I love the idea of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). It is being introduced from this April for babies due on or after 5th April or for babies or children placed for adoption from that date as a way of allowing parents to share leave in a way that suits them best.
It means that "From April 2015, parents will have greater choice over how they share time off work to care for their child. Shared Parental Leave allows working couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in a way that suits their work and family needs. For example, parents can take time off together or they can tag team, stopping and starting leave and returning to work in between if they wish." You can find out more on mumsnet here or directly on gov.uk here.
If this option had been available to us when J was born, I believe it would have had a huge impact on our lives. I was very keen to return to work but wasn't happy leaving my baby in childcare from such a young age. By using SPL and being able to leave him with Richard for part of the time would have meant that I would have been able to return to work without sacrificing my career.
It would have meant that we could have continued to be a household where both parents were working rather than so suddenly having to cut back and cope on one salary.
It would have meant that Richard got to have more precious quality time with J and I would have felt happier that he was with his daddy rather than having to settle into childcare at a young age.
It would have meant better emotional wellbeing for me as I would have my work to focus on to engage my mind and keep my brain active!
However, I think there are some stumbling blocks that could potentially prevent couples like us making full use of the flexibility that SPL offers. I did exclusively breastfeed all of my 3 for quite a long time and whilst I was a lot more relaxed about moving to mixed feeding for convenience when necessary by the time Miss T arrived, I don't think I would have been happy about giving up or cutting back on breastfeeding when J was born. I never managed to successfully express milk so expressing would not have solved the problem. I believe this could be a stumbling block to SPL for some.
Richard had a different employer at the time of birth when each of our three were born and the power of organisational culture should never be underestimated. As we see in society time and time again, it doesn't matter what the law says, sometimes the unwritten rules of the culture of an organisation can have a far more powerful effect than the law.
In one of his jobs, I could imagine SPL working well with the employer being flexible and encouraging of such things. But by the time D came along, he was working in an environment which was female dominated and the men there were older and so had grown-up children and it turned out that no-one previously had ever even asked about taking Paternity leave so they had to quickly work out their policy on it was when Richard asked. In his current job, the workload and demands of the job would make it very difficult to take SPL - but the flexibility that SPL offers may mean that there would be a certain time of year where it would work out.
I can see how in some organisations, even if the employer encourages people taking SPL in their policies and at an organisational level, the reality may be different if it is something that is not fully embraced by teams and managers within an organisation and the unspoken pressure may be such that it makes it more difficult to actually take.
Ultimately having that greater choice can only be a good thing and hopefully greater flexibility in all shapes and forms will benefit parents and employers in the long run.