Why Shared Parental Leave Makes Me Want To Jump For JOY!

If you’re a parent, or you’re thinking about becoming a parent any time soon, you’ve probably heard the talk of Shared Parental Leave recently. The concept makes me want to jump for joy. As both a feminist, and as someone who coped miserably during my first year as a mum, I’m giddy at the thought of this change in law.

In case you’ve missed it, Shared Parental Leave kicks in for anyone with a baby due on or after 5th April 2015. It will allow the mum and dad to share up to 50 weeks leave to look after the baby between its birth and first birthday. You can take it separately (mum takes first six months, dad takes second six months) or you can take it together and overlap leave. Unlike maternity leave, you don’t have to take it in one block – you can take up to three blocks of leave and return to work in between, as long as your employer agrees. You have to be eligible (and as Rachel from The Little Pip explains over on her blog, it’s tricky to work through all of this) and you have to apply in the right way but an employer can’t refuse your application – it’s your right.

The new legislation has its critics – in this thought-provoking post by Sarah Ockwell-Smith,  the parenting expert says she thinks it devalues mothers if they sacrifice any of their time with their new baby, in order for the dad to spend time with the baby. She says she would like to see new fathers receive at least six weeks paid paternity leave and the option to take up to a whole year at reduced pay after this. “In addition to this they should be able to attend antenatal appointments and classes whilst still in receipt of full pay, as mothers currently do,” she says. “This leave should be completely independent of anything the mother receives.”

She has a point, of course, but any step towards equality is a step in the right direction.

As a new mum, I would have wept with joy at the thought of being able to share parental leave with my husband. On my last day of work before maternity leave, I cried in the office loos. I didn’t want to leave. Obviously I was excited about having my baby and meeting this new member of our family, but I didn’t want to leave work. I worked for a women’s magazine and I loved my job – properly loved it, skipping to work every morning and being a massive geek, working late and everything. I couldn’t imagine not doing that job for the next year. I realised that my job was a huge part of my identity. It was who I was. It was incredibly hard to step away from that for a year, and not really be able to admit this to the world, because as a woman who’s about to give birth, it would be wrong to be anything but filled with joy, right?

But more than that, I felt a bit pissed off, if I’m honest. Pissed off that society dictated that I should take a big chunk of time out of my career to look after our baby, while my husband would take two weeks of paternity leave and then head on back to work. It’s probably worth me noting here that I think it’s pretty tough on the dad too. To have to wrench yourself away from your partner and new baby after two weeks, and head back to work, leaving this fragile pair at home to cope alone, all whilst fighting sleep deprivation, must be seriously tough.

I know, right now, you’re probably shaking your head and thinking I’m a terrible mum for even thinking these things. Why become a mum if you’re not prepared to sacrifice things – things like your career, even for a year?

But my point is that as a couple, we both decided to bring a child into the world, so we should share the sacrifice. Unlike in the 50s when it was assumed that the dad would go out to work and provide for his family, while the mum stayed at home to cook, clean and look after the kids (ooh apart from my gran, who was a working mum in the 50s!). There are obvious reasons for a mum to be at home with her baby to start with – her recovery for example, after having just given birth to an actual human person, or if she’s breastfeeding her baby, something which sadly men can’t do (when will they invent that?). But after that – bring on the Shared Parental Leave, I say.

My feelings about parental leave don’t just stem from being a massive annoying feminist though. They also stem from the fact that if this legislation had been around five years ago, I probably would have stayed sane during the first year of my daughter’s life. Instead of sobbing quietly as my husband left for work every morning, staring ahead into the empty day before me, unsure how I was going to make it to 5pm when the Alan Titchmarsh Show would come on TV and signal that the day was nearly over (I will always have a special place in my heart for you, Alan), I might have enjoyed that year. If we’d had the option of sharing this time at home, navigating our way through early parenthood, things could have been so different.

So I’m THRILLED that this is happening (can you tell?) and if you want to find out more about it, head over to the Gov.uk website and also check out this video that my lovely friend Katie made with her husband for Tots100 where they discuss it. And if you do nothing else, read this Buzzfeed article and look at the amazing photographs of Swedish dads with their kids – part of a photo series by photographer Johan Bävman, which shows what the relationship between father and child can be like when they’re allowed to spend more time together.

What’s your view on Shared Parental Leave? Do you welcome the change, think it’s just a gesture or think it’s a mum’s natural place to be at home looking after her baby?

Swedish Dads, Johan Bävman

Image: Swedish Dads, Johan Bävman


  1. March 29, 2015 / 8:09 pm

    I think it’s great I really do. I’ve seen maternity rights change so much since I had my first baby seventeen years ago and all for the better. Back then I got a measly 18 weeks leave on next to no money and paternity leave wasn’t even a thing! A step to make things more equal for both mothers and fathers can only be a good thing. Although I can’t help but think that not many men will make this sacrifice to their careers, I think it’s fantastic that those that want to can actively share that first year with their baby.

  2. March 29, 2015 / 8:13 pm

    I think this is a truly amazing step forward. I struggle to understand why it’s taken so long for us to get here. It’s crazy that it’s dictated which parent should stay at home with a child. Families should be able to choose what works best for them. We’re all different. As it happens, my husband would have run a mile if I’d suggested that he take paternity leave but luckily, I was quite happy to. If it’s the opposite way round in other families, that I don’t see why the father shouldn’t be able to take paternity leave, or both parents share the responsibility.

