Until recently, tradition has been that new mothers take maternity leave for at least a few weeks or months after giving birth. It’s a special time that gives a new mum a great opportunity to bond with her new baby.
Another plus is that the brand-new mum – provided she has a bit of help – can have the chance to nap when her baby does, giving her an opportunity to make up for the inevitable loss of sleep experienced by all new parents. Unfortunately, new dads have not traditionally had the same opportunity for bonding and catching up on lost sleep!
Here’s the strange thing, though: In the UK, although most new parents (either through birth or adoption) are eligible for shared parental leave and shared parental pay, only about 2 percent take advantage of the benefits.
How SPL and shPP (Shared Parental Leave and Shared Parental Pay) Work
You may be entitled to share up to 50 weeks of SPL and 37 weeks of ShPP. This is a big improvement, especially for men, who were previously eligible for only two weeks off for the birth or adoption of a new baby. (Money is deducted for maternity or adoption pay already received, and time is deducted for maternity leave taken, as new mothers are still required to take the usual two weeks allowed by employers.)
- One of the biggest challenges facing couples opting for SPL may be financial. ShPP doesn’t pay you 100% of your wages — only 90% at most, and that can be a challenge for a young family who may already be financially “strapped”.
- Another thing to consider is that you may not be in perfect agreement about who takes time off when, and that could lead to friction in your marriage at a time when you want it to be strong and joyful.
- Peer pressure is something you typically associate with your teen years, but some who have taken advantage of PPL have faced pressure from co-workers who frown on a mum who’s anxious to return to work sooner than they think she should, and from men who judge dads who opt for the benefit as less than “macho” for doing so.
Rewards? You Bet!
The number one reward? Plenty of time to bond as parents with your new baby. But besides this obvious upside to PPL, there are other striking benefits to consider as well …
- SPL offers an opportunity to share parenting duties — as well as challenges and milestones — on a more level playing field.
- It also gives you a greater degree flexibility since you can break the time up throughout the year, rather than taking one big chunk of time off from work.
- SPL may open up new opportunities at work for women since it’s no longer a “given” that they’ll be taking a long maternity leave when they have a child.
- In addition to strengthening the bonds between your new child and both parents, SPL also affords couples an opportunity for role reversal, and a better understanding of each other’s everyday realities and challenges.
Since Shared Parental Leave is still a relatively new concept, it’s understandable that people — especially the “pioneering” parents who are taking advantage of the opportunity — will experience a few bumps in the road, but there’s no question that it opens up new possibilities that weren’t possible for previous generations, and that is a very good thing for all concerned.
As iNews’ Siobanh Smith points out, evidence suggests that the amount of time that fathers spend with their children in the early stages of life has “huge implications” for their future, healthy development. That fact alone should provide an important reason to consider whether to jump in with both feet — mums and dads alike — and give Shared Parental Leave a try!
A Note to Prospective New Parents
For detailed information about how PPL and ShPP work, click here.