Should I take Shared Parental Leave? What are the benefits for my baby, my partner and me? And how does it work?
If you and your partner are expecting a baby – or are planning one – then it’s a super exciting time. But the choices can be pretty overwhelming: from choosing a name and making sure you’ve got everything you need for your little one’s arrival, to planning how long you’re going to take off work and juggle childcare if and when you decide to return to your job.
For those mums planning to take a break from work to have a baby, it can be a daunting prospect, and the thought of taking up to a year away from your familiar routine to spend it with a new, tiny person can be a scary one.
Fortunately, Shared Parental Leave means new parents have more choice than ever before when planning their baby’s first year. It means you have the flexibility of sharing up to 50 weeks’ leave, together or separately. You can share up to 37 weeks of statutory pay, meaning you can take up to six months off together, and face the challenges and joy of those precious first weeks together.
For Sarah Mills, a first-time mum to daughter Rennah, having partner Tom around for their daughter’s first months meant he could witness some big moments.
She explains: “We wanted to share the parenting as much as possible. It’s been really important for Tom and Rennah to spend that time together. It’s quite sad when one parent has to miss out on lots of milestones to be at work.”
Tom adds: “It’s fun getting to spend time with Rennah and it’s a particularly interesting age – it’s nice to be able to see all those changes happening.”
Of course, some mums may feel a bit worried about cutting short their maternity leave in order to share or split the time with their partner, especially at such an early stage in their child’s development. It’s natural to feel concerned about your bond with your baby or feel that you may be somehow losing out. But when you weigh that up against the benefits of your partner being your child’s main or equal carer, it’s certainly worth considering…
How will Shared Parental Leave help my baby?
Children benefit from spending time with both parents during their first year, according to a 2007 study by Allen & Daly. Research shows that parental involvement has a positive impact on children’s intelligence, mental and physical health. Furthermore, fathers who take more than two weeks leave are more likely to have long-term involvement with childcare – which can also result in better outcomes for children.
For Niki Sheth, sharing the first four months of her baby daughter Anoushka’s life with husband Amit helped them define life as a family, with Amit taking an active role from day one.
She explains: “I wasn’t sure about it because it meant Amit ‘taking’ two of my months, but looking back, having the support from Amit was just amazing. We’d do it again.
“Having a child and being a couple is different to feeling like a family and that first four months really helped us to change our lifestyle and become a family.”
How will Shared Parental Leave help me as a mum?
According to government figures, women continue to do at least twice as much childcare as men – regardless of household income, employment or education. As Niki and Amit found, sharing those early months can help set the tone for sharing the responsibility for childcare throughout your little one’s first years.
Perhaps you work in a job that is more highly paid than your partner, or have a role that offers better prospects or flexibility. Perhaps you’re simply more focused on a career, or maybe your partner is worried about being the sole breadwinner and it just makes financial sense for you to return to your full-time job.
It’s great to know that the responsibility for stepping away from work isn’t entirely yours, and that you have the freedom to reduce the amount of time you take off to develop your career potential.
Clemmie Telford, who went back to work after the birth of each of her three children, says having her husband Ben take three months out following the birth of their baby daughter, Greta, made a world of difference, and allowed her to return to work with “a renewed sense of vigour”.
“I was really excited to even things up, having had two chunks of maternity leave and a big chunk for Greta as well. It feels absolutely huge, but in the grand scheme of your career, it’s a drop in the ocean.”
As for Ben, he’s converted. “It’s had an amazingly positive effect,” he says. “I would recommend Shared Parental Leave to everybody.”
Baby’s first months can leave mums feeling isolated, and like Sarah and Tom, you may decide that spending more months off together, as a couple, will help you support each other. Shared Parental Leave means couples can take up to six months off at the same time. (The amount your partner earns during this time, from statutory pay to full salary, will depend on their employers’ own policy.)
Of course, every family is different, but Shared Parental Leave means you can play to your strengths as a team while sharing the milestones of your child’s first months. So, why not discuss it with your partner? You can visit gov.uk/sharetheleave to find out more about your rights and what questions to ask your employer.
Bringing up a child is rewarding work, and you and your partner can share the joy by sharing the leave. Shared Parental Leave helps eligible parents to combine work with family life. You have the right to take up 50 weeks of leave, either together or separately. Talk to your partner to decide what’s right for you. Find out more at gov.uk/sharetheleave