Our experience of Shared Parental Leave
When we found out that we were expecting our first baby, we decided that I wouldn’t write posts about Little One on my blog. We both felt that we didn’t want photos online, and I wasn’t really keen for this to become a Mummy blog when there are so many great ones out there already! But we decided to make an exception with this post to tell you all about our experience of Shared Parental Leave. We don’t know anyone else who has done it and when we tell other people about it, it seems like a lot of people don’t realise that it’s an option. The whole experience has been so positive for us that we wanted to share our experiences, explain how it works and point you in the direction of some useful resources if you’re thinking that you might want to share your leave.
My thoughts about Shared Parental Leave
We thought it would be helpful to start by sharing our own thoughts about Shared Parental Leave, so I’m up first!
I was really excited when Tom first said that Shared Parental Leave was a thing. At that point we knew we wanted to start a family, but we weren’t quite ready – but we knew it would be something that we would do. When it came around to thinking about it more seriously, I wasn’t really sure what ‘share’ actually meant. Did Tom want half of my leave?! I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t up for that! But that isn’t how it turned out and I did say that I wanted at least 9 months off, which is about what I’ll have in the end. Before my leave started I did wish that I could have a whole year off, but now I know that it has been so worth giving up some of my time for Tom. We don’t get brilliant pay, but to be honest the time is way more important. I would do it all again in an instant.
The first few weeks after giving birth are a bit hazy – your whole world is turned upside down by this little person who relies on you for everything. If you get dressed that’s a massive achievement! So having Tom here through that time was brilliant. We took it in turns to look after Little One while the other slept. And sleep is magical, especially in those first weeks! They say to sleep when your baby sleeps, and I think that would have been much more difficult without Tom, and it meant that he got to sleep too. Because we had some sleep, I think we were far less stressed than we would have been. He wasn’t having to rush out to work every morning, and we weren’t having to think about prepping lunch or ironing shirts. We didn’t have any schedule and could just take each day as it came. It didn’t really hit me until Little One was 2 weeks old and we were thinking about how Tom would be back at work if we hadn’t shared the leave. I spent a lot of that week crying about how glad I was that he was here!
I think that it has also helped with Little One’s sleep. That might sound a bit weird, but we started a bedtime routine with her as soon as she decided that she liked having a bath, which must have been around 3-4 weeks. At first we would take her up to bed late in the evening, but as she got used to the routine we moved it earlier. We do the exact same thing every day, and Tom has been here to be a part of that. She’s now sleeping really well and I’m sure it’s because of the consistency. I guess we’ll never really know how much the leave has influenced this, but I’m pretty sure it has helped!
At first, I found breastfeeding particularly difficult at night. No matter how much help you have in the day, nothing can really prepare you for the night feeds (breastfeeding or bottle feeding). It’s really hard! I spent a lot of that time crying too. But Tom was brilliant, and would get up to settle Little One if she needed it. This was possible because he didn’t have to be up for work. There was no sleeping in a separate room – we are all together and he did what he could, whether that was settling her or going to get me midnight snacks (seriously, I have never eaten so many Cheerios!). Being a parent is a full-time job, and I take my hat off to all the Mums who get up in the night and look after their baby all day too, and to all the single parents out there. It’s really hard work. But taking shared parental leave has allowed us to share things a lot more, and we’ve all benefitted from that. One of my friends recently said that she thinks that if all partners had time off it would help with post-natal depression, and I’m sure she’s right. We had some tough days, but mainly great days and Tom has been there to support me through that. We’ve been there to support each other.
One of the best things about our leave is seeing the relationship that Tom has with Little One. Because he has been around so much, he hasn’t missed out on anything and I’m so pleased about that. He got the first smile, he plays with her all the time, he sees how she’s developing fast. And blimey, it sounds like a cliche but it really does go SO fast! I’m pleased that he has been an integral part of that. We know her really well, and she knows both of us. Now that she’s a few months old she’s doing so much more, and it feels like she’s changing and learning something new everyday. He hasn’t missed out on that, but has been a part of it and I’m so glad!
We’ll both miss him now he’s back at work, but things have settled down now and I feel like I’m in a much better position to cope with things because he took that time off. Yes, there will be difficult days, but we’ve both emerged from that foggy first few weeks and that time together has really helped. I genuinely don’t know what I would have done without this time together. I would have just got on with it I guess, but it would have been much tougher on everyone. If you’re considering taking Shared Parental Leave, then I can’t recommend it enough. Even if it’s just a short time, it’s time that you can all appreciate in so many ways.
Tom’s thoughts about Shared Parental Leave
The fact that few people have taken up Shared Parental Leave so far is perhaps not too surprising, but hopefully over time it will become more of a norm. The legislation is not perfect by any means – there is still a retrograde notion that the mother has to ‘give up’ some of ‘her’ leave, and I would favour a system where each parent has a period of leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis with an additional period of shared entitlement. But hopefully over time more people will take advantage of it and tell others of the huge benefits that taking Shared Parental Leave can have. For whilst it is not hard in some ways to imagine having gone back to work soon after Little One arrived (as all our friends with older children have done), I appreciate now how much I would have missed of her first few months, how much harder it must be to do everything on your own, and (though it can never be proven) how much it has helped Little One to have two relatively relaxed and rested parents around. Sharing the workload – whether by doing something together, taking it in turns, or doing one task in order to free up the other person to do another – is what we’ve done for years to some extent, but having Little One magnifies the workload greatly and therefore the importance of sharing it and the rewards that come from that.
