Steve Myall is literally leading the conversation around fatherhood and the benefits of Shared Parental Leave
Steve Myall certainly talks the talk on life as a working dad – he co-hosts the Daily Mirror’s First Time Dads podcast.
But he also walks the walk. He’s just back from his second stint of Shared Parental Leave (SPL).
“Am I a hero? I hope so.” he jokes. “But seriously, we have to get a conversation started about dads. People who do Shared Parental Leave have got to advocate for it, we have to be evangelical.”
It’s not hard for Steve to make the case for SPL, he’s a huge fan of the policy. “The early years are gone so quickly,” he says. “With SPL you can be there, you can have a strong part in your child’s development.”
His message to anyone considering SPL is simple. “You won’t regret having time with your kids.”
Steve’s deputy features editor at The Daily Mirror. Tabloid journalism’s not known for its enlightened attitude to gender roles. Steve’s challenging that. He was keen on SPL from an early stage.
“I have a friend that worked for the business department in government,” he explains. “We went to visit after he became a dad and he said he’d be doing Shared Parental Leave. I didn’t know what it was, but I got interested when he said you get to stay at home! And when I saw him on SPL – relaxed, loving every minute of being a dad – I decided to look into it.”
Just as Steve’s story of the influence of a role model is textbook, so the initial reaction of his employers is familiar. His line manager wasn’t really sure what SPL really was. But to their credit Reach – the publishers behind the Mirror titles and lots of other media besides – recognised he was entitled and made it work.
He was only the second person in the company to use the policy. “I exchanged emails with the other guy – he just said ‘it’s great, do it’.”
After that initial stint of SPL with son Jackson Steve returned to work four days a week – technically part time. And when his wife got pregnant again he knew he’d be taking SPL again. But it was different second time round. Inevitably he had to keep Jackson entertained while baby Iris was cared for by her mum and that had an impact. “I struggled with the bonding with Iris,” he explains. “It was only when I took SPL and was on my own with her that that bond came.”
The twin barriers to more men using Shared Parental Leave are finance and culture.
Steve’s little truck with the first of those. While appreciating it must be tricky for those in the gig economy for example, for anyone with a full time job he reckons they can certainly at least consider SPL.
“From the moment we knew my wife was pregnant we knew we had nearly nine months till the baby arrived then she’d be doing nine months of maternity leave. That’s 18 months to squirrel cash away. I stopped buying so many coffees in that time, trimmed the household bills.
“My wife wasn’t going to be getting paid for that final three months of leave and neither would I, so why should she take the hit and not me?
“You can spend as much on a baby as you want – you can buy all new clothes from Jojo Maman Bebe or you can take second hand clothes from friends and family.
“For some men the financial thing is just a cover because they don’t fancy it.”
But he doesn’t necessarily blame men for feeling like that. Steve recognises that some men feel they lack the skills to parent solo. But he has a solution: get stuck in and do it. “First time round my wife had nine months of maternity leave before I took over. She could recognise which cry meant what by the end of that time and I felt somewhat underskilled. But after I’d done three months of Shared Parental Leave that gave me the confidence to parent.”
And he recognises that dads come up against some old fashioned attitudes. “When I explained what I was doing some dads would get defensive and ask ‘why are you doing that?’ My answer was simple: because I want a good relationship with my son.”
Facing down those sorts of responses isn’t easy so it turns out Steve kind of is a hero after all.