Shared Parental Leave – Adjusting To Fatherhood Takes Time
It was a relief to see the UK government acknowledging the importance of fathers in a new-born’s life by introducing Shared Parental Leave in 2015
Two Weeks Is Not Enough
Two weeks. That was all I had with my first born. Two weeks. Then back to work I went, as if nothing had ever happened.
But things did happen. I was a father for the first time. Like my wife, I had to adjust to becoming a parent. The abrupt change to sleep patterns; the intense focus on the baby; feeding; changing; cradling; comforting and everything in-between – including a merry-go-round of emotions. And yet at the time I was only entitled to two weeks paternity leave. No time at all, considering half of this time was spent at the hospital.
My wife was recovering from a caesarean section and I was faced with leaving our house for work. How could I? We as a family were not ready for one of us to head back to work.
For me there was no extra entitled paid leave on offer, nor was the recently introduced Shared Parental Leave scheme; so off I trudged. Parent guilt begun.
Six Months Off For Shared Parent Leave – Really?
For our second, I wanted longer with my baby, so I decided to use an extra two weeks of my annual holiday entitlement – a holiday it most surely wasn’t. But it was two weeks which was required in order to bond with my baby and support my wife in her second c-section recovery.
I had one month off. Which helped us as a family unit tremendously. But what about having up to six months off? Shared Parental Leave was introduced in April 2015 by the UK government to encourage a more gender equal view on parenting in the workplace. Too often new mums have been forced to choose between baby or career and fathers expected to return to work as soon as possible. It can only be a positive thing by creating a society where mothers and fathers are viewed as equal in the upbringing of their children and in the workplace arena.
Every family has a unique set of circumstances, so this idea would’ve provided my family with an option to support one another more effectively during those early months. Unfortunately, I missed out on this initiative by a few years.
Sad To See A Low % Of New Fathers Taking It Up
Sadly only 2% of fathers are taking up this relatively new Shared Parental Leave scheme. But why? Reports suggest it is simply un-affordable. Both parents are eligible to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave – 37 weeks are paid at £139.58 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Is it any wonder such a low % is taking this up?
Another reason is the simple fact that employers are not promoting the scheme to new fathers as well as they should. And instead fathers are just assuming that the traditional two weeks is all they are entitled to. And baby’s and families are missing out on priceless time together. There is clearly room for improvement for the scheme to evolve further; only time will tell whether more fathers will take this up.
Every father has a different outlook on fatherhood, but for me personally it was vital to be physically and emotionally present during those first few weeks and months. I wanted to bond, help my wife in her recovery,change those nappy’s and see her first smile.
My employers at the time respected this and accepted a flexible working request from myself. This meant my hours were altered to allow me to be at home with my family more.
My advice to new fathers is to speak with your HR department well in advance of the due-date to discuss your options as a father. You may be surprised at what is on offer, particularly in light of this new Shared Parental scheme being introduced by the government.