Ben, 31, has an 11-month-old daughter Hannah with his partner Catherine. He works as a social media manager at the BBC and is about to return to work after taking shared parental leave for three months.
Why did you want to take shared parental leave?
I saw it as a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity to build a deeper bond with my daughter and a stronger day-to-day relationship, rather than just enjoying snatched moments in the evenings or at weekends.
How did your partner Catherine feel about it?
It was very much a joint decision. We had emotional, practical and financial considerations to take into account but we talked everything through and Catherine was very open to it and supportive from the start. I’m very grateful for that.
How did your employer react?
They were very supportive. It was always treated as something they would try to accommodate. For me personally, I had to consider the effect of taking myself out of the workplace career-wise for three months, but the attitude was ‘let’s try to make this work’. My colleagues were really interested in the fact I was doing this and excited for me.
How have you found the experience overall?
Overall it’s been brilliant. Of course there are moments when you have your fourth dirty nappy of the day and you’re tired, but on the whole it’s been such a massively rewarding experience to see Hannah developing over this time. She’s now responding to certain words and getting stronger on her legs. Watching her little personality coming through has been great. I feel fortunate to have taken leave from months eight to 11 when she’s that little bit older and more interested in everything around her.
Have you been getting out and about much?
We’ve been going to NCT meet-ups and various baby groups and classes. I’ve learnt some new songs through these and am now very well versed in ‘Wind the Bobbin up’! It’s been fun to do all that. We’ve also had playdates at other parents’ houses.
What are the highs and lows?
A high point has definitely been meeting another dad going through the same experience and making a good friend out of it. I’ve also made some good mum pals but it’s nice to have a male ally as there are certain things we haven’t experienced like giving birth and breastfeeding! I recently went to an NCT meet-up where there were an equal number of mums and dads for the first time, which was great.
Every so often you have low moments when you’re tired and find the experience repetitive, especially if you haven’t slept well. But the positives massively outweigh the negatives. We’re lucky Hannah seems to be in a good place with sleep now. It’s made us all happier, more relaxed and brighter during the day.
What have you learnt from the experience?
I’ve learnt that leaving the house when you’re on your own with a baby takes much longer and waiting for buses has been a revelation as you watch the second and third go past because they haven’t room for another buggy!
I am much more in touch with the smaller things and feel I have a much better sense of when she’s happy or sad, of what’s going to make her laugh or when she’s tired. She’s always excited when her mum walks in but she turns to me for comfort too.
I certainly have a better understanding and appreciation of what it was like for Catherine during the first few months of maternity leave. It’s tiring and emotional and you’re always on the go. Getting a chore done becomes a huge achievement. It’s made me appreciate things I hadn’t appreciated before.
How are you feeling about returning to work?
Part of me is looking forward to being back at work to use my brain and have more adult contact, but I’m equally sad to leave the day-to-day contact with Hannah. It’s made me really determined to make sure I have a good work/life balance. In the past I’ve been guilty of staying in the office too late or checking work emails too often.
Would you do it again?
I absolutely would if I could, 100%. It’s been such a rewarding experience. I’ve seen the little developmental milestones as they’ve happened and have built a deeper bond with Hannah. Obviously there are lots of things to take into consideration, but I’d recommend it to any new dad.
To hear more about the benefits of SPL from parents who have used the scheme, visit www.gov.uk/sharetheleave. You can also use the tools and guidance on GOV.UK to check if you are eligible for SPL and/or ShPP, plan your leave and pay and give your employer all of the information that they need.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.