Paul Holland tells us about his time taking Shared Parental leave, and his reasons for choosing to take it.
I took 26 weeks of Parental Leave with my wonderful daughter (our first child). I wrote a not-very-regular diary at the time. I think my first entry lays out well why I wanted to do it:
“As of today I am on parental leave and responsible for the mental and physical well-being of a creature which is entirely beautiful and 50 per cent mine (I’ll take the head and both legs). I am determined to make this a success. There’s just me, the baby and 26 weeks standing in the way.
Many people have asked me – what’s the plan? Well – there isn’t one really. I’ve been working full time since Annabel was born and, apart from paternity leave of two weeks and a fortnight’s holiday when Annabel was two months old, I’ve only seen her in the mornings and, on the rare occasion I’m back before her bedtime, in the early evenings.
Weekends, of course, have been glorious, but they are all too brief and the heavy work of bringing up a daughter has fallen squarely on my partner’s shoulders. Of course, Sarah has been fantastic and so far we have a calm, inquisitive soul in the house who seems to drool a lot, but who has a quiet dignity it is hard to believe. My fear, of course, (and Sarah’s I’m sure, though she keeps it hidden) is that I will royally mess it up, ruin all that hard work and convert our pool of serenity into a toxic dump of chaos.
So – there is no plan. I also have no idea what to expect – no concept of how people will react and no image of how I will get along in the predominantly female world of daytime parenting. That is perhaps the biggest unknown. The law that allows me to share parental leave with my wife is so new that very few men have taken advantage of it.
For us it was simple: I wanted to spend time with my child. Also – the financial argument was a strong one. My partner and I earn enough for a comfortable life, but Sarah’s salary is the largest and sharing leave makes a great deal of financial sense. Several thousands of pounds worth in fact. There was also, for me, an urge to do the right thing. To share a duty that is all-to-often seen as a default feminine duty.
The “chore” (let’s not over romanticise the hard work of parenting) of bringing up a baby is seen as a female one and working women are too often seen as the ones who must sacrifice their careers for a family. Well – I want my daughter to grow up in a world where her sex has no impact on her aspirations, her career or on how others view her. One important way men can help shape such a world is to take up their right to look after their child in its early years.
It hit home for me how important this was when I was considering applying for parental leave some months ago. My employer is very progressive and supportive. But at the time I was considering taking up parental leave I was on a short-term contract. I thought a permanent position would be advertised soon and I was very keen to secure it. So – having found out Sarah was pregnant I was suddenly faced with a dilemma – do I tell them Sarah is expecting and that I want to apply for parental leave? If they found that out would they look favourably on my application if and when a permanent position was advertised?
Of course, there are laws against such discrimination and I knew my bosses were awesome and my employer was cool for cats, but I, like most people, had heard enough poorly thought out comments on the “negative impact” of maternity leave during my life to feel some trepidation. Given that they certainly did not have to hire me I thought seriously about keeping my mouth shut. This anxiety, I thought, was exactly what many women must feel at some point in their career, be it when they actually are pregnant or when they are just considering the idea of becoming pregnant. Whereas with many men I assume that the issue of how their employer will take them becoming a dad is pretty low on their radar – two weeks of paternity leave will not break their career or make their boss question their commitment.
When I did discuss it with my bosses they were great and I got the permanent position. I got to have the baby (care of Sarah’s hard work on the day) and I’ve got… to make sure I don’t mess this up.”
Well – I didn’t mess it up. Annabel is amazing. And I loved parental leave. Really loved it. I could write another thousand words on how great it was. To any man out there wondering what they should do – dive in and enjoy it. You become a baby expert and you bond more with our child and your partner. It is incredible.