"The idea of our daughter having time with both parents as primary carers was important to us."
"I don’t feel that taking shared parental leave has impacted my career."
Carl is the General Counsel of a London shipowning company. He and his wife are both lawyers and decided to share parental leave. Carl was the first in his company to take a shared parental leave and, guided by his experience, wrote his company's shared parental leave policy.
Carl's wife, Elsa, also works full-time as a Senior Legal Counsel with ENGIE. Elsa tells her story of working motherhood here.
Here is Carl's story:
In 2019, I took 3.5 months parental leave making me the primary carer for my daughter, our first child. It was an incredible experience and Anya has asked me to share a bit about it.
How did you decide to share leave?
My wife and I are both lawyers and when we were expecting our daughter, we started discussing the possibility of shared parental leave. The idea of our daughter having time with both parents as primary carers was important to us.
This, as most people know, is now possible because the law recently changed to allow parents to split parental leave. Originally, we considered a 6/6 month split however in the end we decided on an 8.5/3.5-month split. Two of the main reasons were: (i) my wife was breastfeeding and we wanted to make sure that our daughter could go 9-5 on solid foods before I took time off, and (ii) at the start of my wife’s maternity leave a client of hers asked her to come work for them and this date worked for everyone.
What was your experience negotiating leave?
Before taking parental leave I was Legal Counsel for a shipowner in London and I was the first in my company to take parental leave over the standard two week fathers are entitled to. My employer does not offer any parental leave pay for fathers, but aside from this it was very supportive of my decision. There was never any suggestion that this might be bad for my career.
From my perspective I don’t feel that taking parental leave has impacted my career. In fact, three months before my leave started, I was promoted to General Counsel.
I also found that many men in my company were interested to know more about parental leave once they found out what I was doing. I hope that I have encouraged other fathers to do the same.
Having said that, I know a number of fathers who have had the exact opposite experience and have found employers to be difficult. I think this will change the more fathers take shared parental leave.
It is important that men keep insisting on using these new rights so that it becomes the new normal.
How did it go? What was the worst?
It is hard work. I was responsible for her every need for extended periods of time and there is no ‘break’.
I couldn’t believe how good it felt to just sit and drink a whole uninterrupted cup of hot coffee when I got back to work. It really is a 24/7 job.
...and the best?
It was very rewarding. My daughter now has a secure attachment to both her parents and that can only benefit her in the long run. The moment it really hits home for me is I am now able to settle her even when she’s at her most upset. Before my leave it was only her mum who could do that.
It also gave me some perspective of what all mothers go through in that first year, and I had the easy months. The best is I am in tune with my daughter. I understand her and I’m able to meet her needs far better than I would have. There is nothing else like it.
What would you like to tell the world about it?
I would highly recommend parental leave to anyone who is able to take it. You need a lot of patience and organisation, but there is nothing I would have rather done than spend this time with my daughter.
Carl Sheppard gave this exclusive interview to Anya Smirnova specifically for the ReInvent series of inspirational stories for professional working parents.
Anya Smirnova is a coach focusing on women in law. A lawyer turned coach, Anya helps professional women recalibrate their lives after childbirth. Get in touch to book a free chemistry coaching session.
Check out more shared parental leave stories here.