For some, of course, the role of traditional career-building bread-winner is their preferred way of sharing the workload, and Shared Parental Leave doesn’t appear to even be a choice in this role. But I see it less as one big choice but rather a whole series of interrelated ones where one choice makes a subsequent one easier or harder. We have both chosen ‘jobs’ (i.e. work-life balance) over ‘careers’, meaning our time away from work will certainly not be detrimental to us in the longer term, or – since we are merely small cogs in a large machine – place undue stress on our colleagues in the shorter term. Clare’s choice to go part-time several years ago (which may have appeared strange to some at the time) means our adjustment to living without two full-time wages had already taken place. And choosing to save up as much money as possible before Little One arrived (something made possible by our choice to live in a part of the country with manageable living costs) meant we could supplement the rather meagre statutory pay and not feel like we were losing out financially. All of these choices, and many more besides, made the one of whether or not to take Shared Parental Leave a very easy one, and one of the best we have ever taken.
We just want to say a few things about this post – disclaimers, if you will!
We realise that Shared Parental Leave isn’t for everyone. Some people might not want to do it for financial reasons, or because a career break just isn’t possible. Or you just might not want to share your leave – any of these reasons (as well as any others not mentioned) are obviously fine! Whatever you decide to do is your decision as a family, and we’re not writing this post to try to persuade you to do this but to just give you an idea of our experience of Shared Parental Leave. Everyone has different circumstances; these were ours and we wanted to share them with you.
The company we work for does not offer any additional maternity benefits, so we receive statutory pay. You may find that the number of weeks of pay differs depending on the package provided by your workplace.
All external links are correct at the time of writing this post (August 2016) and we cannot account for any future changes. We are not claiming to be experts on this subject! Any resources referred to in this post are things that we used or consulted during the process and found to be helpful. Any specific questions that you have about the process should be directed to your HR team and/or manager.
It may be that you are the first person to be considering this in your workplace. Our advice would be to do your research first and work out what you want to to. We both work at the same place in our day jobs, which made the process easier to some extent (except for having to fill in the same form several times!). Before discussing it with the HR team, we sat down and worked out exactly what we wanted and we read up on it so we knew what we were talking about. So we’ll start with a few of the basic things that you need to know.
Further information about how Shared Parental Leave works
Shared Parental Leave works in a similar way to maternity leave, and is designed so that you can be more flexible in the first year. It is a legal entitlement for eligible parents of babies due, or children placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015, but you must qualify for maternity leave to be able to take it (read more about that here).
The amount of leave is worked out based on the mother’s entitlement to maternity or adoption leave, which allows for up to 52 weeks of leave. In that there are usually 39 paid weeks out of the 52 to play with (for those of us on statutory pay) leaving 13 unpaid weeks, unless you have a super dooper maternity package. If you qualify, you can share the paid or unpaid weeks with your partner, so it’s up to you how you want to work it out. There are a few important things to clarify:
The 52 weeks does not include the 2 weeks of Paternity Leave, so the father will get these in addition to any Shared Parental Leave
You can be on maternity leave and Shared Parental Leave simultaneously
It is possible to tag on holiday to the end of your leave
Yay to all of these things! 🙂 Another good thing about Shared Parental Leave is that you don’t have to take it all together in one block. You could have a few weeks off, go back to work and then take a few more weeks off. This means that you can really make it work for you, especially if you want to take extra time off but not all in one go. We didn’t do it like this because of working in an academic year in our jobs, and it made more sense for Tom to take a few weeks altogether.
Some important things to consider
The most important thing we found was to be organised with working out what you want to do. Everything needs to be agreed in advance with your employer(s), so the earlier you can work it out the better. You don’t have to tell them straight away, but you do need to give notice that you will be giving up some maternity leave for Shared Parental Leave, and that you both intend to take Shared Parental Leave.
The notice of entitlement to take SPL must include:
- how many weeks maternity/adoption leave (or maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance if the mother was not eligible for maternity/adoption leave) has been/will be taken
- how much leave both parents are entitled to take
- how much leave each parent intends to take
- when they expect to take their leave
- the signatures of both parents
Don’t worry about getting the exact dates right here – it’s just to give an idea of what you will be taking. If baby arrives 2 weeks early or late, these will change anyway! But getting the paperwork in place will be helpful for you and for your employer, especially if you are planning to take Shared Parental Leave in separate chunks. You need to give them to your employer at least 8 weeks before the start of any leave. The links to the forms are in the last section of this post.
When working out your leave, remember that mothers have to take 2 weeks maternity leave by law, so these first two weeks for you will be called ‘maternity leave’. What you need to do is work out in advance when to end your maternity leave and transfer it to Shared Parental Leave. For me, the first 6 weeks were maternity leave as I received 90% pay for these weeks. After that the amount would be statutory pay anyway, so it made sense for me to change at this point. But because you can take leave simultaneously, Tom was on Shared Parental Leave at the same time. We found it helpful to make a calendar showing who was off when, and when the paid weeks would be. We gave a copy of this to HR so that they have this information too.
As with maternity leave, you don’t have to confirm your return to work before starting your leave. At time of writing, I still have not yet done so. I am going to be working out when I am going in for Shared Parental Leave In Touch (SPLIT) days and what holiday I will have at Christmas, and then I will be in a better position to do so.
Your employer(s) should have a policy for Shared Parental Leave, but you may find that if you are the first to do it where you work, it might not be in place. Make sure you have done your research beforehand, so that you can question anything with them.
Some useful links
The forms that you need to fill in to give to your employer are also on the Acas website. The ones we used are the Shared Parental Leave forms for maternity, but there are other forms for adoption as well as covering letters and useful documents that you may wish to use on the website too.
There is also some useful information on the Government website.
As I said earlier, we are not experts on the subject! The best people to speak to are your HR team and manager if you have any questions about technicalities of Shared Parental Leave and how it would work for you and your family. However, if you have any questions that you would like to ask us about anything else, please leave a comment below or get in touch via the contact page. We hope that this post has been helpful! 🙂