Why we took Shared Parental Leave

Hands holding paper cut outs of a family


Julia Smith* split parental leave 50/50 under the old additional paternity leave rules and for their second daughter she and her husband are taking shared parental leave. Julia shared her thoughts about the experience.

What do you and your husband do in terms of work?

Julia Smith: I work in the Compliance team for an insurance company and my husband works in Logistics for a magazine publisher.

What was your motivation for taking SPL [and additional paternity leave]?

JS: I didn’t feel I could take a full year out from work with my first daughter so financially it made sense, but also I think it’s so important for fathers to play a central role when it comes to bringing up children and being off on additional paternity / SPL was a great way for my husband to bond with our daughters.

When you discussed it what were the issues that came up?

JS: We both talked about what we wanted and my husband was really keen to have some time off with our first daughter. He really wanted to ensure that he had a close relationship with the children and felt that this would be a good way to ensure that. He was a bit worried about how it would be received by his employer (and, as it turns out, the first time round it was a very awkward conversation!), but we knew that, as he had a statutory right to take the leave, that there wasn’t much they could do about it.

Do you and your partner receive enhanced Shared Parental Pay?

JS: My company pays 90% of my average weekly salary for 18 weeks during maternity leave and this time round my husband is getting 11 weeks enhanced SPL pay, whereas under the additional paternity rules he only received statutory pay.

Did you find negotiating SPL more difficult than additional paternity leave?

JS: As my husband had taken additional paternity leave with our first daughter, and was still with the same employer, it was easier this time round as his boss was expecting it. The first time round was tricky as his boss had no idea that these rules existed!

Was your employer helpful in supporting you on this?

JS: Neither employers were particularly helpful in arranging Additional Paternity or SPL, but luckily we found out what we needed to do by searching on the internet and made sure we gave both of our employers the correct period of notice etc.

How have you split it?

JS: After our first daughter we split the leave 50/50 and did six months each. I found it really tough going back after six months, so this time round I asked my husband if he would mind me taking a bit more time and I had seven months, whilst he is now off for five months. In the end I was also obliged to take my accrued leave before returning this time, which meant that we had the first five weeks of my husband’s SPL off together.

How did family, friends and colleagues react to you sharing leave?

JS: Most of the women I speak to are very impressed when I say my husband has taken time off / is currently on leave with the children, but I’m sure some of the men are less supportive. My husband’s colleagues weren’t particularly supportive in my opinion. The first time round his boss’ comment was ‘rather you than me!’

Did your husband feel isolated on leave, given so many baby-related activities are still geared towards mums?

JS: Yes, I think he did as I had the other mums from our NCT group to meet up with for coffees and play dates, but they didn’t invite him along once I went back to work. However, he was brilliant at getting out and going to playgroups or similar every day. We’re both quite shy people and I think he was much braver than I was trying out new groups on his own.

What impact do you think it has had on your relationship and on the relationship your husband has with your children?

JS: I think it has had a positive impact all round: both times my return to work has been easier than it would otherwise have been as I could relax knowing that the children were at home with Daddy. He has a really strong bond with both of them, which I’m sure is largely due to his extended time spent at home and the fact that he is very involved with them – more so than any of the other Dads I know.

Have you gone back to work full time or do you work flexibly? Was that also the case with additional paternity leave?

JS: After our first daughter was born I went back full time, whereas my husband made a flexible working request to drop down to four days per week. His boss’ initial reaction was along the lines of ‘I didn’t know men could request this!’ But he did agree to it. Once I had been back for a few months, I made a request to work from home one day per week, which was finally agreed 11 months later – just as I was going on maternity leave again. This meant that when I returned to work after our second daughter I had that already agreed. I would now like to reduce my hours to four days per week (ideally still with one day working at home), but so far this idea hasn’t been well received by my employer.

What do you see as the main differences between additional paternity leave and SPL?

JS: As far as I can see, the main difference is around how you are able to split the leave, including being able to take leave at the same time as your partner. I’m not sure many people would take leave in more than one separate block though as it’s a bit too disjointed and I’m also not sure many would overlap leave with their partner as then you don’t make the same childcare savings at a later date when you both go back to work.

Would you recommend SPL?

JS: Definitely! I think it is so important for fathers to play an active role in their children’s lives, so why shouldn’t they have a the chance to be at home for a while?!

What do you think has to change to encourage more people to take it?

JS: I think the biggest barrier to men taking SPL is the stigma attached. The idea that they should be the bread winners, going out to work every day and that it’s not very ‘manly’ to be at home with the children…and that probably isn’t something that is very easy to change. Perhaps it would work better if it was structured similarly to parental leave in Scandinavia where a portion of leave is allocated to the partner and, if not taken by them, the mother cannot use their share of leave i.e. use it or lose it!

*Not her real name.

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