Shared parental leave; a change of mentality is required

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shared parental leave, maternity leave, paternity leave

Blink and you may have missed the news, but during the Easter break shared parental leave, something I’ve written about many a time, officially came into force. In other words, the old, inflexible paternity and maternity leave systems have been consigned to history. Under the new rules, mums and dads (or dads and dads and mums and mums) can share a year’s worth of parental leave following the arrival of a new child.

At risk of repeating myself, this is not a revolutionary step, it’s evolutionary. It acknowledges that fathers often wish to be actively involved in the earliest stages of a child’s life. Just as importantly, it provides much more flexibility should there be health problems with mother or baby or issues settling in an adopted child.

I am, however, feeling very dismayed following a couple of conversations I’ve recently had. Twice I have found myself in conversation with mums who have said they would steadfastly refuse to share any parental leave if they had further children. In neither case, no particular reason was given; they just didn’t want to share it.

To further illustrate the point, a fascinating comment was left on my blog the other day. Refering to shared parental leave, the author said; “If the other half thinks I’ll be giving up any of my maternity leave if we have another baby, he’s got another thing coming, ha ha!!”

I wouldn’t want to make too much of that statement. It was one small part of a larger comment and was clearly meant in jest. Even so, I spent ages pondering over the language used. To me, those few words demonstrated just how much of cultural change is required for shared parental leave to become the accepted way of doing things.

Under the new system, the mum receives two weeks mandatory maternity leave immediately following the birth. Dad gets two weeks paternity leave to be taken within a set time frame. The remainder of the leave is shared parental leave.

It is for both parties to decide how it is divided. It is not maternity leave that the mother has the power to ‘give’ her partner.

Even when shared parental leave was in the planning stages, it was obvious that some cultural change would be necessary. Employers would need to ready themselves for the fact men may exercise their right to take an extended break from the workforce so they could be at home with their family. Conversely, women may return to the workforce much more quickly if dad was happy to stay at home to look after the child.

I had assumed any major change in attitude would have to come from employers and men. Even with these new rights enshrined in law, I imagined many men would feel awkward about telling an employer they intend to take a month / three months / six months parental leave. It will take time for this to become the norm. We are, after all, so used to women taking a long stretch of maternity leave.

Okay, so I’m only basing this on two conversations and one comment on a blog post, but had I got it all wrong? Is shared parental leave an equally big issue for women to adjust to? Was I basing my opinions on my family’s experiences where neither birth was straightforward, and I was needed at home afterwards? I had assumed women would love the idea that dad could be aorund to help and support the family in the earliest days.

Of course all these remarks came from individuals that already had children. For anyone that has experience of the old maternity / paternity leave systems, shared parental leave would be seen as a whole new way of doing things. For new parents shared parental leave will hopefully be accepted as, well, normal.

What’s your opinion? If you’re a dad, would you feel comfortable exercising your legal right to shared parental leave? If you’re female, would you willingly share parental leave with your partner? Please leave a comment below.

Pic credit: B Thauronite. Reproduced under Creative Commons 3.0 agreement.

17 thoughts on “Shared parental leave; a change of mentality is required”

    1. Hi Tammy – Unless your youngest child had a due date of 5 April 2015, it won’t affect your present situation. If you have further children, you will receive mandatory maternity leave of two weeks following the birth. After this, you and your husband can share 50 weeks of parental leave. Essentially you could take 6 months each, you take nine months, he could take three months etc. This blog post explains more: https://dadbloguk.com/shared-parental-leave-eligible/

  1. I see this as a fab way for dads to a) bond with their babies and b) help and support their partner through the difficult first few months,
    How nice to have the support there when baby is not sleeping at night and one or the other of you can rest while the other does the baby care. My husband had to pack in a driving job where he started at 4am when our second child was born as she did not sleep ( medical reasons) and he felt it was too dangerous to be driving a truck with no sleep, had he been able to take a few months off this would have helped.
    But I can see the mothers reluctance, they have given birth to this gorgeous bundle and know they have a years leave to spend with baby before going back to work, and want to make that last as long as possible.
    The people who will benefit are the families where only one parent works and you already have a SAHM or SAHD then the other can support them.
    It will probably take to the next generation to kick in when it has become an acceptable policy for parents to see as normal.

    1. Wow, your husband did ahve to take extreme measures didn’t he?

      Anyway, roll on the next generation who see parenting as a shared responsibility!

  2. John, I think there are a number of things to consider here. Many women, including several of my friends, are not the main breadwinner, have jobs they don’t particularly enjoy & genuinely see children & mat leave as a break. Again I only have anecdotal evidence not data but this is a factor. My mat leave came at a time when I was v unhappy at work & I do believe the year off saved my sanity, my disciplinary record & my career. For others in crappy mud-jobs & working husbands, they do see it as “their” leave to share. I’m not condoning this but it will take time while people adjust. Also, & v much a secondary concern is that the pressure on women to breastfeed is high & can only be done for a long period of time. I do worry that to focus on women’s reactions may detract from the bigger problems in attitudes that men will face at work. I think it would’ve been really beneficial to have a proper debate in the press about this so people were more aware of the options.

