Shortly before embarking on a period of Shared Parental Leave, Tom Wood – Associate, Sustainability & Climate Change at WSP – shared his excitement (and concerns) about what would lie ahead.
“My wife just returned to work for a ‘Keeping in Touch Day’ leaving me alone to look after our five-month-old baby boy for the first time. As well as baby Luca’s attempt to break me with a marked increase in nappy-activity, I was also struck by the realisation of what’s in store for the next three months or so. I’d looked after him alone at the weekends but pushing a pram around London on a Monday afternoon felt different: it was basically me, a lot of mums and the tourists.
“As the start of my ‘Shared Parental Leave’ approaches, I'm mixed between excitement and anxieties which will be familiar for the mums who normally find themselves in my place. Will I go crazy talking to my baby all day? Will it be non-stop crying and nappies? Will my career suffer from handing over projects and management responsibilities? What will it be like going back to work after months as a full-time parent? I've also got a few worries which won’t be so familiar. Am I only going to have mums for company for the next few months? Will they talk to me and let me into the 'mums and babies' yoga classes or will I be an outcast?!
“Ever since thinking about starting a family, I'd thought about taking some time off work to be a full-time dad. My wife and I joked that I could be like one of Sweden's Latte Dads who spend their days meeting up in coffee shops using their three months of 'take it or lose it' paternity leave. The system in the UK is not quite as generous but since 2015, dads have been entitled to Shared Parental Leave on top of the two weeks of Statutory Paternity Leave. In fact, couples are legally entitled to share anything up to 50 weeks of leave – of which 37 weeks are normally eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Pay.
“Of course, Shared Parental Leave is not for everyone. Mums have some undeniable biological advantages when it comes to looking after babies – particularly in the early months. Unless you're ready for some serious breast milk logistics, you'll need to embrace bottle feeding and formula. Financial considerations may also be a barrier. Statutory Shared Parental Pay (like maternity pay) is only £630 per month so likely a big drop from your normal income particularly if the person taking the leave earns the higher salary. However, the low take-up of Shared Parental Leave (only 2% of dads) is still thought to be driven mainly by cultural norms.
“I'm lucky (in my eyes!) that my wife and I are in a situation where it works well for us. She loves her job and is eager not to take more than six months off. And while it's far from ideal timing in terms of my WSP work, I see it as a once in two-lifetime opportunity to spend some incredible time with my baby son.”