There’s no doubt in my mind the UK’s Shared Parental Leave (SPL) system could be improved. Nonetheless, for some couples it works very well.
Earlier this summer I published this article, written by dad Hamish Reid. He had taken SPL previously and with his wife expecting another child, was gearing up to go on leave again. It was enlightening hearing about Hamish’s positive experiences, but what of his wife Vanessa? I asked if she would be kind enough to write something explaining what she thought of having Hamish around in the early months following the birth of their latest addition. Here’s what Vanessa had to say (and please do also read this article from Nicola Gilroy who explains how SPL benefited her family).
As my husband Hamish and I await the birth of our third child, I’m experiencing the familiar mix of emotions. Excitement of course, tinged with some nervousness about how our lives are about to change with the arrival of a newborn.
However I’m lucky that Hamish will be there every step of the way during that crucial time. He’s taking advantage of his company Accenture’s Shared Parental Leave policy so that together we can look after our new baby and help our other two children to adjust to the new family dynamic.
This will actually be Hamish’s second experience of taking Shared Parental Leave, which means he’s well prepared for what lies ahead. He always wanted to be more hands-on with our children, so when the policy was first introduced a few years back it seemed like the perfect opportunity for our family. That’s not to say it was an easy decision the first time around. We didn’t know any other fathers who had taken the leave at that point, and we were both worried about the impact it would have on Hamish’s career.
However, colleagues reassured him and it turned out to be the best decision we could have made. It was great to spend so much time together as a family, and we managed to pack in a trip to Brazil to see family as well as visits to Australia and Sri Lanka. Our fears were completely unfounded as Hamish ended up getting promoted on his return to Accenture!
But most importantly he got to understand the day-to-day reality of taking care of children once I returned to work. You can’t fully appreciate how intense, demanding, at times lonely yet ultimately rewarding it is until you’ve experienced it for yourself. At first it was strange for me to watch him taking on all these childcare responsibilities alone, and the experience opened both our eyes to the way society is geared so much towards women being the primary carers.
For example, Hamish would often find he was the only dad in the playgroups. The mums were welcoming but over time he was more comfortable carving out his own routines, swapping coffee mornings and soft play for trips to Homebase and the allotment with a toddler and baby in tow. I must admit I was impressed with how hands-on yet productive he managed to be during his leave!
He thoroughly enjoyed it and I have no doubt that it strengthened his bond with our girls during that time. Meanwhile I was able to go back to my work feeling confident and relaxed in the knowledge that the girls were being looked after by their dad. As a Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, I have a loyal client base which I’ve built up over several years, so it made sense to get back to work to retain those relationships.
This time our plan is that I will return to work part-time around four months in, while Hamish will continue looking after the children for a further few months. I’m looking forward to our time together sharing the most important moments and milestones. Our eldest is also recently started primary school so we’ve been adjusting to new experiences and routines.
I have no doubt that Hamish will take it all in his stride. Thinking about our first stint of Shared Parental Leave, one of the positive legacies is that equal parenting roles come naturally to us. Friends used to joke that we looked like synchronized swimmers when we were with the girls, as they watched bottles, nappies and changing bags being passed between us! To us it’s just the normal routine, but I can also see that a period of being the primary carer can give fathers a confidence and hands-on attitude that they carry with them beyond that time.
Hamish and I are often asked about our experience of taking Shared Parental Leave and I’m happy that we’ve inspired others to take the leap. I would say to anyone considering it hat it’s an experience you’ll never regret. Yes, it will be intense and sometimes exhausting, but it’s also an exhilarating and magical time, and the memories made will last a lifetime.