How shared parental leave helped me to be the parent I want to be

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Hi, I’m Yash…Recently I was featured in an article on the BBC News site about taking shared parental leave.

Since the article, an amazing number of people have connected with me. Some had done the same thing and were glad to see it being talked about. But most had no idea that this was even an option and were excited by the possibilities.

I decided to spread the message about the benefits of shared parental leave by creating a space where people can share their stories of balancing being a parent with having the career they want, or deciding to put their career on hold to be a stay-at-home parent. There are going to be lots of different approaches and shared parental leave might not work for all. But these are success stories from fathers and mothers who have done this.

What is shared parental leave?
There’s loads of information available online, but in a nutshell, in the UK standard parental leave for fathers is one or two weeks paid leave. Fathers can also take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks. Shared parental leave means you and your partner can share up to 50 weeks of leave between you after you have a baby. You can take the leave all at once or in chunks, at the same time as your partner, or staggered. Another alternative is flexible working, including flexible start and finish times and working from home, which your employer is required to seriously consider.

My story
When my wife became pregnant with our first child, I took the standard two week paternity leave, but felt it just wasn’t enough time. In the first year after my daughter was born, I didn’t see her as much as I wanted, due to various factors at that point in our lives.

So, when my wife was expecting the second time, we made a promise to each other that we would take time out to bond as a family. We didn’t want to have any regrets about missing out once the kids had grown up. It was my wife who first mentioned shared parental leave. I had no idea what she was talking about at first. I’d heard about parental leave, but this was a more flexible solution that would let us both take time off.

The idea struck a chord. I went to my employer, FIS (Global Financial Software and Solution Provider), to talk through my plan. I was worried about negatively impacting the business, so I gave them two options, of either taking shared parental leave or delaying it and taking parental leave at a later date if this would be better for the company. But they were immediately supportive and told me to go for shared parental leave.

So I did. I took three months out and had an amazing time bonding with my family and spending quality time with my children. We also found our adventurous streak, went travelling, went on school tours for my daughter, followed our individual passions and rediscovered our connection to each other.

It was amazing to see my kids spending quality time together every day. The bonding was beautiful, seeing them look for each other when they woke up, my daughter developing into a caring big sister. I’d have missed all that if I’d been at work, and it gave me a much deeper understanding of the amazing job my wife does behind the scenes as a super mum.

Coming back to work
People I have spoken to love the idea of taking more leave, but they worry about what it will be like when they come back to work. Will they have been left behind or get a negative reputation? But my experience has been the opposite.

On my first day back, my employer had suggestions on how I could grow my role. I told my boss, throw it at me! I’ve had bigger challenges. I was on the road with two small children, that was hard work!

And my shared leave has had an impact on my parenting. I work more flexibly, so I can do pick-ups or drop-offs when needed. I get my job done, but I make sure I’m home to read my daughter her bedtime story and be involved in bath time. The kids hang off my legs when I leave in the morning and hang off my shoulders when I come home. Our time together created that relationship, I’m not sure it would be like that otherwise.

What I got out of shared parental leave
When I became a father, I lost touch with a lot of my passions. I used to tour the world playing Indian drums, but when our daughter was born I took a step back. In my mind back then I was a working dad with a young family, there wasn’t time for hobbies.

But shared parental leave has given me the chance to rediscover myself. I’m back doing the stuff I love – I even played drums on stage at the London Mela in August alongside BBC Asian Network’s Bobby Friction!

It’s important to understand that we don’t have to lose ourselves when we have kids. Shared parental leave offers an opportunity to stay connected to yourself in the chaos. And having engaged, happy parents can only be beneficial to our kids.

My time with my kids has got me thinking about what comes next for me. I want to be successful in my career, but I don’t want that to mean I work every available hour and never sees my kids. This has shown me there’s another way, that I can climb that ladder and still be a fantastic dad.

What’s stopping you?
I’ve talked to lots of dads who like the idea of shared parental leave but are worried about taking the plunge. I’ve been told, “Yash, I want to do it, but I’m scared it’ll go against me at work.” Others have called it risky, or said they’re worried about the reaction of their employer and colleagues.

But this is not a risky option. It’s not a favour you’re asking your employer, it’s your right as a parent. Of course, there are challenges. One of the biggest downsides is the financial cost, only part of the leave might be paid. But it’s a flexible system, and there are loads of ways to do it which might work for you.

Share your story
This is an issue that women have been dealing with for a long time, how to balance being a parent with going to work. But if more of us dads started to take more of that balancing act on our own shoulders, not only are we going to be more present, engaged parents, but we will be helping the women in our lives achieve their career goals too.

I want to show other parents that there are lots of options out there. It might be taking shared parental leave, or opting for flexible working, going part-time or staying full-time, but I believe that we need to hear more stories from people who have found a solution that works for them.

I decided to start a blog where people can share their stories, and where others can discover options, ideas and reassurance that this can work. papapenguin.org was born!

Do you have a story? Get in touch to share it and inspire others. Papa Penguin is our community! Let’s share our stories.

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