30 Oct 2018
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Vikki Tansey-Brown

Making Shared Parental Leave Work For You

This post was written by Vikki Tansey-Brown, HR Business Partner for Government Schools.

When my partner got pregnant in November 2014 it never even crossed my mind that I would take anything other than the standard 2 weeks parental leave that co-parents have available to them (as long as they have the correct qualifying service.) So once the Mat B1 came through, I submitted my request for parental leave and we eagerly enjoyed all the usual pregnancy milestones and anticipated the arrival of our baby.

As all parents do, we discussed how long Rachael would take off as maternity leave, when it would start, and reviewed our finances. We saved as much money as we could along the way as her work maternity scheme was generous, but would not cover all the time we were planning for her to take off, and she is the main breadwinner in our home.

We agreed that she would take 6 months off after the baby was born and that the baby would then go to nursery, with her parents having the baby every Monday. This was a huge lifeline in terms of nursery fees! Hooray for retired and generous in-laws! As time went on through the pregnancy, the Shared Parental Leave legislation came into force, and we discussed what that could mean to us. As I earned less than Rachael, we ascertained that as we wouldn’t be paying for nursery fees, if I took months 6 – 9 off when there was still some statutory shared parental leave pay available, if we tightened our belts we could make it work. So I submitted an application to my manager (who was very supportive) and was the first case to go through PeopleCentre (where I worked at the time).

When Benjamin arrived in the August of 2015 I didn’t know what to expect. The immediate rush of love for this tiny bundle who until arrival had been fairly abstract took me completely by surprise. I had worried about whether I would love him as I wasn’t his birth mother and, also, how he would be with me. As Rachael had a reasonably difficult birth and was fairly ill after an emergency caesarean section, a lot of the initial care fell to me, which although I didn’t realise it through the fog of new born exhaustion, was great.

After my 2 weeks of parental leave, I went back to work and really hated leaving my new little family behind. What got me through was knowing that I had 3 months of shared parental leave to look forward to. I literally counted down the days. So you can imagine how I felt when at about 3 months in, Rachael said she wanted to stay at home longer. I was really upset and felt like the rug had been pulled from under me. However, I also understood that 6 months was early to leave Benjamin. We talked it through and agreed that Rachael would take 7 months and then holidays meaning that she would go back at around 8 months, and that I would take the remaining 5 months with some holiday as long as I could get approval from work. I talked it over with my manager and submitted the application to vary my original request, which was approved. So I had longer to wait, but was going to get longer with Benjamin.

It felt like it took forever for my turn to come around, and when it did we were on holiday in Scotland for a week with the in-laws. Benjamin was going through a difficult phase with sleep and on that holiday earned the nickname ‘The Sleep Thief’. We were taking it in turns to get up in the night and by 6am handing him to Grandad who is an early riser to try and get some rest. At this point I had also started my Post Graduate Certificate in Human Resources Management, so was working on that too!

When we got home and the realisation that I would be on my own all day with an 8 month old hit, I was really nervous. I had been on my own with him for a few hours here and there, but not for long stretches. I had done night feeds, day care etc, but Rachael had pretty much always been nearby. Her job is busy, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to just interrupt her if I was unsure about something. Anyway, the day came, and Benjamin was an angel. I managed to clean the house, make the evening meal and take care of the baby. It was like this for a week to Rachael’s annoyance – I was finding it easy! Week two and beyond however were a different story! He soon let me know who was boss, and I got an appreciation of why some days when Rachael was home she would be practically handing Benjamin to me as I pulled into the driveway!

It wasn’t all difficult though. We went to a baby sensory class where I met a couple of woman and their babies who are still good friends now. We went on holiday, on play dates and really got to know each other. The time we had together during that period was one of the best times of my life. It strengthened the bond that we had and if it’s possible deepened the love that I have for him. There was no need for me to worry about if I could take care of him, I just could. The time out of work also allowed me the opportunity to complete my university course (with carefully choreographed support from my mum and in-laws).

As the time came to an end, Rachael and I reconsidered what we wanted family life to look like when my shared parental leave was over. We decided to try for 3 days at home for Benjamin and 2 in nursery. My in-laws had one day covered, so we agreed we would apply for flexible working. Rachael applied to her employer to work compressed hours, so now works 5 days in 4, and I applied to drop a day and go part time. This was agreed by my manager and has carried through into each role that I have subsequently taken within Sodexo. We are really lucky as a family that we have been able to manage our lives in this way, and I would say that we have fully utilised the opportunities available to us.

If you have the opportunity for shared parental leave or even flexible working to improve your quality of life, my advice would be do it.

If you work for Sodexo UK & Ireland and are a parent or will be soon, why not join our Sodexo Working Parents group on Facebook here

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