PARENTS

Meet 8 Dads Who Took Shared Parental Leave

'To say I enjoyed it is an understatement.'

28/07/2016 13:51 | Updated 08 August 2016
thriving families

Eight dads have opened up about their experiences of shared parental leave in an attempt to dispel the misconceptions many fathers have.

From calling it the most “amazing” experience to explaining how it increased admiration for their wives, these dads made it clear it was time well spent.

Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in the UK in April 2015, with the aim of giving mums and dads more flexibility in sharing the care of their child.

As part of SPL, women reduce their maternity leave enabling their partner to take time off. Eligible parents share 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay.

In August 2016, it was reported just 3,000 couples took up SPL during the first three months of 2016, according to research commissioned by commercial law firm EMW.

This compared to 155,000 mums taking maternity leave and 52,000 fathers on paternity leave during the same period in 2014.

We asked dads why they took it, the reactions they had and why they believe more men should take this parental leave policy. 

Paul McCann

Paul McCann, 39, a retail manager from Belfast, has two children with his wife Denise: two-year-old Sarah and 10-month-old Niamh. 

He took additional paternity leave with his first daughter and three months SPL with his second daughter, Niamh.  

Paul McCann

Why did you decide to take SPL?

We wanted our children in their early years to spend as much time as possible with both parents. With our varying work patterns, it meant we could have a better work-life balance while enjoying time with our children. I did worry what other people and society would think of me and us.

How did your employer react?

Initially they were a bit shocked, but they were very supportive of my circumstances and helped make it a smooth process. I was nervous as it was a request into the unknown as such and I didn’t want to affect my future career. 

How did your friends and family react?

A lot of them thought we were joking when we first mentioned it, but when we explained our rationale they came round. They’ve since seen the many benefits we gained by doing it. My partner was worried about missing the children which is only natural but we agreed that the benefits of shared time with the children and a much better work-life balance counteracted this. 

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

I found the whole experience amazing - to watch my children grow, particularly from six to nine months when they were developing so much. There were many, many highlights, from weaning catastrophes to her crawling and starting to babble. My biggest surprise was how demanding it was and how you never get a minute to yourself, but it really gave me a sense of what my parents would have done for me as a baby. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

Culture is probably the main thing that holds people back in that it’s not how society sees parenting. Finances too - we were lucky in that it worked financially for us to do it, but not everyone has that benefit.

Richard Foulerton

Richard Foulerton, 35, is a CSR manager at Allianz UK. He is dad to 11-month-old Freddie with his wife Stephanie Foulerton. 

Foulerton took four weeks SPL after his son was born in 2015. 

Richard Foulerton

Why did you decide to take SPL?

Taking time off with my son, Freddie, was really important and it was very special to have the time together. We were lucky with the timing as SPL was introduced just before Freddie was born, but it felt like a fairly natural decision that I would take the time off. I did have some reservations due to the time of year, so I was a little concerned about just putting things on pause for a month. 

How did your employer react?

My manager was really supportive and other colleagues that I spoke to thought it was a great idea. I only had positive reactions from friends and family, too. Some friends and family members that already have children were envious that I had this new opportunity as it wasn’t an option for them previously.

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

To say I enjoyed it is an understatement. Yes, it was hard work at times. It was intense and, initially, there was a lot to get my head round in terms of his routine and trying to get other ‘normal’ things done like the shopping and not letting the house get wrecked. But the payback was huge in terms of spending that time together, I really got to know him a lot better and he was developing so fast (at seven months) and doing new things all the time. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

I think both publicly and also employers may not be totally clear on the rules – but also some dads may worry what their employer or colleagues may think. To any new dads wanting to spend a bit more time at home, I would say: ask your employer about shared parental leave - and definitely do it! 

Mark Smith

Mark Smith, 42, from London is a managing director for Accenture. He has a one-year-old son, Louis, with his wife Emma Smith. 

Smith took the standard paternity leave when his son was born then returned to work for six weeks. He was off on SPL for 30 weeks from September 2015 - April 2016. 

Mark Smith

Why did you decide to take SPL?

For Emma and I, having a family is a joint endeavour. It felt right in the 21st century that we were able to decide between us how we wanted to share the first year of childcare. It was a great opportunity to be able to play a near full-time role in the first year of Louis’ life.  

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

To be honest no, I didn’t have reservations. I didn’t believe that it would impact my career as Accenture. If I had any reservations it was more a nervousness about becoming a dad – which didn’t seem to come with a manual!

How did your employer react?

I was really lucky as my employer didn’t react in any way which didn’t embrace SPL as a great opportunity. I approached my boss and our HR partner to say that I wanted to take SPL and my reasons why and they were really supportive. I think that it also helps for people to see someone at management level take SPL as they realise that if I can, then they can too.

