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The University of Southampton
Parents and Carers NetworkInspiring stories

Jennifer's story

This is an informed, and inspiring workplace story showing how parenting can be successfully shared.

I’d always known that I would want the father of any children I had to have the opportunity to play as full a role in their upbringing as possible, as I’m passionate about challenging assumptions of ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles. Legislation and practice in this area is changing, so my experience will quickly become outdated, but when I found out I was pregnant my husband and I looked into how we could best share caring responsibilities.

A system offering additional paternity leave – basically, the ability for the mother to hand over part of her maternity leave and entitlement to statutory maternity pay to the father – came in during April 2011, but recent figures suggest that less than 1% of Dads take this up. We were one of the minority. My husband and I decided that I would take six months of leave – taking advantage of the University’s excellent maternity benefits – and he would take a following three months, during which I’d work full time, with both of us working four days a week when he returned to work. It was easy to work out from my end – from the University’s point of view, I was taking a standard period of maternity leave – and although my husband’s case was the first his managers had come across, his got sorted out and he ended up taking nearly five months off as he enjoyed it so much. In common with other mums who return to work at six months I breastfed my son throughout the time I was at work.

There are some technical details which are off putting in the system but will get sorted if more people shared their parental leave – putting accrued annual leave at the end of the mum’s period of statutory maternity pay (SMP) jeopardises the SMP entitlement (but not the time off) of the Dad as it breaks the 39 weeks of entitlement. No employer that I’ve come across offers to transfer additional benefits (such as enhanced pay) to Dads (so that if both parents work for the same employer that, for example, offered 12 months pay at 50% of usual salary to new Mums, they would lose out significantly if the Dad ‘took over’ some of the time from the Mum). And it can, apparently, feel rather ‘odd’ to be the only man in a baby class. But it was so worth it to ensure that our son got some valuable bonding time with his Dad.

I only hope that in time, more people take advantage of this opportunity.

September 2013

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