Introduced in 2014, Shared parental leave was introduced as a way to improve flexibility for new parents. Under the regulations, new parents are allowed to split up to 52 weeks of leave between them in up to three separate blocks. At the time of its introduction, it was praised as a great step towards a more modern set up – acknowledging that the mother can often be the bread winner in modern society, and as such, may wish to return to work earlier, whilst the partner uses the remaining time to bond with their baby.

However, according to the CIPD’s Focus on Working Parents study in December 2016, the uptake has been so small that questions are being asked about whether the process needs to be reformed or completely rethought.

In their survey of 1000 HR professionals, they found that only 5% of eligible new fathers and 8% of new mothers had taken up Shared Parental Leave – far less than was anticipated.

So what are the reasons why? From my personal view, some may find the eligibility criteria and notification requirements quite complex, and due to business continuity, employers cannot always accommodate the wishes of the parents to offer them the complete flexibility they may desire. Secondly, is it promoted enough? Do employers actually make it widely known that this  is an option.

I chatted to local couple Katie & Steve, who took Shared Parental Leave after the birth of their daughter about how it worked for them…

Why did you decide to take Shared Parental Leave?

It was always something we had talked about from when I was pregnant. Steve was very keen to be involved, so it was always on the cards. We have similar paid jobs, so we weren’t going to suffer financially to share our leave.

How did you split the leave between you?

I had the majority of my maternity leave off initially and then Steve had the last 5 weeks, but he also moved down to 4 days per week just prior to this. This wasn’t the split we planned but my work situation affected it.

How straight forward did you find the process?

It was very straight forward for us to arrange. Our employers and managers were very supportive. We just had to fill in a few forms. Our request was for one portion of shared leave and not multiple ones, so this may have helped with the simplicity of our application.

What have been the main benefits of Shared Parental Leave for your family?

Steve definitely has a closer relationship with Chloe as a result and Chloe can be settled equally by either of us. Also, Steve has a better appreciation of the reality of looking after a baby at home on your own all day! 🙂

What would you say is the most challenging part of Shared Parental Leave?

It was hard to negotiate how to split the leave between us, especially when I was pregnant, as I didn’t know how I would feel about being off work. Steve would have had more time, however I didn’t want to miss out on being a Mum. In today’s society we want things to be fair between the parents and sexes but when it’s the Mum’s turn to share, some people just aren’t open to the idea.

How did Shared Parental Leave aid your return to the workplace?

It was MUCH easier returning to work knowing that Chloe was having a nice time with Steve, and I didn’t have to instantly contend with getting Chloe settled into nursery. I could also get a good nights sleep knowing that Steve would do the ‘night shift’ if Chloe woke. Steve did all the settling in days at nursery and was around to do the drop off and pick ups, so it was much  easier for me and a weight off my mind.

Going back to work and getting back up to speed can feel daunting at the best of times, but Shared Parental Leave made it so much easier.

What were your partner’s thoughts on Shared Parental Leave?

Steve was very keen to do Shared Parental Leave and felt like he was missing out when I was on maternity leave. The first two weeks don’t really give the partner the opportunity to get to know their baby, you’re just surviving the sleepless nights and getting to grips with it all, especially with your first.

What more do you think could be done to improve leave for new  parents?

It would be nice for the dad to have the option of more time off whilst the Mum is off too if it could be financially feasible. Realistically I think the Shared Parental Leave offers more options and is a good step forward.

Do you have any tips for anyone else considering taking Shared Parental Leave?

Be open to having a discussion with your partner and take their views into account. The maternal instinct can be so strong that you may not want to share but consider a compromise. Shared Parental Leave may be a great option depending on different work situations.

Would you take Shared Parental Leave again?

Definitely yes. I think it’s fair to give Steve the quality time with his child too. That said, I wouldn’t personally chose to hand over my leave too soon, as the older they get, the more fun they become! It is such a precious time, appreciate it however long you have off! 🙂

After chatting with Katie, she asked me why I didn’t decide to take Shared Parental Leave myself. I work in HR, so I know how it works, I am the higher earner, and I therefore in theory would have benefited from sharing my leave. My answer, if I am honest, was totally selfish – I didn’t want to share!! I know that Neve is my last child, and therefore I want to enjoy every second that I can have with her. I am also breastfeeding, so if we did share it would need to be much later in my maternity journey. I think however for me, Katie hit the nail on the head – whilst sharing might sound like a wonderful idea in theory, maternal instinct can sometimes struggle to let go!!

Did you take Shared Parental Leave? Why do you think  it is not being taken up my more families?

*Big Thankyou to Katie & Steve for sharing their experience with us. What a beautiful little family you are!!! :)*