There are expected to be as many as 285,000 working couples that will be eligible to share leave from April 2015. Under the new rules, mums will still take at least 2 weeks of maternity leave immediately after birth, but after that working couples have the opportunity to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. For example, this means they could opt to both have 25 weeks each at the same time, or mum can take 44 weeks while dad shares the first 6 weeks of childcare. The arrangement is totally flexible to suit the individual needs of each eligible family.
In our family, we enjoy very traditional roles. Ian is the main breadwinner and I stay at home with the children, fully funded by his paycheck. I have never returned to a job following maternity leave after the birth of my children, preferring to be a full time mother for as long as possible with each one of my children. I count myself to be very fortunate that we have had this luxury as a family. Although stay at home mums are not recognised or supported by this government, I still believe that my role is exceptionally worthwhile to the wellbeing of my children. It's my family's choice and this works for us.
However, for my own adult children the new Shared Parental leave guidelines have much more relevance. For example, my eldest son became a father for the first time in December 2012. After an emergency C-section, his fiancee had a slow recovery post-partum. The basic two weeks paternity leave seemed woefully inadequate for him, as he helped in the care of both his baby son and his partner. She then had to be thrust back into the full time care of her baby, just a fortnight after a traumatic birth and major surgery, while my son reluctantly returned to work. My son is a very hands on dad and to be deprived of the early weeks of childcare was quite hard on him. He, like many other men, would have relished the opportunity to spend more time with his baby during those precious first weeks, and missed being there for his fiancee when she needed him most. The flexibility of SPL may have smoothed their transition into parenthood, providing extra support in those crucial early days.
My eldest daughter is a career woman, who in the future, may find the new SPL guidelines very relevant when she starts a family. Depending on her and her future partner's situation at the time, they could divide up the responsibility of childcare, so both can give equal attention to their role as parents and to their careers. Given that in up to a third of families, the woman is the higher wage earner, SPL can make economical sense, allowing the woman to pursue her career whilst the man cares for their child. It allows for a more modern, 21st century approach to parenting, freeing women from the notion that they should automatically become the primary care givers after giving birth.
So, there is definitely a value to the new SPL guidelines, giving parents much more flexibility and the ability to make decisions on their work / life balance. Men have the opportunity to be more involved in raising their children during that first year. Career women can avoid potentially harmful long career breaks without resorting to expensive childcare for the first year. This equality in the home may lead to more equality in the workplace, as parental leave becomes the norm for both men and women.
SPL would never have worked for me, as I strongly believe in my right to be a full time mum which includes breastfeeding my babies for the first year of their lives - something that only I could do. So, although it would have been lovely to have had my husband home with me after my babies were born, my role is a stay at home mum, whilst his is working to support us. Maybe one day the government will come up with some legislation in support of families like us.
You can find out more about SPL and check your eligibility at www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/shared-parental-leave.