Shared Parental leave (SPL) is a subject very close to my heart. I have written about it many a time and being a dad blogger, I have generally focused on the benefits to fathers of taking an extended period of leave from the workplace when a newborn child arrives on the scene. This only tells part of the story. I was curious to find out what benefits a mum might experience when dad takes several months SPL.
I am, therefore, delighted to present a first person account from mum of two Nicola Gilroy. Nicola’s husband Ben took a total of eight months SPL after the arrival of their second child, Jasmin. This allowed Nicola to return to work after a month and while she admits it ‘wasn’t a breeze’, working as a team had all sorts of unforeseen benefits. I think it makes for a very uplifting story and shows SPL, a policy that often comes in for criticism, can work well (and if you like this article, please have a read of this one where dad Hamish Read talks about his experiences of taking SPL)
Half way through carrying our second baby, Jasmin, it suddenly dawned on me that I would have to work as well as look after a newborn, a 3 year old and cook, clean etc! I honestly thought, as much as Frankie (my first) was starting school nursery pretty much as soon as Jasmin was born, even if I opted to use the private wraparound facility so that he was there 9am-315pm each day, I would still massively struggle to continue to run my PR and communications business. My husband also works shifts so for 2 weeks of the month he’s simply not there or sleeping after night shift.
Of course, I am very fortunate to have a very hands on husband and natural dad – he cooks, he cleans, he plays with the kids so the house husband role wasn’t such a great leap of faith for us. It was a life changing experience for as without it, I don’t think we would have became a family of four as seamlessly as we did. Of course nothing is seamless but having him there 24/7 was amazing and I don’t see how I could have done it any other way.
So, we worked out that we could afford for Ben to take three months of shared leave and during this time he would get up with Frankie, play with him, take him to nursery each afternoon and pick him up, make all the family meals, do all washing and cleaning, do the food shop etc. Pretty much everything other than work and breastfeed baby number two.
For shared parental leave to start, I had to take an initial period of time so I took 4 weeks. This allowed me some breathing space when Jasmin arrived to adjust to our new addition and the family mechanics of being a family of four and parents of two tiny humans! During the four weeks, I definitely felt Ben being around helped us adapt so much more easily and happily than we otherwise would have. I could nap with Jasmin whenever she slept as I know Ben was there to be with Frankie or do the housework. We timed it so his shared leave ran automatically from the end of his statutory leave so at the end of my 4 weeks, I started working pretty much full on again. I usually work 9-3 four days a week and I was able to do this while at home with a small baby. The business never felt the impact of any maternity leave, that’s for sure! I did miss out on a lot of day time napping with Jasmin after 4 weeks but it was worth it for the long term gains.
The whole approach worked so well that we extended Ben’s leave for another 5 months so he took 8 months in total. Of course, financially we had to be careful but it was definitely worth it for the amount of time we all spent together. The bond between Frankie and Ben got stronger as Frankie was quite used to Ben being on night shift every other week by 3 years old. However, having him around 24/7 was great for Frankie generally but also it meant he really adjusted well to Jasmin arriving. Although she took so much attention physically and emotionally from me, Ben was on hand to attend to him physically and emotionally too and of course he got to see from the very beginning how Jasmin became a part of our family and how the dynamic worked.
Being at home, I think Ben appreciated even more than he already did what it was like to work from home, then picking up Frankie and jumping straight into parent mode until he was asleep and the housework / more work began. On the other side of the coin, I watched him (as cheesy as it sounds) grow as a father. I thought I may have to still direct us all in terms of the day to day operation of a house and general life but he really did adapt so well. When Frankie was at nursery if he didn’t spend those 3 hours running errands, he would take Jasmin from me so I could have a cuppa in peace or, in most cases, mean I was able to continue my face to face meetings as normal!
I know that without shared parental leave being a ‘thing’ my business would have suffered as I couldn’t have handled the house, the kids and the work all myself. It needed us both – as a team – to cement our life as a family of four.I am not saying by any means only 4 weeks maternity leave was a breeze. It certainly wasn’t and there were many a time I was doing a 3am feed while writing an article on the post Brexit farming landscape in the UK or a piece about why refurbished computer systems are a great investment for schools and colleges. There were many days where I felt pretty overwhelmed but that’s the life of a working parent to be honest. The best invention ever are baby slings – it meant I could work and type and take and make calls while Jasmin was all happy and sleepy on my chest. The other is, if you can afford it or at least afford to live with less money than you’d normally have for a few months; shared parental leave.
For me, teamwork is the best recipe in growing tiny humans so that they become healthy and happy adults. Shared parental leave embodies that. If you’re able to do it, I’d grab the opportunity with both hands!