My maternity leave adventures: sharing the care
David and I met on a business course in Boston in 2013. Meeting him has changed my life, and hands down he’s the best thing that’s every happened to me.
But don’t get me wrong, at times during this whole period of maternity/ Shared Parental Leave (SPL), I’ve wanted to beat him over the head with a stick. Hard. Maybe even wring his neck. It’s been stressful at times- but man do I love the guy.
Now the babies are almost one, I felt it was about time to dedicate one of my blogs to the person who is 50% responsible for this toddler/twin life and talk a little bit about our experience of SPL.
Loosely, SPL is a period of 52 weeks’ leave which can be shared by both parents during the first year of a baby’s life. You can take this together or separately. With three children under three, we decided to use ours together. David took six weeks off right after the birth of the babies, then an additional month when they were eight months old.
I set up some questions which we answered separately, to try to get an honest picture of our thoughts and feelings on the whole thing. So here goes…
Why did you decide to make use of SPL?
Lisa: With Alfie, David took a month off as soon as he was born. It went in a flash. With three children under three, I felt I needed the extra support and wanted to make the experience more shared. I also wanted us both to have the chance to build a strong relationship with the children and for David to have more of an opportunity to understand the work involved at home. We agreed that both for practical reasons (mostly recovery and feeding), as well as financial reasons, I would still take the majority of the leave. And being honest, we both probably felt happiest with the allocation of responsibility.
I also thought that from a work perspective, going through the process personally would help me to share the experience with others.Ideally I’d like to see dads/ partners have an additional period of personal leave that they can ‘use or lose’, to further the equality of caring and working responsibilities between men and women. But that’s a whole other blog…
David: The four weeks I took off with Alfie as soon as he was born were valuable bonding time for me, so I wanted to have the same time or more with the twins. It also allowed us to navigate the new dynamic of being a family of five as well as sort out some things around the house, having moved when the twins were six months old.
What have you enjoyed most about being off on SPL?
Lisa: The first period of SPL we had together was simply about survival. The second period came at a perfect time for us as a family. We’d had a difficult winter, so our month together in February enabled us to spend quality time together when the children were more interactive. It helped us take a breath and remind ourselves that life was going to be ok! It was definitely a stand out month to me this year. It was when I can remember feeling much more relaxed and supported. We took a trip to the Lake District with friends and got brave and booked a summer holiday to France which has given us all something to look forward to. We celebrated the end of our leave with a nice lunch out just the two of us. It was nice just to get out together and just have some time for us.
David: It's always difficult juggling a full time job and family responsibilities. I found that having dedicated time off to care for the babies (and the older one) gave me a clear focus which I found helpful and reduced my stress. Having the freedom to go away with the family for a few days and plan activities around the children allowed me to grow in confidence around their daily routine.
Can you share any of the challenges you faced on SPL?
Lisa: The main challenge was financial. We had saved up to enable us to afford the dip in David’s salary.
David: The planning in the lead up to a period of SPL is always difficult as (depending on how you structure it) it means you're not getting paid your usual monthly wage during the time you have off. We treated it as saving for a holiday, which took around 8 months of planning. Additionally, the usual household dynamics had to be adjusted during that time as we were both off. For me, this meant dividing up particular tasks while ensuring that nobody's toes were being tread on and we each had a share of not just the chores, but the childcare responsibilities.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Lisa: For us, in this moment in time and with the leave available to parents, I felt that how we split the leave worked well for us.
David: Honestly, no. With a baby (or babies in our case) you have to go with the flow and be adaptable to their needs on a daily basis. We were fortunate: the month I was off dealt us a good hand in terms of their health and mood, which made the time pleasant. I think it's important to think about what you want to achieve as a family during a period of SPL and work towards achieving that, otherwise the time will fly past.
Any particular stand out moment(s) for you during your SPL?
Lisa:It was just brilliant to spend time together as a family, not have to ask for lots of extra help and manage things a bit more on our own. Alfie loved having his dad at home. Dave was much more relaxed, having the stress of work taken away, so he could focus on his family. After Dave’s first day back at work in March following his second month of SPL, he came home and for the first time since they were born, he said that he’d really missed the children. It may have taken us nine months, but we got there and I have SPL to thank for that.
David: We took a trip down to the Lakes with friends who had children of similar age, which was enjoyable. We also had some midweek day trips, which are always quieter and calmer. Getting to spend some time together as a couple was also nice and we managed to get out for a couple of meals during my time off.
What would you say to other parents thinking about taking SPL?
Lisa: For me it’s a no brainer. If you can manage it financially, even if it’s a bit of a stretch, I’d say it does wonders for family life and for your relationship. For us, it’s gave us both a better understanding of life and work at home, and how to balance work and family commitments to keep the family happy and in good working order.
David: Don't agonise over it, just do it. It's an amazing time and a crucial time in your child's development and a unique opportunity to bond with your child that really is a once in a lifetime opportunity- it's time you won't get back.
So that was our SPL adventure!
#sharethelove is the UK Government’s hash tag to promote Shared Parental leave. I don’t know if I’m being a sleep-deprived, cynical meanie, but it just seems a bit twee. Yes, we shared the love of these wonderful little beings, but, let’s face it, it’s more about about sharing the workload. Even less sexy than that, it's about sharing the daily grind: cooking, cleaning, washing, emptying the dishwasher, taking the bins out (I have never talked so extensively about bins), playing, bath time, taking the kids out to give each other a break...
But whatever it is, it’s a positive thing. If offers families and children extra support and understanding during a critical time of a child’s development, and a vulnerable time for parents (mothers in particular). It worked for us, and I’d love to see more couples make us of it for their and their children’s benefit. And here’s hoping it’s the start of a greater period of leave for both parents. Although this may take a bit of adjustment in people’s psyche and in the workplace in particular, I believe there are massive benefits to our children, ourselves, our workplaces and our society.