Life

This is how Shared Parental Leave creates better dads

In association with
The Government's Shared Parental Leave Campaign

Stylist’s former production editor Gareth Watkins shares how it impacted his experience as a parent

“When my first daughter was born in 2013, my two-week paternity leave went by in a blur of blind panic, hospitals, eager relatives and adrenaline, and I found myself back at my desk wondering what the hell just happened.

It just wasn’t enough time to process such a life-changing event. So, when my second daughter was born last year, I instantly wanted to consider Shared Parental Leave as an option. And, after discussing it with my partner, weighing up the cost of childcare and our work-life balance, we came to the decision that it made sense. She would stay home for the first nine months and then I’d take over for the next three. 

Admittedly, it was tough going at first. My ego had been massaged by the reaction I’d got from colleagues and family – the #herodad, taking over as primary carer (something that mums just get on with, with virtually no recognition) – and I thought I’d be a natural. To my shame, I quickly realised how little I had previously done.

Looking after kids is hard graft. You have to wear many hats: chef (head and sous), waiter, cleaner, PA, bodyguard, nurse, clown, health and safety officer (on constant high alert), and three different coaches (dance, life and gymnastics). And you spend all day pegging it around like a spaniel on an agility course.

It took me about a week or so to lose the wild-eyed look, but gradually everything fell into place and I started to love it. I’ve been there for all the ‘firsts’. The first word: “Heddo” (hello), blown kiss, raspberry… And I’ll be there offering a hand when she takes her first step. Just watching my daughter pulling all of her books off the shelf is entertaining, even though it’s muggins here who always has to tidy up.

My relationship with my girlfriend has also benefitted. I’ve discovered that a large percentage of parental leave is spent in the company of someone who has zero chat, and the mid-afternoon limbo between 2-3pm – watching the world outside going about its business, feeling like you’re no longer a valuable cog in the machine – can be a lonely place. The entire experience has given me a much greater understanding and admiration for what my girlfriend and mums everywhere go through.

I’ve little doubt that if Shared Parental Leave became the norm, it would lead to greater gender equality at home (and in the workplace). We’re a more balanced, better and tighter parenting unit now, as we both understand the pressures each of us has faced in the past.

All in all, this has been one of the happiest times of my life. I’m more well-rounded, closer to my family than I have ever felt, and I’m certainly a better dad. Having this time with my daughters has been so special.

In fact, it’s been so special that I decided to give up work and become a full-time dad for a while longer. They might only have a vague recollection of my time as wiper-up-in-chief, but I’ll remember every last giggle.”

To find out more about Shared Parental Leave, click here