Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave could be the answer to a number of tricky issues like sharing childcare and other housework, but recent studies have shown that it may not be as straightforward as first thought.
Since April 2015, parents have been entitled to take 12 months of shared leave. In the past, dads could only take two weeks’ parental leave but parents can now choose how to divide up the first year between themselves.
We know that the transition to parenthood is one of the toughest hurdles a couple can face together (though it doesn’t have to hurt!). Shared parental leave can make this transition easier, but there are some practical and financial factors to consider.
Managing the demands of a new born baby, along with all the existing household chores, is a lot to ask of one parent alone. Shared parental leave means that both parents can sometimes be at home together and the load can be shared during the day.
It can also help new dads - who often experience the transition differently to mums - adjust better to the demands of parenting (Wisensale, 2001). One study showed that dads who take parental leave spend more time with their family, get more involved with the children, and take more of a shared role in parenting and other household tasks than those who don’t (Seward et al, 2006).
Your decision about whether and how to share leave is likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including which of you earns the most, and how parental leave is handled by your employers (McKay et al, 2010). There are also a number of social factors such as the traditional gender roles of dad as breadwinner and mum as caregiver, and more practical needs like breastfeeding (McKay et al, 2010), all of which may play a part in your decision.
Couples who reject traditional gender roles are more likely to take up shared leave (Seward et al, 2006). But it’s not always easy to break down these barriers, and some dads may find their workplace culture getting in the way of taking parental leave. One study showed dads facing negative reactions from colleagues and bosses at the idea of reducing their working hours to look after babies (McKay et al, 2010).
This range of influential factors gives an idea of just how complex the decision to share leave can actually be. So, what does this all mean for couple relationships? Well, there isn’t yet much evidence about the effect of dads’ parental leave on relationships. But, what we do know is that shared leave can help dads be more involved with childcare and housework, and that people whose relationships have a more balanced share of chores often report feeling more satisfied (Kershaw et al, 2013).
Whatever you decide, you might find it helpful to read an overview of the law and your entitlement over on gov.uk. If you are expecting a new baby, you and your partner should consider these factors together and decide what might be best for you and your family.
Kershaw, T., Murphy, A., Divney, A., Magriples, U., Niccolai, L., & Gordon, D. (2013). What's love got to do with it: Relationship functioning and mental and physical quality of life among pregnant adolescent couples. American journal of community psychology, 52(3-4), 288-301.
McKay, L., & Doucet, A. (2010). Without taking away her leave: A Canadian case study of couples’ decisions on fathers’ use of paid parental leave. Fathering, 8(3), 300.
Seward, R. R., Yeatts, D. E., Zottarelli, L. K., & Fletcher, R. G. (2006). Fathers taking parental leave and their involvement with children: An exploratory study. Community, Work and Family, 9(1), 1-9.
Wisensale, S. K. (2001). Family leave policy: The political economy of work and family in America. ME Sharpe.