I remember when I first heard about Shared Parental Leave. I was 22 weeks pregnant, and a colleague mentioned that he had taken the Maternity Leave for his children. I laughed. That’s how strange it sounded to me at the time, I actually thought he was making a joke – but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a solution to all my problems.
I had been wracking my brains over how to ensure my partner was more involved with bringing up our children. I’d be trying to find ways to make enough money that he wouldn’t have to work and could be a stay-at-home dad, something he would love to do. But at 22 weeks I was running out of time, especially with the ever-looming possibility of premature birth as I was carrying twins.
I dived straight into Shared Parental Leave research and here’s the thing – aside from the official government website (which left me feeling stressed enough to give up on the entire thing) and a few blog posts from men raving about how great it was to be a part of their children’s lives (well, duh), there was very little available.
What I really wanted to know was, how the bloody hell did it work in practice? From the outside it looked like a logistical nightmare. So before working on the application at all, I went back to basics so I am sharing my process to help guide you through should you be considering Shared Parental Leave. (I am trying to avoid slamming the patriarchy but they don’t make it easy – take from that what you will!)
1. Check your eligibility.
There is no point going through all of the logistical rigmarole if you or your partner are not eligible. You and your partner must:
have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date
stay with the same employer while you take SPL
be ‘employees’, not ‘workers’
each earn on average at least £120 a week
There are some further conditions if one of you is a worker and one is an employee, in our case we were both employees so I suppose SLIGHTLY more straightforward.
2. Check your finances.
In an ideal world, we would have loved to just take the whole 52 weeks entitlement at the same time (i.e. 26 weeks each simultaneously). A few considerations on this front:
You’re entitled to 52 weeks leave total, included maternity leave, so the number might be a bit lower once the mother has recovered and feels ready to return to work.
You’re only entitled to 39 of those weeks being paid – again, INCLUDING maternity leave.
Statutory Shared Parental Pay is £151.97 a week (or 90% of your average weekly pay, whichever is lower – because why make taking care of your children easy huh?). To take the Shared Parental Leave at the same time would mean a potential massive cut in income – unless your employer has its own Shared Parental Leave policy that entitles you to more. This is definitely worth looking into as soon as possible.
TIP: I worked out the weekly average income of both myself and my partner to determine how much Shared Parental Leave we could afford. As my partner was earning more than me at the time, he got less (sorry babe), but it allowed us to work out the maximum he could take and we still be financially stable.
This also led to our decision to NOT take the leave simultaneously, and also take it in alternating blocks to even out our finances over the weeks, rather than myself taking half and then my partner taking half.
3. Check your logistics.
If I’m honest, Shared Parental Leave would have been a very difficult choice for me had I not been working from home in my job at the time. I was part time online training for a Positive Behaviour Support company, plus running my Confidence Coach business remotely. I’m not sure that the idea of leaving the babies completely earlier than planned to allow my partner to take Shared Parental Leave would have felt as easy.
For me, I knew that even on the weeks I was working, I would be available in the house should the babies need me. I knew that I could take my lunch break with them, pop in and check on them if needed. I knew that I’d be there if my partner needed anything urgently.
That doesn’t mean that if your job takes you out of the house to a workplace that Shared Parental Leave won’t work. It’s just something you need to consider, be aware of and be comfortable with.
Once you’ve got your head around those three aspects, it seems a lot easier. From there, I downloaded the form from the gov.uk website and just went through it. And if you want an example as a starting point to work from we went with:
12 weeks maternity
6 weeks SPL for my partner
6 weeks SPL for me
4 weeks SPL for my partner
5 weeks SPL for me
6 weeks SPL for my partner
You are each entitled to up to three blocks if you want to alternate. Again, your reasons for the sizes of the blocks may be related to finances or perhaps logistics, such as a particularly busy time of the year for your industry meaning you need to be at work.
Bottom line is, even though it seems daunting when you first get started, it is absolutely worth the effort to allow your partner to have an equal input into the raising of your children. This is something I feel very passionately about, as part of dispelling gender norms for good. That said, it’s not for everyone – it has to work for YOU. But I would say that everyone should at least consider and look into it, even if ultimately you decide against it.