      1. If women were working in mud, I would undersatnd entirely why they were so desperate to take maternity leave and considered it their own. . .

    1. Thanks for commenting Sue. I totally get the breastfeeding argument. It’s rare for me to have much sympathy with the pro breastfeeding lobby, but when it comes to shared parental leave I can appreciate that it may have an impact on breastfeeding rates (I say “may”, there is always the option to express etc). Also, in reality, I think what we’re more likely to see is men exercising the right to take a month or two off, probably at the same time as mum. Except in a few circumsatnces, I don’t think many guys will end up doing what I do (IE becoming a SAHD).

      As for being in rubbish jobs or mid-level jobs, this can apply equally to men. Sure, men are usually the main breadwinner but not always in jobs they enjoy! As you say though, it will take time for share parental leave to be accepted and for both gendrs to get used to it. I’m merely surprised at the strength of feeling I’ve come across so far from women who regard it as “their” leave.

  3. A perspective from Canada:

    We have had shared leave for a number of years now and there has been a gradual shift with more men gradually taking parental leave time. When my first was born I was one of three men who became new dads within three months. We all took two months leave as soon as our kids were born. This gave us all time to figure out our new realities as parents. It gave us time to learn how to be parents together. It gave us an opportunity to live by the babies’ schedules instead of coming in to work totally wiped out and sleep-deprived. We still came in sleep deprived after the two months, but at least we had some time during the most challenging period. It made us all better fathers because we had that time to bond with our kids and learn how to be dads. My wife opted to stay home with our first and so when our second was born, she didn’t have a paid job to take leave from. I was able to take 7 months of time which was awesome. We used that time to move and I found a new job. With my third, my employer does not top up the parental leave pay and so I could not afford to take parental leave time. Instead I saved up a month of vacation time and took some of that time off as full-time off and then spread out the rest by working part-time for a month. It wasn’t ideal, but it did give me some time with my family and time to get to know my newest daughter.

    Culture change takes time. I think you will see resistance from employers, men and yes women not wanting to give up leave that they feel belongs to them. My hope is to see each parent being provided with up to a year of parental leave.

    Good luck Britain with your parental evolution!

    1. Thanks for commenting Chris. Great to hear of Canada’s expereinces. I’m also glad it worked out okay for you, even if it was a bit tricky at times.

      The message I’m receiving loud and clear is; give it time, attitudes will eventually change.

  4. It amazes me almost all negative comments I have read across the net about shared parental leave have come from women/mothers. I thought there would be much more backlash from the chauvinistic males out there, or employers (large and small), but I was not expecting it to be the mums.

    I’m in agreement with you John, I do still think that there needs to be a major cultural change in the workplace for this to succeed but I hope it will.

    I also hope future fathers of newborns (I’m done there now) take the opportunity to have the time with there recent offspring to bond, it is something I am jealous of believe me I would have loved being able to share so much time with my first son when he was born 15 years ago.

    1. I think there is another element at play here Ahsley. It was befor emy time, but I’m led to beleive that women had to fight quite hard to get maternity rights in the first place. A couple of decades later, soceity has changed but women have had years of receving maternity leave and legislation has been introduced stating the leave can be shared with the man. What was an exclusively female right is now being made available to men and that has implications for the feminist movement and also requires a major shift in mentality. For that reason, I’m not surprised you’ve seen a few negative comments!

  5. My wife is expecting our first child at the beginning of June. Our 12 week-scan was the same week the SPL regulations came out, so when I went back to the office I announced I would be taking four or five months off in addition to the usual two at birth. (My wife will be taking months 1 to 5 and 10 to 12, while I stay with baby for the four in the middle).

    Reactions so far have been slightly perplexed but mainly supportive, with 1 or 2 dads in the office saying they wish they’d been able to take the option. But as far as I know no one in my workplace has taken any Additional Paternity Leave under the now-defunct APL rules.

    I only know one dad who took Additional leave a couple of years ago, so I think part of the problem is lack of awareness generally. I’ve yet to meet anyone else exercising their rights to Shared Parental Leave, but I live in hope and I figure that the more I tell people my plans/experiences, the more likely they are to follow suit….

    1. Thank you ever so much for commenting Greg. I am over the moon to hear that you are exercising your right ot shared parental leave.

      More importantly, however, I wish you and your wife all the best with your new family. I hope pregnancy and delivery go smoothly and you all adjust to your new lives with ease.

      I’m fascinated by the response of the other men, although not entirely surprised. When I became a stay at home dad I was amazed at the positive response from mother men, in particular older men. It was entirely unexpected but a pleasure to hear them supporting what I had done.

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