How did your friends and family react?

My family and friends were really supportive, though I had to explain it to a lot of people as it was very new when I applied. I also built a network of other dads in my local area who were either on SPL, worked flexible hours or were the primary child carer. I found this really important as most of the baby events, activities and existing networks are targeted at (sometimes exclusively) women. 

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

My memories are still really clear and I wouldn’t have changed the time I had with Louis for the world. I loved the bonding, the fact that Louis would see me as an ‘equal’ parent so when he was down or wanted a cuddle he’d come equally to me as much as he would Emma. I also realised how all-encompassing being a parent is – and how little time there is to do anything else. Perhaps a good lesson for a happy home.

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

I think there are five key reasons: Lack of awareness, women not wanting to give up their leave, finances, cultural restraints and men not wanting to take it. We need better communication and education, more role models, more companies offering enhanced packages and an overall societal acceptance of shared parenting rights and responsibilities.

Stephen O’Shea

Stephen O’Shea, 31, from Hove, works for a bank in London. He’s married to Ruth O’Shea and they have two children: Elsie, three and Owen, four months. 

O’Shea took 10 weeks SPL straight after the birth of his son. 

Stephen O'Shea

Why did you decide to take SPL?

Overall, to spend more time with my family. When my first child was born I felt like two weeks paternity leave wasn’t long enough to really enjoy the new arrival and help my wife. When the new rules were introduced I was planning to extend the initial leave to four weeks, but then I read my employer’s SPL policy and decided to extend it.

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

My main reservations were career concerns. I was worried that it could set back my career by giving the appearance of not being committed to the job. My team at work was understaffed so the timing was terrible for them. 

How did your employer react?

Really well! People were so supportive and really understood the importance of the time off. Some people weren’t sure what I would do with two months off. A lot of the older guys said they wished it was possible when they had their families, while the younger ones were just jealous of my “long holiday”! 

How did your friends and family react?

Again really positive, encouraging and congratulatory. Also some jealously from those who can’t take SPL, either because they are self-employed or because they aren’t fathers. 

How did your partner feel about you taking SPL? 

She was really pleased that we could spend the time together. I think also she was looking forward to showing me the reality of having to look after the kids every day, not just on weekends and holidays. 

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

It was great. When I was at home I loved being able go to all the children’s activities I normally miss out on - singing groups and swimming. My daughter is three so I also spent time with her while my wife looked after the new baby. I was surprised how difficult it is to look after two children all day every day - physically and mentally - even for two people. It’s given me a lot of admiration for my wife when I’m at work and a lot of confidence and encouragement to do more when I am at home. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

I think it’s a combination of a lack of awareness and cultural expectations of male and female roles for childcare. A pregnant friend of mine said that her husband wouldn’t be able to take the time off because of how it would be received at his work, and she wouldn’t want him taking “her leave”. The more dads that take SPL the more these issues will be addressed. 

Richard Kelly 

Richard Kelly, 33, from Surrey is a civil servant. He is married to Katie Kelly and has a three-month-old son called James.

He is currently taking 9-12 months SPL.   

Richard Kelly

Why did you decide to take SPL?

My wife and I have always been keen that childcare responsibilities would be shared between us. My wife runs a small business and it would be hard for her to take a significant amount of time off. I work for a large organisation so made sense for me to do the longer stint of leave

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

I had the standard anxieties any parent might have looking forward to parental leave. I’ve never been great in my own company, so I’ve been trying to make sure I keep busy. I was conscious that I’d often be the only man at parent/baby activities, but I’ve had a warm welcome wherever I’ve been. 

How did your employer react?

My employer (a civil service organisation) has been great. The only issue has been that no one in the organisation has taken SPL before, so the HR department were learning alongside me! 

How did your partner feel about you taking SPL?

SPL is all about making decisions that work for you as a family, rather than being forced down one route or another. My wife and I are a very tight unit and talked a lot about how to make sure it worked for everyone, both practically and emotionally.

What are you enjoying about SPL?

It’s great for far! My wife has only been back at work a short while, so I’m still finding my feet. I’m enjoying exploring the local groups and activities. I normally travel into London to work, so I’m enjoying beginning to feel more part of my local community. In general I’ve found a very warm welcome at the groups I’ve attended, even when I’ve been the only man. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

I think two of the biggest things are money and culture. A lot of men worry about how this will be perceived at work and that seems to be a significant barrier. 

Sam Jackson

Sam Jackson, 35, from Surrey, is an IT consultant at Accenture. He has two children with his wife Chloe Jackson.

Jackson took six months SPL from November 2015 until May 2016. 

Sam Jackson

Why did you decide to take SPL?

