Parental arrangements, returning to work – Bucking the trend

Posted on: September 19th, 2019

Lindsay Taylor and her husband give an insight to their parental arrangements with their two-year-old son after recent news articles reporting the trend that fathers in the UK are not taking their full parental leave entitlement and wanted to share their personal experience.

At Coffin Mew our agile working structure gives staff the assurance that they do not need to choose between their family and their career. We offer new parents a phased return to work option that provides “the best of both worlds”, as Lindsay Taylor puts it!

Dad’s story

Long before we found out that my wife was pregnant with our son, we discussed what we would do if we had children.

Growing up my mum was a housewife and my father worked long hours to make ends meet. He worked his day job, worked standby in the evenings and took on extra hours working late into the night. Quite simply, I never spent much time with my father growing up. It wasn’t until my mother died that I really got to know my father. Before this, he was effectively a stranger that slept in the same house and shared a table with us at dinner.

Whilst this arrangement was necessary for my parents, being a product of its time; I was determined that I wouldn’t follow the same path. I knew that my wife loved her career and would find it hard to take a long break. We often spoke about finding ways of both working with me being the main carer, but didn’t formulate a plan.

Until one morning when my wife called me at work during my coffee break to announce she was pregnant. I still think about that moment every time I make coffee.

We sat down that evening and solidified our plan. My wife found out about all the legal entitlements for maternity, paternity and shared parental leave and looked at our finances. I concentrated on thinking up a long term practical plan.

When I spoke to my employer’s HR department about shared parental leave they hadn’t even formalised a policy on it yet as it was such a new entitlement. There was a generous 18 week paid leave maternity for mothers, yet it turned out that they offered the legal minimum for shared parental leave which was around £140 a week. Nevertheless, I took almost 6 months off to look after our baby.

I subsequently agreed with my employer that I would return to work part-time doing 30 hours a week. I work three, ten hour evening/night shifts a week on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I also do extra hours on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening some weeks if they are struggling for staff. My wife works traditional hours Monday to Friday.

The system that we have in place isn’t the best if socialising on a Friday and Saturday night is important to you, or if switching between days and nights is a problem but it mostly works for us. It allows us to both work and only pay for one day a week childcare and I have the opportunity of spending the bulk of my time with my son. This arrangement affords us three evening mealtimes and Sundays together every week as a family. It also allows our son to play with other children at nursery.

An unforeseen bonus is the effect it has had on my father. He visits most days and on a Thursday he looks after our son so that I can get some sleep before switching my body clock to nights. He also helps if I have to work short notice outside of my normal hours. It has given him a new lease of life and the opportunity to spend time with his grandson. Something we both regret he never had the chance to do so with me.

With our new arrival soon to be with us, we can carry on with our working/childcare arrangements with little hassle.

Is this for everyone? If you ask me at 9 am on a Sunday after my work week has ended: the answer may not be positive. However, any other time, I am happy to claim that we have the benefit of both worlds. We both have a good work/life balance and I wouldn’t change our situation for the world.

Mum’s story

Whilst we know our situation is rarer than that of most working parents, we were quietly pleased that our friends and family, male and female of all ages, met our proposed childcare arrangements with initial surprise quickly followed by positive comments. They have been very supportive of us and although I geared myself up for negativity, I met with none from those I cared about. The only negative comment I ever received was from my midwife; the last person I expected to hear it from. She was surprised that I was returning to work by choice when my son was 8 weeks old and even more so that my husband would be the primary carer. She did not feel that he would be able to parent as well as me, the mother. I begged to differ. As first-time parents, we were both equally unprepared no matter how many books we read or parenting groups we attended. Every day has been a learning experience and we have supported each other through the sleepless nights and the early smiles.

Whilst returning to work after a couple of months may come as a shock to many, it was something I always wanted and intended to do. Even before we married we had discussed future childcare arrangements. I love practising as a solicitor and always knew that I wouldn’t want to work part-time. My husband, however, wanted to spend as much time as possible with any children we had.

We both love our son unconditionally (and secretly both believe we are the favourite).

We understand the importance of making time for each other, both as a couple and giving each other space to chill out when we have had a difficult day. We are not perfect, it is not easy; but we are happy and it works for us.

My husband has effectively given up his career to ensure that I can achieve my dream of being a full-time solicitor. My employers Coffin Mew have been instrumental in allowing me to work effectively and efficiently, by use of agile working and flexitime to ensure I have quality time with my family. They are extremely accommodating when I need to work from home to ensure seamless childcare or emergencies and I have never been made to feel guilty.

Now I am expecting my second child, Coffin Mew’s new agile working and phased return to work policies are instrumental in ensuring that I can maintain my current quality of work/life balance and enjoy plenty of time with my new baby. Although it may not suit all, I intend to come back to work using statutory ‘keep in touch days’ during maternity from 6 weeks and will be back at work part-time within a few short months working my way up from 2 days to my full time hours over a sensible period that suits both me and the Firm. My clients are already aware of my plans and are pleased to know that they will have continuity of service and are already insisting on being informed of baby details once she is here!

The working culture and support I have experienced with Coffin Mew is something that I have never seen to this extent in other law firms but I hope will be adopted by all in the near future. Together with support from my husband, we both can get the most from our family and working lives.