Let me clarify right off the bat that I am a feminist and I am all for progression in favour of equality.
I absolutely applaud the introduction of shared parental leave, I think it’s a brilliant way to level the playing field for working parents.
I think what happens to mums when they go on maternity and attempt to return to work can be horrendous. Women suffer discrimination or worry taking a full year out to stay at home will mean they miss major projects and events that would cause their career to take a massive hit.
Whatever the reasons, maternity leave for a full year can seem like a long, and costly, exercise. And that doesn’t mean women didn’t want to have a baby or plan to have a baby, some just want to have the career and the kid. There’s nothing wrong with striving to have it all.
Plus that first year with baby is seriously tough. The sleepless nights, the lonely days, the endless crying. I think it’s nice that dads get that bonding time with their baby, and they can see firsthand how bloody hard it is looking after a baby 24/7.
But while I’m normally always in favour of sharing, I wouldn’t have shared my parental leave.
That’s not to say I don’t totally support people who do, but there’s just no way it would have been for me.
Had my husband asked to share my maternity leave, I think we might have had a lengthy debate (putting it gently) on our hands.
You see while both my maternity leaves left me feeling dazed and confused, exhausted, frustrated and at the end of my tether at times, I loved them.
More than that, I wanted to be there for every single moment in that first year. Both good and bad.
I wanted to see both kids through all of their milestones, not missing the first tooth and the first bit of crawling. I wanted to know their routine inside out, to help them through every cold and figure out what on earth would help get them to sleep.
It’s not that working parents don’t get to experience the milestones, it’s just that not being at home for nine or more hours per day does mean that you miss a lot of moments. I know that, because I now work full-time five days a week.
And I treasure those moments that I did get with my kids in their first years so very much.
Plus there’s the fun stuff you get to do with your baby. The swimming lessons, the baby sensory classes, the get-togethers with fellow parents to talk about what a nightmare sleep we had the night before.
I look back on it all now and, while I know I had some dark days when I was really struggling to get to grips with the whole motherhood thing, I feel really happy that I had that time with my children.
Reading back on this confession, I feel like a traitor, like I’m letting the side down somehow. Admitting that I didn’t want to rush back to work and let my husband take on more of the responsibility, seeing as the children are 50 per cent his, feels extremely backward.
I realise I might sound like a 1950s housewife – heaven forbid my children’s father be involved with his children in exactly the same way as me.
I worry that writing this will make me a pariah among feminists. Plus I know I sound like a hypocrite. I want equality but I don’t want to share the parental responsibility.
But I guess it’s a mummy thing. Men of course love their children as much as women, but they don’t have the rush of hormones, that strong instinct to nurture.
Yes they want to protect and lavish their kids with affection, but at the end of the day women feel the first year differently. We were the ones who grew the babies after all.
Maybe I am reinforcing stereotypes here – something I normally hate – but I can’t say this is an area I would be progressive on.
I just wouldn’t have wanted to share my maternity leave, or receive less of it, for anything. I was worried enough that I might not be able to afford to take the full year off with both kids.
We deserve equality at home and at work. But men and women – people in general – can still feel things differently.
And as I spent nine months carrying the little lovelies and nearly 24 hours pushing each of them out, I think I get first dibs.
So if you’re thinking of sharing parental leave with your other half that’s fantastic.
As with all things parenting, we all need to find the path that works best for us. That doesn’t mean I’m against progress. Because, after all, surely it is progress if we get the choice.
What do you think? Would you, or have you, done shared parental leave? How did you find it?
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