared he’ll always be the favourite from now on though!

    1. So great to hear you are taking the SPL plunge Sian. I am sure you will have a great experience.

      Not surprised you are nervous about the return to work- I have two months still to go but already apprehensive. I am sure the return will go well and your daughter will love the time with her daddy.

  12. Are you able to share the company your husband works for? I am currently in the process of trying to persuade my company to extend paid leave for men (not because it will impact me directly but because I think it is the most important lever to create equality in the workplace) and we are looking for examples to show them there is precedent!

  13. This was such an interesting read – thanks for writing it, Penny and you’re completely right that these policies that allow the fathers to be involved should be the norm. Just like your husband, we are incredibly fortunate with my husband & I’s company and the pro-family policies that they hold. My husband was given 6 weeks full-pay paternity leave which he combined with holiday to get a full two months off (one when our daughter was first born and another when she was seven months old at Christmas). Not only was it a life saver for me to have him there, he got to join me in watching our daughter grow, seeing how tough my day could be at home and have that empathy, and watch her create ‘firsts’ and bond. His work have also been incredibly understanding with the birth injuries I suffered so he works from home twice a week to support me as Alice gets bigger!

    But even though it is an established policy in the company and encouraged, when he announced he was taking the full six weeks he was one of the only men to do so. Others took the bare minimum two weeks, so as not to see that they were stepping away from their career or job responsibilities & not to be out of the loop. You could still tell there was the unwritten pressure coming from within management or just the thinking that it wasn’t as acceptable for father’s to spend time away from the job. Again, I am extremely fortunate that my husband has been at his company for six years and is very well respected & established in his role so he had no qualms about taking the full time, but even he said he had felt some pressure to take less and that it wasn’t the norm.

    Overall, I just think it’s a complete discredit to our society that it does not encourage fathers to bond with their children and support their partners in their child’s beginning to life. It is archaic to assume that it is still entirely the women’s responsibility to grow a baby and then raise it for the most part by herself. Companies and society should want to allow fathers to be involved in such a special time that goes by far too quickly and also to support their partners. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if my husband hadn’t been there. Here’s hoping posts like yours will encourage more and more fathers to stand up against the existing system and make it the new norm.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Steph.

      I think you are spot on with your comments about men feeling like SPL will impact on their career. I think in today’s society this should not be seen as an issue and hopefully with more men taking SPL it will change the stigma that surrounds it. An increase in uptake can also only be a good thing when it comes to the gender pay gap, women should not feel penalised for having a family and, if men have the same rights then it can only go towards helping equality in the work place.

      I appreciate that this is not something that all men will want to do but if the offer is there and more men are seen to be taking up the offer, then the knock effect could be huge. One day I would like to think that we might have a similar up take to that of Scandinavian countries.

      I really do feel passionately about getting SPL talked about more and I do hope that my post will encourage more families to consider it.

  14. So interesting. My husband is freelance so shared parental leave wasn’t possible, however, when I went back to work full time after 10 months he reduced his workload so he could be at home three days a week, which has been brilliant for everyone. He’s always been confident taking our little one to baby groups and although it was quite weird handing over the reins as such, we’re a great team and with me being ill during a second pregnancy the relationship and experience he has looking after our daughter has made things much easier.

    1. Thank you for your comment Alex.

      I have spoken to other people about how SPL doesn’t work if you are self-employed and I feel that it is a great shame that there is a whole section of fathers who are potentially missing out on these experiences. It is lovely to hear that you and your husband managed to find a way around this, giving him quality time with your daughter.

  15. Yes! I love this article. Everyone needs to be thinking about SPL. I truly believe we’re never going to have gender equality is if childcare is seen as a team effort (ie for both parents!) and not just for the mums!

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