  3. March 29, 2015 / 8:18 pm

    With our second child due in June, I’m seriously looking in to this & think it’s definitely a positive change. My husband is incredibly supportive & patient & I think children get different things from each parent. I don’t believe that this devalues mothers, but I do think it ‘up-values’ fathers; something that’s been needed for a long time, in my opinion.
    I also felt similarly to you when I was a new mum & feel this would have been incredibly useful for maintaining my identity as a person, rather than ‘just a mum’ (& while we’re on the subject, I take my hat off to you for saying how you felt before Mat leave – I fekt the same, but everyone expected me to be jumping for joy (which 75% of me was) so I kept those other feelings buried deep (which, ultimately did more harm than good, I reckon…..).

  4. March 29, 2015 / 8:41 pm

    I totally agree that this is an amazing (and bloody long overdue) thing to happen. Anything that puts women on a more equal footing to men when it comes to career/family life is huge, and will help women like yourself who don’t necessarily want to be the sole career for a long stretch of maternity leave. If I had another child, I would certainly be back working quicker, and the fact that Adam would be able to take some paid leave would really help with childcare costs. Bring it on! x

  5. March 29, 2015 / 10:41 pm

    I think that the change is amazing as it gives us women more choice about work. And will make things much easier for some couples. My brother and his partner are due a baby in May and are thinking of sharing the leave x

  6. March 30, 2015 / 7:15 pm

    Yep I definitely think it’s a good thing. I would have loved for Matt to have been off longer when the kids were babies although I wasn’t in a proper job so don’t think it would have counted but for a lot of families this will be amazing! X

  7. March 30, 2015 / 8:47 pm

    I’m so happy to see these changes and i really hope they’ll change the way that not only women feel after giving birth but also the world at large’s views on maternity/paternity leave. it’s most definitely a push in the right direction.

  8. March 30, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    I love those photos, so gorgeous. I think shared parental leave is a great thing, and I hope it allows more family the freedom to make parenthood work for them. I also wish dads here got a whole month off the start, because I think that is such an important time. I can’t imagine having to return to work with a two week old at home, I was SO tired then, there’s no way I could have functioned. x

  9. March 30, 2015 / 10:53 pm

    I loved that article about the Swedish dads. Sent it to Laurence as soon as I’d read it the other day. I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction as dads miss out on a huge chunk of bonding in the early days. Laurence had a few weeks over Christmas where he just didn’t have any work booked in and while it was frustrating for him on one level, it was obvious how much closer he got to Ophelia. He’s not spent that much time with her, really as he tends to look after Talitha and I look after Ophelia. Seeing those photographs of Swedish dads made me wish that he could work shorter weeks and have more time with them. Certainly, in those very early days where mothers are most vulnerable, it would be wonderful for dads to be home too, especially since we live in such isolated family units these days. I think the leave should be longer and I hope it doesn’t translate into pressure to return to work for mums who’d like to stay home with their children but, in general, I see the benefit.

  10. March 31, 2015 / 11:19 am

    It’s definitely A Good Thing as a concept, my worry is that it won’t actually make a lot of difference. Men don’t seem to like taking time off because of the impact on their careers, and until it becomes the norm, surely this is still going to be the case? It needs a lot of people to do it to shift perceptions I think.

  11. March 31, 2015 / 9:32 pm

    This feels pretty monumental to me, and I’ve been wondering how different our choices would’ve been had this legislation come in when my two were babies. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects divorce proceedings in a few decades as well!

  12. March 31, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    I’ve been a stay-at-home Mum for over five years. I never thought I’d give up work, but almost a year after my son was born, I decided to make parenting my new vocation. What I didn’t realise, though, was how much I would have to end up doing around the house. I gave up work to parent children, not to manage the laundry and other dull domestic duties….but somehow they seem to have become my ‘job’, along with the childcare. And that’s with D being very enlightened and hands-on around the house when he’s not at work, compared to a lot of other men. I know I’m not alone, and I’m sure that shared parenting leave would help make things more equal. I wouldn’t have completely given up my years of parenting very small children, but I do wish it had been easier to share them with D.

  13. March 31, 2015 / 10:36 pm

    I think this is a great thing; it’s so important to give new mothers as much support as possible- and fathers, too. People really need to have the options available to work out the best solution for their families. I’m not sure how many people will take it up (it wouldn’t have worked for us, for example) but hopefully it will benefit people who want to use it.

  14. April 1, 2015 / 8:31 pm

    YES! i think this if fantastic and so important!

  15. April 2, 2015 / 12:41 am

    This is very exciting and it’s great to know that as long as you apply in the right way the employer cannot refuse. The annoying thing is unlike being self-employed as a mother you can claim maternity but the father cannot – like John – he had nothing for the 2 weeks he had off even though he pays tax

    Laura x

  16. April 2, 2015 / 6:35 pm

    I saw this series of images and I loved the project. It is amazing that there is an opportunity to share the time off with the dads and I think sometimes it can be healthy to give the dad time to create that strong bond wit the baby also. I think it’s ace to hear you say that you loved your job and felt you didn’t want to give it all up for a year. x

  17. April 5, 2015 / 11:30 am

    We really could have used this when our youngest son came along. Husband was working such long hours, the baby didn’t really know him. I couldn’t have a night out, because he would scream constantly at being left at home with his Dad. Blake was two years old before they actually bonded – because my husband was signed off with depression when his father died.
    I also think as a couple you appreciate what hard work it is, staying at home with a child, if you both experience it for real. I had to put up with comments from family members about my husband being “the worker” – as if I was at home sponging off him and living the easy life!

  18. April 6, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Thanks for the link! As I said in my post, I’m pleased that steps are being taken, I just wish they were bigger 🙂

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