Shared Parental Leave. Story #3 - Andrew, senior associate in a city law firm
Updated: Jun 19
I recently took 12 weeks of shared parental leave, and it was one of the best decisions I have made.
To give some background, I work as a senior corporate lawyer for a large City firm and my wife, Francesca, is a self-employed copyeditor working in the wine trade. We have a 3 year old son, Reuben, and now a daughter, Gabriella, who was born on 7 November 2019.
Why did you choose to take shared parental leave?
I confess to being rather ignorant of shared parental leave. I just assumed that it wouldn’t be something available to me, or indeed suitable for me, and that it may negatively impact on my career.
However, I undertook a client secondment, which we agreed would end when Gabriella was born, and I was also due a sabbatical this year, so it seemed like a good idea to see if I would be eligible for shared parental leave and for me to roll into it straight after my secondment and to take it in lieu of my sabbatical. That way, there would be minimal interruptions for my employer and I could go into my leave with a completely clear slate.
As for my wife, her work is very flexible and she is able to fit it around childcare. She also has no immediate plans to increase her workload, so it wasn’t the case that we needed to share our parental leave so that my wife could return to work sooner.
Instead, we saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend three months together as a family, completely undisturbed by work and the usual pressures of trying to make everything balance.
How easy was it to arrange shared parental leave?
I actually found it very difficult to understand how one could take shared parental leave in circumstances where I was in full-time employment and my wife was self-employed working around 15 hours a week. My firm has a very comprehensive shared parental leave policy, but all the literature I read was aimed at parents who are both in full-time employment.
So it took quite some time to understand the difference between maternity leave and pay for employees, versus maternity allowance for the self-employed. Fortunately, with the help of my firm’s HR team (and a number of hours spent on the phone to the HMRC!), we were able to understand what we needed to do and by when.
In total, it took about two months to put the arrangements in place.
What are your findings on sharing parental leave where one parent is employed and the other is self-employed?
The ultimate outcome is the same as for two employed parents. However, the main difference is that, in my wife’s case, she was entitled to “Maternity Allowance”, rather than “Maternity Pay”, and there is a need to “curtail” the Maternity Allowance by the number of weeks taken as shared parental leave, which can be done directly with the HMRC.
The criteria for claiming Maternity Allowance is also different and is dependent on the number of hours worked / money earned over a “test period”. More information regarding Maternity Allowance can be found by accessing the following link: https://www.gov.uk/maternity-allowance.
I also found the “eligibility calculator” very useful in understanding the various criteria and timings, which can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents.
As everyone’s circumstances are different, the key thing to bear in mind is that it can take time to co-ordinate everything and be prepared for a fair amount of frustration when filling in the forms and seeking guidance.
How did people respond to you taking shared parental leave?
On the whole, everyone I spoke to about it was very supportive and a number of my fellow dads said that it was something they would look into for next time, or – sadly – that their employer’s parental leave policies meant that it would be financially difficult for them to take extended parental leave.
Also, a number of my working mum friends saw their entire maternity leave as their time before going back to work. A number of them wanted or needed to go back to work eventually but wanted to maximise their time with their baby; sharing it just wasn’t something they wanted to do.
Looking back, what were the positives of taking shared parental leave?
I found the experience very rewarding. In the first few weeks, being around meant that my wife had all the support she needed at home and she could focus on recovering. Afterwards, we went travelling for seven weeks and it was just amazing being able to spend quality time with my family.
The only real difficulty was going through the process of applying for my leave and ensuring that we filled out the correct forms.
What would you advise prospective parents who are considering shared parental leave?
Do your research and fully understand your entitlements, then weigh up the pros and cons.
For me, the timing couldn’t have been better in terms of my career, and my wife’s circumstances. Had those circumstances been different, I may have avoided taking shared parental leave, so it very much depends on making sure your circumstances suit.
I’d also advise against listening too much to naysayers – do what you think is right for you and your family. In the grand scheme of things, 12 weeks won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your career prospects.
If you want to review your career trajectory after mat leave,
are considering flexible working,
struggle with life choices and are stuck in overwhelm, or
face a health challenge post-birth,
An experienced Coach focusing on lawyers, mum to two boys and a former senior associate at a top 10 legal practice, I help professional women who are also mums to live fulfilling lives. I helped 200+ women and will be thrilled to help you!