If you’re thinking about maternity leave, did you know that Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is an option? This means that in the UK you can share your maternity leave – that’s 50 weeks after the obligatory 2 you have to take (4 if you work in a factory) – with your partner over the first year of your baby’s life. Or the first year a child is placed with your family if you’re adopting.
There are many different ways you can make Shared Parental Leave work; you can take the majority and your partner takes a small chunk, or you can take it in turns, or even be off up to 6 months together. There is of course eligibility criteria and it is up to employers to decide whether to offer enhanced contractual pay.
While your immediate reaction might be that it would just mean less maternity leave for you there are growing numbers of families who are finding it a really positive experience. We asked 3 mums to tell us how Shared Parental Leave worked for them.
“It made us equals as parents”
Karine Langlois, 38, is a communications officer and is married to Simon Diesendruck, 33, an architect. They have a daughter, Vienna, 3
“When I saw a news item about Shared Parental Leave, it immediately resonated with me. Simon and I have always had a very equal relationship running the house and I wanted this to translate into caring for our child too.
“We decided I would take 7 months, then we’d overlap for a month. Then I would go back full time and he’d take another 3 months. No one at either of our workplaces had heard of it so we were definitely trailblazers.
“I did wonder how I might feel leaving my baby earlier than what felt the ‘norm’, especially when most people I knew were taking a year. And as Vienna approached 7 months I naturally felt sad; we’d got through the hardest months and just as she was getting more interesting, my turn was over. But equally I felt so secure knowing she would be at home, with her father and not strangers at a nursery.
“Thankfully the transition was smooth; I left each day knowing her routine had barely changed. As much as I missed her, I didn’t need to worry about her. Meanwhile Simon became all too aware of how hard it can be looking after a baby. His plans to spend time on leave pursuing his painting hobby were quickly parked!
“Just as I’d hoped, Shared Parental Leave has made us equals. Simon has his own ideas for routines or chores and we work as a team, learning from each other. He still has a very special connection with Vienna; we would definitely do it again if we had another baby.”
“I wanted to break up my maternity leave”
Philippa O’Malley, 35, is a solicitor and married to John O’Malley, 35, who works in banking. They have 2 children – Eleanor, 4 and Katherine, 2
“My first maternity leave was 12 months, and while I loved being with Eleanor, for me it felt too long away from work. When I did go back full time, so much had changed.
“It took ages to catch up; it affects your confidence. And because I had been the one at home, the juggle of work, nursery drop-offs and life admin mostly fell on my shoulders, not John’s.
“By the time Katherine came along, Shared Parental Leave had been introduced. I liked the idea of breaking up my leave so I wasn’t away for so long. I was also keen for John to appreciate what it was like at home with small children. I opted to take 8 months, then John took 2 months while I went back to work before I took another 2 months off.
“For those middle 2 months I went to work completely stress-free. There was no manic juggle or the mental load of home life.
“I could completely concentrate knowing John was dealing with home life. I didn’t find the time away a hardship as I knew I had another 2 months of leave still to go. As for John, he said it was the hardest thing he had ever done but he really enjoyed and valued the time.
“I really appreciated those final 2 months with the girls and enjoyed them more as a result. I wasn’t as worried about what to expect back at work and felt more in control. It made a huge difference professionally.
“If you are eligible and it makes financial sense I would recommend it; it made our lives so much easier.”
“It was a wonderful feeling knowing she was with her dad”
Jenn McGarrigle, 35, is a head of marketing and married to Bertel Haugen, 35, a head of innovation. They have a daughter, Bronwen, 20 months
“I grew up in the U.S. where there is very little formal maternity leave so to discover that in the UK I could share leave with my husband was really exciting. I earn more than Bertel so it would have been tough financially for me to take the whole year off.
“Plus I’m really focused on my career so our approach was to consider parental leave as a whole, not just in the context of motherhood. We decided I would take the first 4 months, Bertel the next 3, followed by him working 3 days a week for 6 more months.
“The reality of returning to work after 4 months was really hard. The first 12 weeks of parenthood was a blur and it felt I’d only just emerged from that when it was time to go back. It was emotionally draining leaving her, but it was also a wonderful feeling knowing she was with her dad and her life was stable.
“I soon got used to the new way of life; I enjoyed being back in the thick of it at work. Knowing Bertel was at home meant I didn’t have to juggle home and work admin. I wanted Bronwen to still have breast milk so I scheduled 3 daily slots to pump and I also worked from home most Fridays.
“Bertel has always been a hands-on dad but he was pretty shocked at how full-on single parenting was. As we know, that feeling of being ‘on’ all day is like no other.
“But every day I could see their bond growing stronger and soon he was passing on parenting tips my way. There is no doubt Bronwen has thrived through having quality time with both parents.”
Lead pic: Getty