Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we’re fortunate to have a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this particular story we sit down with Max from Total Media to discuss his journey of sharing parental leave with his partner.

ECC: Tell us a little bit about yourself

Max: I’m 31 years old, London born and raised, and currently working in a media agency, which I’ve now been at for almost eight years – Family, friends, food, films and football are my main passions, or at least they were before lockdown!

ECC: What motivated you to opt to take Shared Parental Leave/Equal Parental Leave?

Max: It’s something that I’ve always been quite passionate about taking. From a practical point of view, I really want to be able to help my wife in (hopefully) easing her transition back into work and sharing the load when it comes to childcare – who knows, I might make it worse! From a different point of view though, I really want to be a ‘present’ father in my child’s life, and that’s not saying that father’s who don’t or can’t take SPL / EPL aren’t present, but I just know the way I personally work. I tend to throw myself fully into whatever I do, and so during such a formative time in our young family’s life, I would rather that focus be my wife and baby rather than work, as I can imagine splitting the two will be really difficult for me personally to get the balance right. At the current rate, I’ll have well over 30 years of my career left to catch up on that so I feel that it can be put on hold for a few months! Finally, what seems like a very long time ago, I wrote my dissertation on the impact of absent fathers (because of work) on the creation of masculine gender identity in their sons, so now we know we’re having a baby boy, this is only more important to me, as I now really appreciate the positive impact that having my father around had on me.

ECC: When you told colleagues this is what you wanted to do, what reactions did you get?  

Max: Overall, it has been almost entirely positive – I would say that the only main reaction that slightly differed was an element of surprise, as it’s still not something that is ‘done’ that much, and also a policy that I don’t think many people are fully aware of. Speaking to some of the slightly older fathers in the company though, there was consistently the type of reaction like ‘I would have loved the chance to have taken the time’, or ‘This type of leave just wasn’t available when we had our children’, or ‘It’s such a great time to spend with your family’ so definitely a lot of support from those around me.

ECC: Are you spending time together as a couple while you’re off or are you taking consecutive leave?

Max: We’ll be taking the time off as a couple.

ECC: How have your family and friends reacted, voices of support? Any dissent? 

Max: Once again, mostly positive – I don’t have anyone who has openly told me that they thought it was a bad idea. Interestingly though, I realise that my situation is very different to some of my friends, as some of them did say that they wouldn’t be able to do the same given the disparity in pay between them and their partner, so they would have to ‘make up the difference’ by continuing to work. So I guess that we are lucky in that we are very close in terms of equal job prospects / income etc, so the decisions have always been slightly easier to make for us.

ECC: What share of the ongoing childcare once you go back to work do you and your partner envisage?

Max: We have talked about this at length, and my preference would be for us to share it completely 50:50 so that any impact on both of our careers is shared equally, as well as making sure that our baby has both of us as much as possible. So this is all still slightly TBC for next year, but at the moment, if we did need to cut down our working time due to childcare, our preference would be for both of us to but down equally, rather than one parent go down to 3 days, and the other stay at 5 – both of us cutting down to 4 would probably be my preference right now for a whole host of reasons.

ECC: How can organisations support parents taking SPL, what else might help?

Max: Financial support is a big one – as most SPL will be taken when the statutory parental pay goes down to £0, there’s a high chance that the family will not be bringing in any income for those months where they’re both off towards the end of the parental leave. We’ve been saving for well over a year and a half in order to do this, so that would have been a big help. For example, workplaces are more than happy to give you an advance to pay for a season ticket, but there’s nothing officially set up to potentially help you to ‘bring forward’ some of your paycheck, and then spread the cost out further down the line – that’s just one example of a policy that could make the option easier, with very little cost to the company.

ECC: What advice have you got for people considering taking SPL that helps smooth your exit from and return to, work?

Max: I think talking about all these things openly and honestly with your line managers is a must, so that everyone can feel confident in what’s happening, and any nervousness can be put to bed. Secondly, I think just being really honest with yourself and your partner about both of your ambitions and making sure that anything you then do as a result will help both of you. Finally, I think that it’s very easy to get caught up in the money side of things, as that’s the most rational thing to make decisions on (in which case, nobody would ever take this time off). However, more and more (especially this year), I think we’ve all seen the value of time spent with the people we love, so I think looking at it as a positive thing, rather than just ‘time away’ from work will only help.

Keep an eye out for the rest of the ‘Real Stories’ series across the other stages of the parental transition!