To celebrate National Inclusion week 2018, each day, Tribal shared one story from a Tribalite talking about their experience as someone who is considered diverse or different, and how this has impacted them. Below, Mark talks about his decision to take Shared Parental Leave.

“You know, there’s a policy called Shared Parental Leave, where fathers can take a share of the maternity leave...” said Tribal CEO Tom Roberts, when I told him I was going to be a father.

I didn’t know that. I didn’t know much at all and I was terrified, I had five and a half months of excitement and anxiety before the due date.

The tests, the scans, comparing the size of the unborn baby with various fruits, the self-doubt, the scares, the loss of control of the situation.

I did what I could to prepare myself emotionally as we marched toward the denouement, which arrived in the early hours of a Wednesday, in the summer of 2017.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 partly as another step in breaking down gender stereotypes and the expectations that are heaped so heavily on mothers.

Essentially, the change in policy is that the previous statutory allocation, 52 weeks of maternity leave and 2 weeks of paternity leave, is replaced by 50 weeks to share between the parents (adoptive or biological).

I decided to take 3 months, my partner took 6. I’m fortunate in that my partner’s salary is comparable to mine, so it made no real difference financially who was on leave, as long as someone was working.

Sadly, this is not true for everyone and it will remain a barrier for many couples unless we continue to reduce the gender pay gap and stop questioning a mother’s decision to return to work after 2, 4, 6 months, otherwise SPL will never see widespread uptake.

Recent figures show that only around 2% of fathers are taking SPL, with half of the surveyed fathers stating that they cannot afford financially to take advantage of the new policy.

The day-to-day of my paternity leave was not hugely different to my partner’s.

My son woke up, I woke up, we played, we cuddled, we laughed, we cried, we went to the park, to see family and friends, sometimes the pub.

We took part in weekly activities, including Baby Sensory and the local library’s Rhyme Time. I was not always the only father in attendance, but on many occasions I was.

In my time attending these groups, I was often received with some intrigue, but mostly the mothers and grandmothers I spoke to were interested as to what I was doing there. Generally, people felt more comfortable asking if I had a day off or was on holiday – not once was I asked outright if I was on paternity leave with my 6 month old.

I suppose people either did not consider this scenario – or worse – felt that this assumption would be in some way ill-received if it was incorrect.

I took a day off last Friday and we went to Rhyme Time at my local library. Of the 34 parents, I was 1 of only 2 men.

Consider this for a moment, if you see a mother with her baby in town at 11am on a weekday, do you assume she is on maternity leave, annual leave, unemployed? If this scenario involved a father and baby, would you assume he is on annual leave, unemployed...?

The response from family, friends, colleagues, and strangers has been overwhelmingly positive and there is consensus that this is part of an important transition for our society, and highly beneficial to the father and child. The downside of this reception is that it demonstrates how unusual SPL is and how it does need to be treated delicately.

The persistent use of phrases such as ‘Daddy Day-Care’ and ‘holiday’ in reference to paternity leave, whilst meant in good humour, undermine the responsibilities a father has in raising their child.

Mothers also suffer from the same cutting remarks, and any parent will tell you that being at home all day with a young baby is not ‘easier’ than a day in the office. The difference here is that men still have a long way to go to overcome the expectation of a certain level of detachment from their children, and language which categorises fathers as babysitters is not helpful.

The father’s role and responsibilities in raising the child must be aligned with the mother’s if women are ever going to feel the same confidence as men do when going back to work after having children.

Coming back to work was difficult, and took some adjustment – emotionally, mentally, and logistically, but this could never outweigh the value I place on having the opportunity to take SPL. It was the best 3 months of my life. The forms to fill out and the work handovers are really not that bad.

I end with a few words of wisdom from three of our leadership team, Tom Roberts, David Balko and Shorful Islam, who have each said to me on separate occasions:

“Don’t miss out on spending time with your children at this age, it will be gone too soon and you will never get it back.”

Thanks for reading,