Shared Parental Leave is a good idea in principle and it is a major step forward in bringing equality in to parenting. It allows both parents to play an equal role during the first crucial year of their baby’s life. It gives both parents the option to decide for themselves who can care for the baby at any one time without the assumption that the mother should always. We are all leading complex and ever-changing lifestyles, so this policy is a welcome addition to bringing parenting in to the 21st century.
I for one missed out on this new government policy by a year – as a result I had the standard two weeks paternity leave for my first born back in 2014. I bolted on two weeks annual leave because my wife had a c-section and was unable to do simple things for over two weeks. It made sense. It certainly wasn’t a holiday. And yet 50% of my annual leave was gone. So, this new Shared Parental Leave option now gives the parents more choice over how they care for their baby on a shared basis. However, it is also a little flawed.
I am going to focus on the word ‘shared’. Parenting is a Joint responsibility. Nobody likes to share ― parents are no different and yet it is left up to both parents to decide on how best to split 12 months shared leave as fairly as possible. Only one parent at a time can use the leave. In our house, this concept has created a competition between the parents. In my case with our fast approaching second, my wife refused me any of ‘her’ leave. This was not because of selfish reasons, this was simply because she went back to work full time after only 4 months first time around. My wife’s mental health suffered and spoke openly to me about wanting more time at home with our second.
As a result, I agreed that she could take the entire leave entitlement if she wished. She was adamant (and rightly so), about not giving up any of ‘her’ leave for me. But this has made me feel very frustrated. Not at my wife, but the system. Why should we have to share it? Why should it have to be competed over? Surely it would be in both parent’s (and the baby’s) interest if each parent had their own separate leave entitlement and it was up to each individual family circumstances to decide whether it is financially viable for both to have time together to adjust to the life-changing event such as this. Or to use it at all for that matter.
The first year of a baby’s life is vital in shaping their future – it is also a year where marriages and relationships are pushed to their limits due to the stresses and strains of baby life. Just having that option for both parents to spend a good chunk of the first year together as a family instead of having ‘take it in turns’ to care for a baby would make a huge difference to the overall family wellbeing I feel.
Being a dad and a professional who has worked in childcare for over five years, I see first-hand how important those early years truly are. If the Shared Parental leave policy can eventually evolve in to one which gives both parents the choice to be around together for that first year, it will be a winner all round.