Stephen Gee, Senior Development & Business Support Manager at Business in the Community shares his experience of taking shared parental leave.
Why did you decide to take shared parental leave?
“My wife’s a teacher, she’s head of a department, so she wanted to go back to get her feet under the table again and to make sure that her team, timetables, and preparations were in place for September. I think it would have been hard for her to hit the ground running in September after taking a year off, so that was the primary driver.
“Elsa was born in August last year. I took the two weeks’ paternity leave in August, then Catherine took August through to June. When it came to the final half term of school in June to July, I took the leave and she went back to get her feet under the table.
“I took two weeks’ paternity leave last year but it didn’t make any sense to take any more at that stage; we were new parents, but we were under the impression that having two people on the case at that early age was probably over kill. My wife was comfortable in doing that, and all the financial incentives lead towards the woman taking the first month off.”
Were you nervous at all because you were the first person taking it at Business in the Community?
“No. If they don’t give it to you here, then where will they give it to you?! It’s a legal requirement so no nervousness about that. I’ve heard since – in other organisations - that there’s nervousness around how you would be viewed afterwards, but that never came to my mind here. It was more around how my wife would view me! It’s a perfectly reasonable request from her, and what message would it give my family if I said “no, I’m not going to do that?””
Do you think your perception of parenting in those early years has changed?
“I think anyone who hasn’t looked after a child full time, for even a week, wouldn’t understand their child as well as someone who has. And they can’t possibly relate to what the mother’s gone through. I went in knowing it was going to be hard, but thinking I’d have a lot more time to myself - and that was just completely blown out of the water! It was a full on; entertain her, keep her occupied, busy, safe, happy…
“I think it works both ways in that my wife understands a bit more about what I’ve been through, having a working life and then coming back home at 5:30 - which is a difficult period in the day when we’re tired, and the expectation is there that I would then take over in the evenings. But it’s not as easy as that.
“I think it was good for Catherine to get back to work, great for her to appreciate what it’s like to come in after a day’s work, and great for me to appreciate what Catherine’s done.”
How do you think it would have been different if you had only taken two weeks’ paternity leave?
“I would have just missed out on a great opportunity if I hadn’t done it. Spending all day every day with her, you get to know her as a person and you get to understand her behaviour a bit more. If things aren’t going right, you come up with ideas about how to handle her, which you don’t necessarily do if you’re just coming in at 5 in the evening because you just assume that Catherine has all the answers.”
What was it like being off work for six weeks?
“I didn’t miss being off work, and it was set up so early in advance, I was determined to make that six weeks the best six weeks that I could. That was the purpose of it; be there for her. I would have felt bad if I had missed that opportunity for a few emails. My colleagues knew I was off - I had advertised it quite well.”
How have you found it coming back?
“It was like returning to school after the summer holidays! I know there’s work I need to pick up again, and it actually affords you a bit of thinking space in the first week back, which is quite nice. It was just time to reassess where you were, what’s important. I had also saved my appraisal for when I came back, so we could talk about moving forward.”
What advice would you give other fathers or mothers considering shared parental leave?
“To the fathers, I would say: get to know your child, take the opportunity. I think it will be a great thing for your family, and to strengthen the bonding and the understanding between you and your wife, and you and your child.”
Is there anything else you wanted to share?
Here’s a little anecdote: we were watching the Olympics the other day and we were watching Mo Farrah win his gold, and the commentator said, “The sacrifice these people make, six months of the year he’s away from his family and he’s doing this.” - but there’s absolutely no question that he’d go on and run again and compete in the next championships. Jess Ennis-Hill on the other hand, as soon as she finishes, it’s, “She’s got a child now and the training takes her away from that, so she’ll probably reconsider her priorities and whether she’ll be in the next championship”. Why is it the woman’s role? Why isn’t the husband looking after the child in that situation? Why is Mo Farrah any different from Jess Ennis?
There shouldn’t be different expectations - any father should be able and prepared to bring up their child.