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 Sam from ThinkBox to discuss his journey of sharing parental leave with his partner.

ECC: What motivated you to opt to take SPL? How did the reality match up to your expectations?

Sam: To be honest it seemed like a no brainer. What an opportunity to spend an extended period of time with my son at a crucial development stage of his life, watching him grow every day, experiencing new things together, attending baby classes, dinner, bath time, bed time – all of those things I would usually be either in an office or on a train for. When Thinkbox (my employer) offered it as an option I bit their hand off. The reality more than matched my expectations, it exceeded them a thousand times over, it was honestly one of the most precious times of my life.

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

Sam: Universally positive. Everyone recognised what a fantastic opportunity it would be. Not only because of what it offered me but also because of how it would reduce the pressure and expectations on my wife to be the main care provider and how it would ease her transition back into work.

ECC: What were some of the highlights and lowlights of your experiences on leave?

Sam: Far too many individual highlights to list, but the overarching feeling that I made a real contribution and connection with my son during his early development is the main highlight, aside from a few ‘explosive nappy incidents’, no lowlights at all.

ECC: Are you happy with the amount of leave you took?

Sam: I am but I would love to have taken more (I took 3 months). That said, I did feel that it was enough time for me to settle in to home parenting life and appreciate the experience whilst not being so long away from work that I felt disconnected or out of touch upon my return.

ECC: Would you consider taking it again, if circumstances allow? What would you do differently?

Sam: Absolutely, in fact my wife and I are expecting so I will be. What I intend to do differently this time round, in part thanks to Covid and the improved attitudes and acceptance towards working remotely, is to spend an extended period of time as a family unit with my in-laws in Australia.

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

Sam: I would say it is less about support and more about encouragement. Thinkbox have been very open in offering SPL, as a result more staff have taken the opportunity since I did.

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

Sam: Make sure you fully disconnect from work early on and be transparent with your employer about doing so to set boundaries and manage expectations. Remove your emails from your phone and put away your laptop. For the first few weeks I wasn’t always as present as a parent as I would have liked to have been as I found myself ‘checking in’ on a daily basis. Once I detached more I found the experience to be infinitely more valuable.

The other important conversation about taking SPL to have is with your partner, particularly where you will be doing this once they have returned to work, like in my case. We communicated about what that time would look like on a practical level months before I started, and because we have always co-parented as equally as possible, it didn’t come as a huge surprise how all consuming it is to be solely responsible for a small child when my partner was at work. It was important for me to know that she felt reassured all was ok at home so she could properly focus on a successful return to work. It did however open my eyes to appreciate how extraordinary new mothers are.

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