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Father's Day and experiences of Shared Parental Leave

Jonny and Liz

Sunday 18 June is Father’s Day, an appropriate occasion to remind colleagues across the University about Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

SPL was introduced in 2015 and is a new statutory right to share what previously could only be taken as maternity or adoption 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/adoption leave and SPL, of which the first 39 weeks is paid leave.  If you are a University staff member and meet the eligibility criteria, then the first 18 weeks of combined maternity/adoption leave and SPL (per couple)  is on full pay, while the remaining 21 weeks 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 is a great symbolic and practical step towards gender equality in parenting.” says Robert Van de Noort, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Planning & Resource) and UEB Gender Champion. “It recognises the importance of both parents in bringing up a child. As the examples below show, 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.”

He reminds us also that the University agreed last year 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 mandated that part of these replacement salary costs are spent on the individual returning to work.”

Staff across the University, including in Estates and Facilities, Technical Services, the Chief Operating Officer’s Group, and academic schools, have used the scheme in the last year, in cases where just one of the parents works for the University, and in cases where both do.  We spoke with three parents with new babies, happy to talk about Shared Parental Leave and how it has benefitted them. To get an LGB perspective on Father’s Day, we also spoke with an LGB parent with two young sons.

Chris Scott, Professor of Space and Atmospheric Physics

Chris ScottAs we approached the birth of our second child in early January, we were aware that it was likely that my wife would need a Caesarean, following complications during the birth of our first daughter three years earlier. While the safer option for all concerned, it would be six weeks before my wife could lift anything (including children!) or drive again. I wanted to be there to support my wife during that time and, in addition, I was also keen to help my daughter adjust to life as part of a family of four. With this in mind I applied to the university to take four months Shared Parental Leave. Since my wife is self-employed and the government rules had recently changed, it was slightly more complicated getting things sorted but the university were very supportive throughout. Having set up my parental leave, we made the final arrangements with the hospital before Christmas (it's an odd experience choosing your child's birthday!) and tried to enjoy the Christmas break. Jemima was born, as arranged, on January 5th and, after a brief stay in hospital, my wife and baby were allowed home.

Having the ability to support my family during that initial four month period was extremely valuable. The change to our lives both logistically and emotionally was so much easier to deal with together, from the disturbed sleep to the tensions associated with us extending my eldest daughter’s nursery hours in preparation for school. My presence really helped our eldest daughter acclimatise to the new baby in the house without having too much attention deficit. After a whirlwind of taxiing, storytelling, music classes, swimming lessons and nappy changing, my leave period was over and it was time to return to work. I am extremely grateful to the university for supporting me and, in turn, giving me the opportunity to be with my family at a crucial time in our lives.

Liz Stephens and Jonny Day, Research Fellows

Jonny and Liz with their son TheoSince the birth of Theo eight months ago Shared Parental Leave has provided us with the means to make decisions as a family on what works best in terms of parenting, while mitigating the impact that this time off can have on our careers. With the financial aspects pretty even for both of us, we could eliminate the financial factor when choosing the SPL split that would best suit us.

One of the great things about SPL is that it can be taken concurrently, so we opted for Jonny taking an extra fortnight of SPL following his initial two weeks of paternity leave. We would recommend this to anyone; it was great for us to have longer time together to get to know Theo and for Jonny to be around to support Liz as she recovered from surgery.

We chose 9 months as an appropriate point to switch-over following advice from friends about the move away from daytime breastfeeding. We have also been able to adjust the SPL timings slightly to allow Liz to return to work for 2 weeks to lead an important project meeting, and Jonny to schedule in an academic visit later on. Jonny is looking forward to becoming more engaged in Theo’s transition to toddlerhood, and it’s great for Liz to go back to work knowing that Theo is with his Dad.

Much like Theo, SPL is still in its teething period, and as independent researchers it is difficult to drop all scholarly activities while on leave, something that has not been altogether stress-free. However, the University has been very supportive with all our requests and we hope to work with them to enable even more flexibility in SPL in future.

Calvin Smith, Lecturer

Calvin says the University has been We adopted our two lovely boys in 2014 and they’ve been with us for over three years now! They’ve been embraced by the whole wider family and it’s genuinely hard to remember a time when they weren’t with us.

Over my lifetime there have been huge changes in both social attitudes towards the LGBT+ community and the corresponding equality legislation. Most stark for me in the context of parenthood and family is the change from Section 28 (1998) which labelled homosexual relationships as “pretend families” to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which gave same-sex couples the right to adopt in December 2005.

While same-sex parenting is still relatively rare it is on the increase as attitudes change and there are lots of opportunities beyond adoption. We chose adoption because it felt the right thing for us as a couple and now we have our forever family I can say it definitely was. We were lucky to have a wonderfully inclusive experience with our adoption agency, Reading based PACT (Parent’s And Children Together), who supported us throughout and helped put us in touch with other gay and lesbian families, as well as the online community New Family Social.

The University has also been fantastically supportive. When I first told my Head of Department that we were planning an adoption the response was overwhelmingly supportive – and included lots of conversations about how my workload could be adjusted to enable me to retain some responsibilities while lightening my load in other areas. Our adoption was also celebrated in the same way as other new family arrivals in the Department.

It’s great to be part of a University which celebrates its LGBT+ community and heritage and recognises the full diversity of families. Our boys have their University of Reading Pride flags stuck on the wall next to their beds! The visible rainbows shown all over campus, in offices and on flags, show how inclusive we are and enables me to be both a visible “gay dad” at work and just “dad” to my two little scamps at home.

 

For other examples of experiences of Shared Parental Leave at Reading, see last’s year’s Father’s Day article.

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