Why Every Parent Should Consider Shared Parental Leave

19/07/2017 13:16

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This Saturday, my local LGBT families community in Berkshire will come together to celebrate Pride. I'm part of a group of around 20 same-sex couples with children who wanted to throw our own party to celebrate this important event because we were unable to make the main event this year. As anyone with a family will know, getting tiny people out and onto a tube into central London is not easy!

I feel so lucky to have a supportive network around me alongside my family. We find a lot of people in our local community are keen for their kids to fully embrace diversity, so want to get involved in a supporting allies programme. That's great not only for us, as it means we have an excellent support network, but also great for our kids as it gives them a trusted circle of peers and family friends to rely on as they grow up.

It's been over a year since I came back to work after taking seven months of Shared Parental Leave to be at home with my wife after she gave birth to our daughter, Lexi. The close bond I have with Lexi is in no small part due to the quality time I was able to spend with her at the beginning of her life. When we started planning to have a family, I was determined to make sure I found a solution with my employer Accenture, and was so excited to see how the firm developed its generous Shared Parental Leave policy.

I will never forget those first few weeks after the birth. It can be quite an isolating time for a new mother and I'm glad I was able to be there to support Taryn, not only in looking after Lexi but also by helping to keep our home running smoothly, doing errands and cooking meals - something I feel all partners should have the opportunity to do.

I'd originally planned to take three months off, because I was keen to get back into the office and continue to build my career. But my senior leadership team really encouraged me to take longer and make the most of the Shared Parental Leave policy, so I ended up having seven months off. It was a huge surprise when my boss called me about a month after Lexi arrived to tell me I was being promoted. In the midst of long nights and nappy changing, I'd completely forgotten about my review!

Knowing that my decision to take some time out to be with my family hadn't impacted on my career progression was a huge relief and something that continues to reflect what I and my colleagues believe a supportive workplace should look and feel like. When I first came back to the office, I decided to use the annual leave I had accrued to take Mondays off and work part-time, to ease the transition back to work. My senior leadership made it clear I should take the first few months to find my feet again and I used the time to network as much as possible. Now that I'm fully immersed into projects, I try to work from home at least one day a week - it helps to ensure I can do the bath and bed time routine with Lexi a few times a week.

I'm very aware that I was lucky to have such a supportive employer. But I believe there are some steps every new parent can take to help manage their work/life balance. Firstly, I'd really recommend having a conversation about flexible working as soon as possible. For example, one of my friends who has young children will start work at 7:00am so she can leave early to do bath time.

It's also really important to switch off as much as possible when you walk through the door - logging off emails for a few hours to have quality time with your children and partner helps you unwind and ultimately be more productive as a colleague. Maybe unsurprisingly the time and demands a toddler put on you are an excellent way to switch off very quickly! I often log on to wrap things up later on in the evening, once Lexi is in bed, rather than try to rush through everything before I leave the office, ensuring I am still productive.

Every day there are so many tiny changes in Lexi's development and it can sometimes be hard missing out on things like hearing her say a new word. But I treasure the time my wife and I had together as a family whilst I was on Shared Parental Leave and I'll continue to be as hands on as possible as she grows up. I'm a passionate advocate of flexible working with my team and I'm so pleased that one of my colleagues has decided to take Shared Parental Leave to be with his wife, after seeing the positive impact it has had on my personal development and my career.

I'd encourage anyone on the brink of parenthood to consider Shared Parental Leave if they feel it's an option - those precious first months are a fleeting moment in the course of a career but the memories will last a lifetime.

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