Is it time to throw out the rulebook when it comes to maternity leave?
These three couples think so. Since the introduction of the government’s Shared Parental Leave (SPL) policy (allowing parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay), they have all decided to split their professional and personal responsibilities far more equally than the traditional mother to father ratio of 52:2 weeks of leave.
Stylist meets three families who are making it work their own way, and asks what they have learned:
Catherine Buglass and Satch Patel
Catherine, 38, and husband Satch, 37, both from London, took SPL with daughters Amara, three, and Layla, one.
Catherine says: “Timing-wise, SPL was a gift. Satch was planning on taking more than his official paternity leave, but would have done it unpaid. So, when SPL came in just before Amara was born, we knew we’d do it.
Our working lives are long, so the chance to take that time is a privilege. You’re not going to look back and say, ‘I wish I’d spent less time with my kids.’ Satch had three months with Amara and six with Layla, and we shared our leave.
Sharing the time makes a huge difference, because it’s exhausting. After having Layla, I had postnatal depression. I’d break down and think, ‘How will I get through the day?’ Having someone else to support you really helped.
I think one of the best things about having kids is seeing your partner in a new light – you see them as a parent and love them in a different way. Satch has a deeper relationship with Amara and Layla, and understands their needs. It’s wonderful, actually.”
Satch says: “There were financial considerations involved in taking SPL. My company, Accenture, has a generous policy that enabled me to take the leave, but not everyone can afford to take time off.
“There are still companies that frown upon dads taking off even two weeks of paternity leave” - Satch
SPL’s strengthened my bond with Catherine and my daughters. It’s been hugely rewarding. I was often the only father at events, though, which can be daunting. Maybe an entrepreneur could create a support-network app for dads. We could do with more facilities for fathers with children, too.”
Amy and Alex Fletcher
Amy, 35, and husband Alex, 31, from Sheffield, took SPL for their first-born Matilda, two, and plan on taking it again with James, five months.
Amy says: “With Matilda I took off 10 months, then Alex took over for the last two. I’m not career-focused, so we did it as we thought it was a good idea to share responsibilities both at work and at home. It was only fair he got the chance to see Matilda develop, too. It helped us understand each other and what it’s like looking after her all day.
We got a real insight into the different challenges. And a positive thing was me being able to leave Matilda with her dad when I went back to work rather than put her in childcare, because to leave Matilda in nursery or with a childminder while I was transitioning back to work might have been difficult.
By the time we’d both returned to work, Matilda had spent a bit of time away from me, so that transition was easier for everyone.”
Alex says: “The main thing for me was to build a relationship with my daughter. I don’t subscribe to traditional gender roles; I believe we should all muck in together. It’s not productive to say, ‘This is your role within the house.’
My dad wasn’t around when I was younger, so I wanted to be involved with the children. I’d like them to be as happy spending time with me as they are with Amy.
It gave me an understanding of what Amy had been doing. You can’t appreciate what it’s like when a small child refuses to settle and you’ve got to make dinner and get everything sorted around the house until you’ve experienced it.
In fact, I said to one of my colleagues that in some ways, staying at home with the kids can be more challenging than going to work, and he didn’t quite get it. Some days things go well and other days, not so much. Which is why Shared Parental Leave has given me much more confidence as a father.”
Lucy Werner and Hadrien Chatelet
Lucy, 35, and Hadrien, 32, from London, used SPL to travel around France with their son, Rafael, nine months.
Lucy says: “I run my own PR consultancy, The Wern, for small businesses and entrepreneurs. I remember Hadrien and I had a very heated discussion about SPL in the local deli when I was pregnant. He made a remark about not taking take time off because it would damage his career, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
It started a conversation about how it’s not even a choice for women about whether they want to take maternity leave. It made me angry. Just because I’m the one who gives birth, I’m the one who has to give everything up?
We have a friend who’s moved to Stockholm, and he shares the childcare of his two kids with their mother. That helped persuade Hadrien into doing SPL.
After Rafael was born, I spent three months on leave, then we travelled around France together for three months, visiting Hadrien’s family. I was working remotely, so Hadrien looked after Rafael.”
“If we hadn’t taken time off together as a family, we wouldn’t be as strong as we are now” - Lucy
Hadrien says: “Taking leave can be daunting when you’ve focused on your career so much. I’m an art director at a global marketing firm, Endeavor, and didn’t want to be left behind. You want to be a stay-at-home dad, but how do you balance that with your career?
I appreciate money comes into whether people can afford to take SPL. But if you really want to, you should try and find a way. For five months I was putting money aside every month and cutting down on expenses to afford it. It can be tight, and you have to be careful, but we did it and it was worth the trouble.”
Find out more on Shared Parental Leave here