Third Door Member, Sarah Rose, shares her experience of Shared Parental Leave. This new legislation was announced from Third Door in November 2012 by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

It’s now over a year since the new Shared Parental Leave legislation came into force, allowing parents to share up to 50 week’s worth of leave with their child. Although more common in some countries, for most of us this was pretty groundbreaking and gave families a brand new way of approaching childcare in the first year.

The initiative, first announced at Third Door (Workhub & Nursery) by Nick Clegg in November 2012, challenges the traditional assumption that Mums will stay at home with their partners returning to work, and instead allows parents to make these decisions for themselves.

When expecting our first child, my husband and I knew early on we wanted to share our leave. What we didn’t have was any examples of how best to structure this time or anyone to talk to about their experiences. As the first round of parents to experience SPL, there isn’t much information available beyond the legislation itself or company guidelines, and we found most articles online were aimed at employers. However since finishing our leave we have spoken to more parents who took the plunge, or are about to start, and it’s been encouraging to share the tips we picked up along the way.

Here are a few things to think about if you are considering SPL;

  • Be flexible in how you structure your time off – although the most popular way of splitting your leave is a linear ‘swap’, there are many more ways of dividing up your time. We initially thought we would do the same but actually opted for a period of overlapped leave giving us almost 3 months together as a family. One potential downside of this is that it reduces the total time off with your child slightly, but we felt the benefits of sharing the experience outweighed this.
  • Plan your time in advance – when planning your leave consider anything specific you want to do with your time off. This could be anything from spending time with extended family or travelling, to studying or Mum returning to work for a period. Although days with a baby can feel long, the time does fly and you’ll be back to work before you know it.
  • Do your homework – depending on the companies you and your partner work for, they will have had varying amounts of experience with SPL so far. It’s still early days for employers and parents alike so be clear on the rules yourself to ensure you’re getting the appropriate support and asking the right questions.
  • Keep an open dialogue with your manager or HR dept – plans can change and it’s much easier to adapt your leave and ensure you are up to date with your entitlements if you keep talking. They should also be keen to learn more about SPL so share your experience and feedback. Together you’re paving the way for future families to benefit.
  • Be an advocate – although this is a fantastic resource for families, uptake is relatively low and we are still building our collective knowledge. If you have taken advantage of SPL then be open about your experiences, and if you are considering sharing your leave and know someone who already has, don’t be afraid to ask. It will take time for momentum to build and attitudes to change, but talking about SPL will help normalise the idea of Dads taking time off. We particularly need senior men to lead the charge and make SPL acceptable in practice, especially in more traditional and corporate environments.
  • Dads (from a Dad) – outright resistance to the idea of taking more time off is unlikely (it is a statutory right) but you might encounter some passive resistance or even quiet ridicule. Be your own man and ignore it. SPL makes sense in so many ways we will soon be wondering why it wasn’t around years ago.
  • Mums – don’t be afraid to let your partner take over for a while. It is hard to give up time with your child but partners can only take time off from the 50 week allocation. So, if you are keen on sharing your leave then this is the main sacrifice. Turn it into a positive and use this time to do something you want. One of the best things about SPL for me has been watching our son enjoy his own time with his Dad, and this meant leaving them to their own devices. I used some SPLIT days when my husband first took over and knowing they were having fun together made the transition back to work much easier.
  • Use your SPLIT days – the keep in touch allocation has been extended to 20 SPLIT days (Shared Parental Leave In Touch). They can be a valuable tool for keeping in touch with your team and industry; whether you use them to catch up with colleagues, complete some work or stay up to date with training, it can help you start thinking about what’s important for you when you go back to work.
  • Enjoy the time! – whatever solution you go for, embrace your time off. Whether you’re motivated by spending more family together or supporting a partner’s career, SPL offers families an important opportunity to design the leave that’s right for them. Ignore the critics and go for it – it’s an experience we will remember forever and would recommend to anyone

For more information on Shared Parental Leave see the following resources;

GOV.UK https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview

ACAS http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4911

Working Families http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/article-categories/shared-parental-leave/

Written by Sarah Rose, a Third Door member.