22 Jul 2016
Coming from Sweden, it’s not unusual for parents to share parental leave but here in the UK I hardly know anyone who has done it. So, I was really pleased when my partner Matt, who works at British Land, wanted to share leave with me and take care of our boys full-time.
For us, this meant that I went back to work a bit earlier with Nils than I had with our firstborn Noah. Having Matt taking care of the boys made this a lot easier. I could leave home and feel perfectly fine as I knew the boys would be completely okay with their dad. I could focus on work.
In looking at why more men aren’t taking parental leave, the attention often focuses on the man. But it’s everyone really. I think women are anxious about it too. Often we think we know the child best. We’ve been at home with them for several months and might be worried about leaving them.
But if I had anything to say to another couple thinking of sharing parental leave it would be ‘go for it’. It’s okay for the mum to go back to work early, so the dad can have that time. It’s more than okay; it’s a positive thing. If you’re with a good partner and have a decent job that you’re excited about, it’s fine for you to let go of that control. Your child will be absolutely fine and your relationship will be stronger.
The dad will get a better understanding of what it is to be home with children. Matt has always been very involved with the boys, so he had a good idea. But, he didn’t know just how organised you have to be, how you always need to be a step ahead. When we were shopping, suddenly it was Matt saying ‘Okay, what are we going to do for lunch?’. And this was great for me. Planning daily family life was no longer mainly my responsibility – we shared it completely. I felt supported, Matt gained insights and we became a stronger team.
Our children also have a closer relationship and bond with both of us. They don’t choose one parent over the other, and I think Matt’s extra time with them played a part in this. He’s always been very engaged and emotionally involved but looking after the boys full-time was good for them and for him.
In addition, by both of us being at home, our boys don’t associate particular roles with being for men or women. We’ve challenged gender stereotypes for them early on. What they see in their lives is an equal relationship between mum and dad.
I hope that by the time our boys are grown-ups or parents themselves, it’s a much more normal thing for men and women to share childcare. The law changed to make this possible just over a year ago but it will take longer for it to be the norm in society. For it simply to be parental leave, where there’s an amount of time where parents can have financial support and split it however they want. If anyone can stay at home with children, then it will have a massive effect on equality on the workplace, at home and in society more widely.
For this to happen, there also need to be more employers who are fully supportive of shared parental leave. British Land, Matt’s employer, definitely helped make it happen for us. I believe employers get something out of the experience too – motivated employees who feel supported for a start. But also, being a parent challenges you in different ways and there are skills you learn that are transferable to the workplace, like being super organised and making the most of time!
More importantly for parents, the time when our children are young won’t come again. It’s something to treasure now. It might be a bit scary but it’s good to challenge ourselves. And it was a lot easier than I thought. So, if you’re considering sharing parental leave – go for it! It might be easier than you think too and you’ll get a lot out of it.
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