Nick Davies talks about his experience of taking six months’ shared parental leave.
When his first child came along Nick Davies was keen to share the experience with his wife and to take some solo leave to avoid her becoming the default parenting expert.
Nick, programme director at the think tank Institute for Government (IfG), says taking six months of shared parental leave, two of them in sole charge of his son Quinn, gave him greater confidence as a parent. “We wanted to have some time together as a family and some time each of us parenting alone. I was concerned that if I didn’t do some on my own then by default my wife would become the lead on all things parenting. It was amazing how quickly the default switched to me after she went back to work,” he says.
“Quinn’s always been keener on her – which is understandable! But he definitely became much keener on me in our time together, I certainly make him laugh.”
He describes the experience as “rewarding, valuable and fun.” “I had a brilliant time!” he says. “There are lots of things to think about when looking after a baby, but overall I just had lots of fun looking after my son. I’d urge anyone thinking about using shared parental leave to take as much time as you can.”
After a couple of weeks of statutory paternity leave following the birth of Quinn last summer Nick went back to the office for six weeks before starting a six-month stint of shared parental leave. The first four months he shared with his partner before going solo for two months.
He explains that he and his wife had always wanted to split childcare. “It was a selfish thing really, I’ve always wanted to play a big part in my children’s lives,” he says, adding that the process of taking shared parental leave was fairly straightforward. He and his wife approached their respective HR departments and filled in the necessary paperwork.
Nick was the third person from the IfG’s 50-strong workforce to take six months of shared parental leave which not only made it easier for him to do but also shows the value of role models. “It’s all about the culture,” he says. “When more senior people do it it gives the green light to everyone else that this is something that’s encouraged and normal. I had only supportive comments.”
And shared parental leave made life easier for his wife’s work too. “They knew she was taking six months, it takes away a lot of uncertainty for the employer.”
Going back to work for six weeks was the hardest bit for Nick. There was the inevitable lack of sleep but also a feeling that the family unit just wasn’t quite thinking as one.
He explains: “Before the baby is born you think about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to parent, but like all the best plans that doesn’t survive contact with reality. There’s lots of decisions to take around just things like when to feed the baby, when he needs a sleep, when to introduce a routine. I would defer to my wife in those six weeks because she’d done the reading, she was around Quinn all day and I wasn’t. When we were both off on shared parental leave we could discuss things together and that took a lot of pressure off us both.”
However, on the up side Nick was around for those all important milestones and got a proper understanding of what’s involved in childcare and parenting. “I was surprised how little babies do at first!” he says. “It’s odd to have a stranger move into your house who doesn’t even smile at you for two months. But when you do get a response how gratifying it is.”
Having returned to work last month Nick admits he approaches things slightly differently. “Before Quinn came along if I was leaving the office at 5.30 I’d probably slink out quietly. And in the first few weeks back I still did that. But I realised you’ve got to demonstrate the behaviour you want to see in others. I don’t go out of my way to shout out to everyone that I’m going home! But I’m comfortable leaving on time.
“There’s nothing embarrassing about leaving on time to go home to my family.”