Tom Holmes recently returned to work as the Events and Engagement Manager at Big C Cancer Charity in Norfolk, after five months of shared parental leave looking after his son. Here, he shares his experience – and offers encouragement to any other expectant parents thinking of following suit
When my wife, Sarah and I were expecting the arrival of our first child in the autumn of 2021, we began to discuss how we planned to balance work and caring for our new baby. We knew that we both wanted time with our new baby to be able to enjoy the first year of parenthood and the statutory two weeks paternity leave allowance just didn’t feel like it was enough time for me. Sarah works in Human Resources and so is well versed in the concept of parental leave; it was all completely new to me, though.
Sarah suggested we looked into Shared Parental Leave (SPL). This is an initiative introduced by the UK government in 2015 to give fathers more time to bond with their babies and to ease the expectations on mothers. Instead of the traditional 52 weeks of maternity leave, new parents can now share up to 50 weeks between them.
The advantage of SPL for us was that it gave us the ability to take time off together and give us time as a family. The legislation allows for up to three blocks of leave to be taken. We took advantage of the flexibility to allow us to have six weeks together at the end of Sarah’s leave and the beginning of mine. We were able to spend time with family and go away on holiday for a few weeks together to enjoy the sunshine (whilst chasing after a seven-month-old!).
The other big advantage of this scheme for many couples is that it helps remove the expectation of one (usually the mother) to take a minimum of 12 months away from their career.
Sarah then returned to work, and I took the remaining five months leave. My son and I enjoyed the opportunity to go to weekly swimming lessons, spend time with his grandparents and discover lots of new walks in our local area. I also got to witness some of his early life milestones that so many fathers have typically missed out on historically.
This time alone with my son wasn’t always easy, we suffered from Covid twice, he had long periods of teething pains and I discovered just how many businesses still only have baby changing facilities in the ladies’ toilets. This time together though was precious and a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to bond whilst he’s still little.
I was shocked to discover that take up of the scheme is estimated to be less than 8% of eligible couples with some studies suggesting it’s as low as just 2%. A couple of our friends have also engaged with shared parental leave, and I understand that some larger organisations are starting to enhance their paternity leave allowance, which I believe is a positive step.
There are plenty of reasons why Shared Parental Leave doesn’t work for a lot of couples, but I really want to take this opportunity to encourage people to at least consider whether it might be a possibility for them and to find out more about the option for themselves.