Four years ago, the Government launched a revolutionary change to the way couples could take parental leave to bring up their baby. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) came with big ambitions – to create more equality in the traditionally gender-defined roles of who’s at home looking after the baby and who’s building a career and bringing in the lion’s share of the money in those early months.
By offering couples the chance to share 50 weeks of parental leave and 37 weeks of pay, SPL challenged the old stereotypes. Why shouldn’t both parents have the opportunity to be primary carers of this fabulous, attention-seeking bundle of new life? And why shouldn’t the choice of how you balance baby care with career development reflect individual circumstances rather than a family model of yesteryear? The world has changed.
And yet, despite best intentions and a positive welcome when it was launched in April 2015, the take-up of SPL has been disappointing. A survey we carried out last month suggests one of the reasons why – that parents like the idea but just don’t know the detail.
We found 81% of parents and expectant parents said they’d heard of SPL. A good start, but while they might have awareness, over three-quarters admitted they didn’t know much about it or only knew a little. When we asked them to pick the correct definition, most parents got it wrong – thinking it was leave that you and your partner had to take at different times.
Only 38% got it right; Shared Parental Leave is leave that both parents can take at different times OR the same time, in the first year following their baby’s birth. Parents include same-sex, different-sex and adoptive.
Armed with this info, 42% told us they would consider SPL while another 13% said they were currently unsure. Only 40% ruled it out.
Yet our survey showed that only 5% were actively taking SPL or had taken it in the past.
Surely the stats tell a story: too many parents don’t know enough about it and might be willing to take it up if they knew more. That’s why we’re working with the Government’s Shared Parental Leave Campaign – to help spread the word. Of course, SPL isn’t going to work for everyone, but isn’t it great to have another option? One that’s aimed at two people sharing parental duties, rather than dividing them.
The Government campaign talks about Sharing the Joy and yes, those early smiles, cheeky giggles and looks of love are monumental and truly life-affirming. But I’d say it’s also about Sharing the Grind – the tougher, messier, more emotionally-charged moments when the repetitiveness, ordinariness and sheer hard work of being a parent test us all.
How fantastic to be able to share that with a partner – to instinctively understand how a day where the target is simply to reach the end with a contented, sleepy child is a day filled with tiny wins and big achievements. Who cares that some of those achievements might be described by others as mashing carrots or getting out of the house on time?
Mutual respect and understanding is even more important when you’re under the stresses and strains of new parenthood. I was fascinated by how one of the dads described his new post-SPL relationship. “As a couple we’re now so much more equal,” he enthused.
In today’s world, where I watch my children wanting to grow up in a more equal environment, SPL can offer a great opportunity – if you’re in a position to take it – to share more equally as parents from the very beginning of your children’s lives.