This week, for the first time ever, parents in the UK can share parental leave. So rather than Mum taking maternity leave and Dad taking up to twenty-six weeks paternity leave, couples can share up to fifty weeks of leave—thirty-seven of which will be paid. Couples can also take this parental leave at any time up until the baby’s first birthday, and they can take it in up to three separate blocks, rather than having to take it all at once, giving new parents more flexibility than ever before.
This news evokes a range of emotions from me:
I am unbelievably happy that we are moving towards equality in parenting, and that this move recognises that. As far as I’m concerned, it takes two to tango, two people to make a baby, and thus, those two people should have the opportunity to raise that baby. The notion that Mum should stay at home to look after the child, to me, is ludicrous. Don’t misunderstand me, for many mums, staying at home with their baby is the ideal scenario. I’m not against stay-at-home-mums in any way. But to just assume that the mum should stay at home while the dad works? That idea needs to stay in the 1950s where it belongs. Clearly, there are biological reasons for the baby’s mum to be close at hand for the first few months—it’s pretty tricky for the dad to breastfeed, for example (although thanks to the wonders of electric breast pumps, not impossible for dads to feed their baby breast milk). But that aside? Bring on the shared parenting.
This new law is a step forward for equality and gives couples the chance to choose what works for them. Perhaps that’s Mum taking six months off, followed by Dad taking six months off. Maybe they want to both take six months off, at the same time, and then both go back to work. Or perhaps Mum wants to take a year off with maternity leave, while Dad still takes his two weeks of paternity leave. My point is, we get to decide what’s right, rather than being told how it should be.
I’ve got to be honest and say I’m a bit gutted that this legislation is coming in now, rather than five years ago, when I had my daughter. I took a year’s maternity leave from my job as a women’s magazine journalist, and my husband took his two weeks of paternity leave (the maximum allowed in 2010), and to put it bluntly: I coped as well as a chocolate teapot. Not only did I miss the daily buzz of office life and using my brain to solve work-based problems, but the sheer magnitude of getting through each day and the baby-related issues it threw up felt like too much on my own. I would dissolve when my baby had a nappy explosion at a friend’s house. I would panic when my baby refused to stop crying in a restaurant. The organisation of packing everything I’d need in the nappy change bag and getting to a baby music class seemed totally unachievable at times. Doing all of this on my own—whilst incredibly sleep deprived—was harder than winning Mastermind. If we’d had the choice of shared parental leave, I would have grasped it with both hands, whilst sobbing with gratitude.
I cannot believe it has taken us until 2015 to get to the point where both parents can share parental leave. How on earth has this not happened sooner? Granted, we’ve come a long way since the 1950s, but considering Sweden introduced gender-neutral parental leave forty years ago, why are we so far behind?
Still, I should focus on the positive: We are moving forward, and if this means more parents get to carve out their own way of bringing up their family, finding a way that suits them, then that’s utterly fantastic.
What does the new Shared Parental Leave and Pay mean to you and your family?
Image: Jade Brookbank / Getty
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