Shared Parental Leave is vital and helped me bond with my daughter: more fathers should take it
Published: 5 Apr 2016
By Jacob Cork, Associate, Charles Russell Speechlys
Today is the first anniversary of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL).
My baby girl, Anna, was born in September 2015, so my wife Catriona and I decided to make use of the new policy. We both wanted me to be as involved as possible from the very beginning, and fortunately the SPL policy at work meant I didn’t have to give up my income to do so. Catriona was also keen to keep in touch with her work at the Design Museum as they will be moving to a new site in Kensington this year.
During Anna’s first six weeks, we both cared for her. When she just over was three months old, Catriona returned to full time work for a one month block and I used a second block of shared parental leave to care for Anna while Catriona was at work.
The first six weeks we cared for Anna together were vital for us – and I am sure Anna too, although she can’t voice her opinion yet. It really helped me bond with my daughter, which I hope will have lasting benefits. I was also able to better support Catriona. She had limited mobility following the birth, and said many times that she had no idea how she would have coped without my full time support. Looking back now, I have serious concerns over how productive and focussed I would have been in the office in those first six weeks because of the sleep deprivation alone.
For me, the second block I used was just as important. I was able to spend all day, every day with Anna for four weeks, which helped me bond with her even more. I also think Catriona and I understand each other’s needs much better because we spent those four weeks in each other’s shoes – me looking after our young baby and Catriona working full time. We both think home tensions are far fewer because of this insight we had into the other’s life.
I think more fathers should take it, if it is possible for them and their partner. But then I’m lucky. I work in central London at Charles Russell Speechlys, as part of their private client tax team, and they provided information about SPL and supported me in my decision to use it. The HR team were proactive about explaining how SPL worked, and the firm offers the same benefits to fathers on SPL as they do to mothers taking maternity leave. The partners in my team were all very supportive (a number of them said “I wish this system had been available when I had mine!”). Catriona’s employers were also very supportive, and enabled her to come back to work for a month.
I know some new fathers who have not been so lucky. They were either unaware of SPL as an option, or their employers didn’t provide enough support – so they only used their two weeks of paternity leave. More employers need to explain not only how it works (it can seem a bit complicated at first glance, which might put some people off), but also make clear it is supported and encouraged in their workplace – so that new fathers don’t miss out.
That’s why I support Working Families. Their vision is to create a society where parents have real choice in balancing the demands of family and work. They campaigned for SPL to be introduced – and are working with their employer members to create family friendly workplaces where it is widely used.
If (when?) we have another baby, I will definitely be using shared parental leave again. I hope the fact that Catriona and I have been able to share care of Anna from very early on will have lasting benefits for the whole family.