Sharing Conversations About Parental Leave

10/10/2017 14:24

Take-up of Shared Parental Leave remains very low despite initial enthusiasm and a report last week saying 78% of young dads want to explore the idea.

Countless reports have looked at why this might be the case. Apart from the way the legislation is framed which puts the emphasis on women giving away part of their leave rather than on sharing, a lack of awareness about it and the complexity of deciding how it works best for individual couples, there are other big social and economic issues at play.

One, clearly, is to do with finance. In survey after survey it's the number one reason given for not taking the leave.

But research shows that it is not necessarily to do with enhancing SPL. Survey results published this week shows that enhancing Shared Parental Pay would make no difference to the decision of over half of those who say finances are the main barrier.

This fits with academic research by Dr Katherine Twamley at the University of London, which shows that, when questioned, it was clear that a good part of that financial barrier was due to assumptions made about the impact on the dad's career - and earnings - later down the line.

Clearly there are many factors that parents consider when deciding how they organise life after having children. Many, however, are not overtly stated by mums or dads and that can lead to resentment on both sides. Fundamentally Shared Parental Leave is about honest conversations between parents about their relationship with each other and with their children.

Workingmums.co.uk and Daddilife have been filming some of the discussions parents have around their decisions on parental leave - whether they opt for Shared Parental Leave or not.

It is always interesting to hear how different couples come to their decision. For many their own childhood experiences are important - for instance, their relationship with their dad and the kind of values they grew up with. Then there are the expectations each individual has of themselves as a parent, whether they are able to be around to some degree without having to take the leave due to flexible working and what the power dynamic is in the relationship.

That's before you even throw in guilt issues - guilt about taking time off work for dads, guilt about having less time with your baby for mums - and the whole birth experience.

In the end couples need to decide what is best for their circumstances, but it is important to talk about the options. This week's survey shows that many expectant couples had not even discussed it. More than twice as many couples had not discussed it as had discussed it.

Hearing from other people who have done it is important, whatever decision a couple comes to in the end.

The process of discussing leave options as well as any decision taken can have an important impact on a couple's relationship. Eulalia Pereira, one mum we spoke to, said: "As a mother there is a sense you should be doing everything. I know [as a result of taking Shared Parental Leave] that Martin on a day to day basis is there, that he is involved with the kids. I could not have hoped for more. Shared Parental Leave is an illustration that he is absolutely there; it is a level of commitment he is illustrating."

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