To celebrate international men's day this year, Duncan Parker, Associate Director in Projects has written a heartfelt blog about his time on Shared Parental Leave. He and Matthew Sharkey (Senior Associate, Commercial) have also recorded a short video talking about Shared Parental Leave and what it has meant for them.

My time on Shared Parental Leave by Duncan Parker

Over the past couple of years, I've been lucky enough to take a total of 9 months off work as shared parental leave for our two young kids. They were very different experiences; on the first occasion I looked after our 6 month old daughter for 3 months while my wife went back to work (back in pre-Covid times) and then second time around we both took off the first 6 months after our son was born, which coincided with various periods of lockdown.

When I think about it now, it's the first 3 months I had with my daughter which stick out in my mind. I suspect that this is mainly due to the fear of realising that I was solely responsible for her welfare between the hours of 8am and 6pm. As scary as this was to begin with, it was also liberating as the option of asking mum if it was time for a bottle or a nap was taken away and I had to make all decisions there and then myself. After the first few weeks I soon got into a rhythm and it gave me a confidence with parenting that I hadn't had up until that point. 

Nevertheless, it still took me a while to feel truly comfortable when out and about on my own during the week. I was often the only dad at baby groups or in the coffee shop and to begin with I felt like I would be judged if I didn't do something right or if my daughter cried in public and I couldn't soothe her. It was as if I felt like I had an added responsibility to show everyone that I was up to the job. It was only later that I realised that everyone's been there and is either feeling empathetic or just glad it's not their child making a scene!

I'll always remember the first time that I walked into a baby sensory class and feeling incredibly awkward as the only bloke in the room. The mind-bending display of lights, endless high-pitched singing and an upside-down garden hanging from a sheet above our heads seemed like such an alien environment and I wondered if I'd taken on more than I could chew. Fortunately the woman next to me looked even more perplexed than me and I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of my wife (who would have found the whole experience unbearable) sitting through numerous sessions over the past few months. After a few weeks though, I slowly began to get over some of my insecurities and even started to enjoy it. By the end, it was the highlight of my week and I knew all the songs and even bought the CD so I could continue the madness at home. More than that though I became proud to be a hands-on dad and grateful to have the opportunity to take the time off, which sadly many men just don't get. 

The first 6 months of my son's life seems like much more of a blur, even though it was more recent. I'm still not sure how we got through the challenge of looking after a stir-crazy toddler and a baby during lockdown, whilst relocating to Yorkshire and going for promotion (some questionable life decisions right there..) but we did and none of it would have been possible if my wife and I weren't both off work at the same time.

I must admit, it was nice to turn off the iPhone for 6 months too.

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