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"Shared Parental Leave helped me bond with my son"

King Wong, IT Business Partner

Sunday 19 June is Father’s Day and a good time to remind colleagues across the University about Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

SPL was introduced last year and is a new statutory right to share what previously could only be taken as maternity leave, in a flexible way. The leave arrangements apply equally to same-sex and adoptive parents.

Parents are entitled to 52 weeks in total of combined Maternity Leave and SPL, of which 37 weeks is paid leave. If you are a University staff member, 18 weeks of the paid entitlement is on full pay, while the rest is at the statutory rate. More details can be found here, or you can contact Helen Swynford-Lain, who drafted the University's SPL policy.

“Shared Parental Leave recognises the importance of both parents in bringing up a child,” says Robert Van de Noort, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic Planning & Resource) and UEB Gender Champion. “The onus is no longer on the mother to take maternity leave while the father goes back to work. Parents can swap or take an equal share of the leave. For gender equality, this really is a game-changer”.

He says the University has recently agreed significant investment around SPL and Maternity Leave. “Firstly, the University Executive Board (UEB) has agreed that in the future Schools and Functions will be fully reimbursed for the replacement costs when staff take shared parental leave or maternity leave. Secondly, UEB is mandating that part of these replacement salary costs are spent on the individual returning to work”.

The scheme is being rolled out first for staff in Schools with effect from 1 August 2016, with the requirement that 25% of this funding be ring-fenced to aid return to work for the individual in a manner to be determined via discussion with returner. This scheme will be extended into the functions from 1 August 2017, and we will write with full detail a little nearer the time.

We spoke with three staff members with new babies who have taken Shared Parental Leave to understand how it has benefitted them. To get the long view and the LGB perspective, we also spoke with an LGB parent with a 15-year-old son.

King Wong, IT Business Partner

King WongThere are several reasons my wife, Khrystyna, and I decided to take Shared Parental Leave. We have two children – Alexandra, who is five, and 10-month-old Luke. Before Luke was born, Khrystyna and I spoke about taking six months each to look after him. Many dads that I have spoken to are only able to spend a small amount of time with their children. They would like to have more time, but are unable to do so due to financial or work constraints. SPL offered me the opportunity to spend more time to bond, nurture and play with my son and I took it.

It has been a very rewarding experience so far. Once we have dropped Alexandra at school, Luke and I set about our day. We have an established routine for each day of the week (soft play, swimming, baby college, rhyme time etc), though occasionally we do something different – like a trip to the park or local farms, visit a museum or a National Trust property. I have weaned Luke from milk to solid foods; seen him enjoy a ripe peach for the first time; seen him crawl and try to take his first tentative steps.  As soon as he hears the water running for a bath, he’s in the bathroom like a shot trying to pull himself into the bath. I’ve taught him how to do a high-five and also to give things to me and then ask for them back.

While it is lots of fun, it is not a six month holiday. Running the household while caring for the children has helped me appreciate the effort Khrystyna must have put in with Alexandra. I do the laundry, washing up, make my daughter’s packed lunch and arrange her play dates. There are days when it can be quite challenging especially if sleep has been in short supply or Luke is refusing to eat and he is teething.

Debbie Clifford, Environmental Data Consultant in the Institute for Environmental Analytics

Debbie Clifford with her familyWe had our first daughter, Eleanor, in 2013. I was a postdoctoral researcher in the meteorology department, and my husband Matt a software engineer for a multinational company.

We decided to split my maternity leave between us, putting into practice our long-held principle that raising children should be a responsibility shared evenly. So I went back to work after six months (and a bit, with some annual leave), and Matt took the next six months off.

It was great to give Matt and Eleanor a chance to properly bond, and for Matt to find out that he could (of course) look after her all by himself! We were in the fortunate position of it benefitting us financially (as Matt continued to get maternity pay after mine ended) which made the decision easy. In any case, we both felt that the equality principle was important, and that we should get a taste for both sides of the fence - stay-at-home vs working parent.

Going back to work at six months was great, and my colleagues were very supportive; for example, I had access to a room where I could express milk in comfort and in private. It also separated going back to work from putting my daughter in nursery. I found the latter a much more stressful transition and was glad I was already back in the swing of things at work.

It worked so well for us that we are taking the same approach again, taking six months off each, for our second daughter. Francesca was born two months ago, and the strong relationship that Eleanor has with her dad has made the transition to being a family of four that bit easier, for all of us.

Chris Westbrook, Lecturer in the Department of Meteorology

Chris WestbrookMy partner and I both work in the Met department - I’m a lecturer, Alison is a researcher. Our daughter Ella was born in 2013.

We wanted to share the maternity leave between us. I wanted to spend time with Ella while she was small. Alison liked being able to return to work full-time, knowing I was looking after Ella. It boosted my confidence looking after the baby on my own, and made us equal partners in childcare. And the shared experience makes you appreciate each other’s efforts (at home or at work) better I think.

Alison took the first eight months (mostly paid); I took the final four (unpaid). Preparing to go on leave was difficult - I couldn’t finish off everything I wanted to. It also coincided with handing in my PGCAP coursework, so that was hectic. It was difficult to completely disconnect from my academic life for four months, but I think I managed it OK. A colleague looked after my PhD student, and I had a ‘keep-in-touch’ day once a month. In the meantime I spent lots of time with Ella, which was hard work, but well worth it.

The experience led me to ask to go part time (80%FTE) on my return to work, which I did until Ella was 2. Now Alison and I have swapped again, and she is part-time.

Dale Cooper, Director of Campaigns & Supporter Engagement

Dale CooperOur son is 15 now and in his lifetime we have seen the LGBT landscape change dramatically: the repeal of Section 28, equal age of consent, civil partnerships and same-sex marriage. When he was born, there was no parental leave, we relied on the goodwill of our line managers. At the time, I worked in the charity sector where attitudes are more welcoming but this was against a backdrop of few, if any rights and little understanding. I was fortunate and had a very supportive manager who even attended our son’s christening.

Nine years ago I moved into Higher Education and the reception was mixed. Again, my immediate manager was accepting but a senior member of staff made quite a bizarre comment while discussing our family arrangement.

The atmosphere at Reading has been more open and considerate. It was heartening to hear senior staff praise Lord Wolfenden, see a rainbow flag flying on campus, mark LGBT+ Day or set a target for our position in the Stonewall Equality Index. All important, public demonstrations of the University's desire to be inclusive.

The best employers value diversity. Shared Parental Leave recognises that not all families are the same and there's no template for family life. As gay parents, we recognise this more than most. It’s a fantastic opportunity that would have made a huge difference to our lives.

Of course, there are elements of parenting that remain the same gay or straight and that is the deep embarrassment teenagers feel about their parents - not because we’re gay but because we are his parents. The last words on gay parents can go to my son, “I hope for a world where having gay parents is normal, just like I have normalised it".

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