I’m entitled to a year of maternity leave, but I’m not taking it all: here’s why
“Are you taking the full year?”
I can’t count the number of times my work colleagues have asked me that this week. What they meant is, “Are you taking a full year of maternity leave?”
My answer: no, probably not. And this blows people minds.
The fact that people are surprised by this just goes to show how lucky we are compared to our American counterparts. Fifty percent of American mothers return to work within five weeks of giving birth with giant, unhealed wounds in their uterus. This is grossly unfair. Also just gross.
Yes, I’m entitled to a 12 months off from my work. Not all of that time is well paid – or paid at all – but I knew that I could leave the office today to start my maternity leave and I’ll be able to return a year later to the same (or equivalent) job.
But I’m not planning to do that.
I need to, you know, eat and stuff
I’m lucky that my employer will pay my full salary for the first 22 weeks of my maternity leave. For the next 17 weeks, it drops to statutory maternity pay (SMP) at £145.18 per week, which isn’t even enough to cover my rent. The final 13 weeks are unpaid.
I have a working partner, so we can (probably) squeeze by for those 17 weeks of SMP. But those last 13 weeks would be tough, especially given that the only salaried person in the house would also be shelling out over £400 a month to commute to the other side of the country. That’s why we’re hoping to share the leave, because…
I’m not the only parent
Thanks to shared parental leave, I have the option of splitting my leave with my husband.
Given the fact that our salaries are similar, and I don’t have a ridiculously expensive commute, it doesn’t actually make financial sense for me to take all of the time off.
I’ll probably still take most of it, since I’m planning to breastfeed and I didn’t have much success with pumping the last time, but my husband will hopefully take some time off too. After all, he’s as much of a parent as I am. In some ways, he’s far better. More patience. More ridiculous in that way that kids love. Quite frankly, our daughter prefers him.
Shared parental leave in the UK isn’t perfect. All of the leave still technically belongs to the mother, meaning the father can only take time off if she decides to give him some of hers. If a few months of parental leave were ring-fenced for fathers – and better paid – loads more dads would take time off to care for their children. But shared parental leave is better than nothing, which is what existed when our first daughter was born, so we’ll take it.
I’m not a good stay-at-home parent
I love my daughter to bits, but sometimes she can be…boring.
It’s not her fault. She’s a little kid, and it’s not her job to entertain me. But I can’t say that I love playing pretend with her Anna and Elsa necklaces for hours, getting told that I’m not building my Mega Bloks tower correctly, or constantly needing to have an answer to the question, “What are we going to do now?”
Props to all the parents who make parenting their full-time job and throw themselves into educational games, messy play and healthy baking. It’s hard work – far harder than what I do in the office. I enjoy it in limited doses, but full time? It’s not for me.
I’m a better parent when I’m a balanced parent, and for me that means getting out of the house to let my brain do grown-up things for part of the week. I appreciate the time I spend with my daughter more when I’m home, and when I’m at work, I get a break from being Mummeeeee.
And God, babies are even more boring, aren’t they? Cute little buggers, but they don’t do much.
It’s possible that I might change my mind and decide to snatch back any leave I’d promised to share with my husband because this baby is just so damn adorable. I’m open to the idea, but I don’t expect it to happen. He deserves the opportunity to experience all of the joys – and frustrations – that come with caring for a baby just as much as I do. And I deserve to step back into a new career that I’ve only just started building as soon as I’m ready.