What is shared parental leave?
Hey! I’m Connor, a Designer here at hedgehog lab, and I’ve just returned from a little something called shared parental leave. SPL, as I’ll call it from now on, is essentially the process of sharing part of the 52 weeks of parental leave you get after the birth of a baby.
Traditionally, mums take 12 months off work after the birth of a baby, and their partner has about 2 weeks leave. SPL allows you to share those 12 months between you a little more equally. It’s completely customisable to your situation and can be quite complex, so I’d highly recommend talking to your HR or people team if you want the ins and outs!
I had 8 weeks’ leave in total. Here’s how I found it!
How SPL benefited my family.
The biggest and most obvious benefit to my family is that I get to spend an incredible amount of time with my two boys. Through the week, we’re all so busy with work and general life that family time is often pushed to the weekend. It’s been so nice to essentially have every day of the week be like the weekend. Long walks along the river watching boats and listening to buskers in the city centre have been some of the kids’ favourite activities.
Finley is the newest addition to our family and the primary reason for my recent leave. A real unexpected benefit of me having this leave is being able to bond with him over some food – he’s breastfed and refuses to take a bottle, so I’ve never really been able to hold him for one of his mealtimes. When he started taking solid food, his mealtimes always landed when I was at work (bar the weekends).
Feeding a baby is so much more than just providing calories and nutrients. When you’re feeding a baby, it’s an act of love and an opportunity to build that bond as a primary caregiver and person they can trust. It’s been so lovely being able to give him all of his meals, no matter how messy he gets or how much food ends up on the floor! It’s been a real unexpected highlight of SPL and just one example of father-son bonding I’ve been able to enjoy.
For my wife, Hollie, one of the benefits has been getting stuck back into work a little earlier than she would have under typical maternity leave circumstances. With the best will in the world and KIT days, it’s hard to keep in the loop with what’s going on at work and not feel like you’re missing out on your career. SPL meant that Hollie was able to return to work that bit sooner and get re-integrated with her colleagues.
I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but I think the boys have enjoyed having me around too. My 3-year-old has me in fits of laughter with some of the stuff he comes out with. We play with toys and make-up games, watch movies together and laugh at our own daft jokes – a proper trio of silly boys and I love it.
Try as you might, it’s sometimes hard to switch off from work, especially when what you do for work is also something you’re passionate about and genuinely enjoy. I’ve never fired up Figma, Sketch or Illustrator on an evening with a big sigh – it’s usually something I do to wind down a little or get some ideas out of my head.
But I’ve noticed that while I’ve been on SPL, I haven’t touched any design tool, website or article! In fact, I touched my laptop so infrequently that a thin layer of dust was starting to form.
It’s actually been really easy to shut off from wanting to open the laptop or check emails – though I’ll admit I have been checking Slack every now and then because some of the conversations are brilliant! Knowing that I’ve got a solid block of time where work won’t be a factor has allowed me to have a really good mental reset – I’ve been able to clear my mind of all things work and design-related.
I feel like I’m coming back to work with a really clear mind and fire in my belly to design some really cool stuff!
There’s no denying that, as a parent, you don’t really have two seconds to sit down and relax when a 10-month-old baby is roaming. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of steps in, some days walking well over 10 miles. I’ve had the opportunity to get in plenty of fresh air with the boys… albeit sometimes in the wind and rain. If you’re going to do SPL, I definitely recommend doing it in the summer!
A bit of healing time.
My son Finley came into our lives at a little bit of a traumatic time. The day he was born was the same day I was admitted to York Hospital with pretty horrendous Pneumonia.
While my wife was in the early stages of labour, our midwife was concerned about my symptoms, so much so that she asked me to leave and go see a doctor. 45 minutes later, I was being rushed into RESUS. There was a period of about 4 hours where I held the title of ‘sickest person in York hospital’ according to the RESUS doctors and registrars. In that same period of time, I’d also gained the title of ‘Dad of two’. While I was in RESUS, my wife bravely birthed our little boy on her own with the help of some awesome midwives.
A combination of pneumonia, internal bleeding, acute renal failure, streptococcus A, 2.4 litres of fluid on my left lung and a chest drain later meant that 10 days went by before I could see Finley. As you can imagine – all of the above paints a pretty traumatic picture, and it meant that I missed that beautiful period of bringing our newborn home and spending quality time with him. Even when I could see him, it would be a long 4-month recovery. I could barely have him lay on my chest because of how weak my lungs were.
I think the biggest benefit of SPL to me so far has been that I’ve been able to spend so much time alone with Finley to, hopefully, in some way make up for that time I lost and strengthen our connection even more.
What I’ve learnt from SPL.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive to begin with.
This was my second time round looking after a tiny baby, so I think I was more geared up for it and like to think I knew the ropes a little. If I was a first-time dad, I think the prospect of SPL might be a little more daunting. But have faith in yourself. Mums are brilliant and naturals, but you might surprise yourself with how good at ‘dadding’ you are!
If you’re a parent or have spent any time around children, you’ll know that poo and wee dominates a large part of your day. It wasn’t particularly appealing, but I implore you to see past that and clamber over the mountain of nappies. It’s great fun, really!
I’ve also learnt (or confirmed) how awesome kids are. Spend some time looking at the world through their eyes, it’s bloody brilliant!
If I were to do it all again, I’d take more time, in all honesty.
It makes the process slightly more complex because you have to sort out the transfer of maternity and paternity pay, but it’s flown by in an instant, and I now find myself wishing I’d taken 6 months. If you’re thinking about it, really do consider taking as much time as possible and what’s fair.
A couple of thank yous to finish off!
Firstly thank you to my wife Hollie. SPL isn’t a given. It’s something you need to organise and agree on as a couple. Thank you, Hollie, for sharing your leave with me so I could spend that precious time with our boys.
Secondly, thank you, hedgehog lab! I’ve had nothing but support and encouragement from everyone at the lab. I imagine it’s not exactly easy having someone out of the business for an extended period of time, but not once have I been made to feel pressured to stay working or cancel the leave. I’ve read some horror stories from mums and dads being pressured into putting work before childcare, and I’m so glad I work for one of the good ‘uns!
If you’re thinking about shared parental leave and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop me any questions or thoughts on LinkedIn.