When my first son was born I was working long hours and spent a lot of time away with work. I only got to see him at the weekends and felt like I hadn’t really had a chance to get to know him well. Fatherhood wasn’t really turning out as I had expected it to be. So I took three months’ unpaid leave from work (before SPL was an option) and looked after him full-time. I loved that time with him so much that I always wanted to do it again with our second child, so the arrival of SPL and my employer’s decision to offer 32 weeks full pay to both men and women on parental leave really helped cement that decision.

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

I was worried that it might be looked at negatively at work or that people might think I wasn’t that serious about my career, especially as I’d already taken time off for childcare a couple of years beforehand. But that wasn’t the case. 

How did your employer react?

Accenture has been hugely supportive of SPL in general and is encouraging more dads to take it. I was extremely lucky to receive full pay for nearly all the time I was on leave and the generous benefits meant many of my colleagues who are dads have also taken or are planning to take SPL, too.  

How did your partner feel about you taking SPL? 

She was delighted. She found maternity leave a difficult experience at times and was ready and eager to go back to work after four months. It made sense for both of us for us to swap over. If we had another child I think we’d both choose to do exactly the same again. 

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

The highlights were those precious moments of fun with the children, when they look so happy to be spending time with you. The thing that surprised me the most was how friendly and helpful complete strangers are to a dad with two kids - lots of random conversations in the supermarket, people helping carry the pushchair up and down stairs, giving up their seats for us on the train. It was much harder the second time around though, with two kids to look after!  Generally I’ve found childcare a lot harder work than I thought it would be. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

Lack of pay, and social stigma towards men in caring roles. I was very privileged to get full pay for my SPL, but that is very rare and the majority of employers don’t offer anything more than basic statutory pay. I’m sure many men are put off because they’re worried about how it might be perceived by their bosses, as though it’s not a very “manly” thing to do.  

William Bartholomew

William Bartholomew, 31, from Hertfordshire, works at Deloitte with financial services clients. He is dad to one-year-old Barnaby with his wife Nicola Bartholomew.

Bartholomew took six months SPL from July 2015 until January 2016. 

William

Why did you decide to take SPL?

I wanted to share the challenges and fun times that come with having a baby with my wife. It meant we were both able to maintain some normality, such as my wife going to the gym and me playing the occasional round of golf with my friends. 

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

I was taking time off immediately after the birth, so the uncertainty which comes with starting a long period of leave without a fixed start date made the last few weeks of work tricky – always making sure everything was ready for a speedy handover. Thankfully Barnaby arrived on his due date!

How did your employer react?

Everyone at Deloitte was really supportive of me taking the time off and a common reaction was “I wish this was around when I had my children”.

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

Being there for Barnaby’s first smile and taking our first family holiday was amazing. Shared parental leave gave us some special time as a family with memories we will never forget. Of course, it was not without its difficulties and the sudden change of pace from my day job, where I help our financial services clients tackle complex data projects, to full-time parenthood, was a challenge. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

The need for mums to sacrifice some of their maternity leave will be a factor. Otherwise I think there is still a lack of awareness about what shared parental leave is and how it can be used.

Sam Russell

Sam Russell, 32, from south London, is a stakeholder and community manager with LOROL (operator of the London Overground). He has a one-year-old son Rowan with his wife Gemma. 

Russell took five months SPL starting from when his son was six months old. 

Sam Russell

Why did you decide to take SPL?

My wife Gemma and I have always been keen to share the experience of raising our baby together. Both of us are ambitious and have established careers, so it seemed natural to split the opportunity to spend time with Rowan as he grew up rather than just Gemma taking the time off.

Did you have any reservations about taking it?

It is natural to think about your career and the possible impact that having time off might have. I was a little concerned about how I would “fit in” with the group of mums that had supported each other through their pregnancy and the early months with their babies. I needn’t have worried though, as they were incredibly welcoming.

How did your employer react?

They reacted very positively. They never questioned my decision and worked as hard as they could to facilitate everything that I needed. I am the first employee at LOROL to go through this process, so we learnt together as my HR colleagues developed the process that we needed to follow.

How did your friends and family react?

Occasionally you’ll get some odd questions from people on the street (“What a nice baby - is he yours?”) or from health visitors (“It must be your day off”), but nothing that couldn’t be ignored or laughed off.  

What did you enjoy about taking SPL?

It has been an amazing experience. Having the chance to see Rowan grow and develop was incredibly rewarding. As I took over at six months, I have been lucky enough to see Rowan learn to crawl, eat, laugh and become a little person in his own right. 

What do you believe is stopping more dads taking it?

It’s a lack of knowledge, mostly. Many dads aren’t aware that SPL exists in the form that it does, but that will change with time. Also, SPL isn’t as flexible as it could be, as the dad is only entitled to Statutory Pay regardless of when the leave is taken.

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