Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Parents laughing at their little boy wearing a rainbow party hat in Leicester

Zach and Poppy are proud parents to baby Thomas. The couple decided to go against the typical household dynamic and opted for shared parental leave. The couple wanted to share their story to encourage and advise other parents on how they too can make the most out of such a precious time.

Over to you, Zach…

It wasn’t a shock when we found out we were expecting. The signs were all there so when we had the “I’m late” conversation, there was no panic, stress or anxiety – it was more like a realisation that it was going to happen.

It took a few days before we found out for sure. We peed on the stick – well I say we, I personally did nothing but it felt very much like a team effort – and there it was. The game-changer. You wouldn’t think a faint pink line on a strip of plastic would turn your world upside down, but it sure does.

Poppy burst into tears and I did my best to stay calm, but the cool persona I had adopted when we knew it was a possibility had swiftly disappeared. Panic. I tried to remain calm and for some reason all I could think about was the fact that I had my driving theory test the next day! I know, bad timing! I passed – somehow!

It wasn’t a great time on all fronts to be honest. Poppy and I had only been living together for five months so it put some strain on. But they say there’s never a “good time” to have a baby, so we rolled with the punches.

I was a little worried to begin with because I’d heard so many horror stories about nightmare pregnancies – pain, sickness, mood swings and so on, but Poppy was an absolute trooper! There was sickness to begin with but overall it appeared to be an easy pregnancy. There were a few meltdowns, one in particular about ordering the wrong burger but overall Poppy took it in her stride.

We decided that we didn’t want to find out the gender of the baby. When we were telling a friend’s mum about the pregnancy she made a fantastic case for keeping it secret. It made sense to not find out, I can’t explain it but it just felt right this way. We were berated with questions like “but what colour will you paint their room?!” and “but what colour clothes will you buy?”. No thank you! Someone even asked us “how will we prepare for the baby if we don’t know the gender?”… what nonsense, and don’t get me started on gender specific colours! Boy, girl, both, neither, Martian… you can’t prepare enough for a baby!

I hadn’t heard of shared parental leave before Poppy brought it up. I just assumed the only option was for me to go back to work after two weeks and Poppy to take maternity leave for however long she needed. Poppy read that the scheme was extremely popular in Denmark, and lead to happy families. The policy entitles both parents to spend time with the baby in the first year, with up to 52 weeks off in total, to be shared however suited the family best. The UK adopted the policy in 2015 and I was the first person in my company to take the opportunity.

We decided to take two weeks of leave together, and Poppy took two weeks annual leave too so we had a month off together in total. Then it would be just me and Thomas.

We decided to go to Morocco for a week; it’s somewhere we have always wanted to go and knew we probably wouldn’t get the opportunity (or energy) for a really long time. We also used this time to go on a few road trips to visit friends around the UK.

It’s quite daunting planning financially for the future, but for us the family bonding time far outweighs all of the worry. Thomas and I had some really special times together and made memories I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Before Thomas was born, I spent some time looking up “the best acoustic songs of all time”. I’m a big music fan and I wanted that to become something I shared with my son. I spent the first week with Thomas playing him a couple of songs a day – he seemed to enjoy them… not that a one-week old baby has much of a range of emotion, but I like to think he was enjoying them.

At the beginning of parenthood, I couldn’t stop wondering what I did with all the free time I had before, but then they start to grow up and you think how easy it was when they would just lay there or sleep. I specifically remember the moment he started crawling around – it didn’t seem that long ago that he was just a sleeping, pooping potato who would sleep next to me while I played video games. Time really does fly.

The time we spent as a family really helped me mould into the stay at home dad role. I have always had a hands-on approach to chores around the house and I do a lot of the cooking. But learning how to juggle my time between general day to day tasks and a completely dependent human was a bit challenging. You start appreciating 10 minute breaks here and there and what you can fit in to that time!

Fortunately, everyone around was very supportive. We didn’t really face many questions from family or friends, in fact they all thought it was great. My colleagues, however, were not so supportive. It shocked me how sexist some people could be towards pregnancy and the roles they believed a mother and father should play.

I watched a well-known chat show shortly before my paternity leave started; the female presenters stated it a women’s job to stay at home and watch the children – just as some of my colleagues believed. I was quite disappointed at the negativity and such an outdated perspective. People joked about how their partner would be “useless”, and one person outright refused to let their partner share the leave. It was shocking and sad.

But for us, this new household dynamic and swapping of the expected roles really has helped us. We do still have roles to play, like Poppy does more washing, whereas I manage to get a lot done in the kitchen. We work that way because it suits us – not because anyone says we have to or its because what’s “normal”. It’s really made me appreciate what gets done in a day, and likewise for Poppy. We know if the house is messy at the end of the day it isn’t necessarily a case that we have been idly sitting around doing nothing, but just busy with everything else that needs doing!

If you get the opportunity to take shared parental leave, all I can say is strongly consider it. It wasn’t my idea to do it in the first place, but I embraced the idea from the start and (hopefully) did the best that I could do. I think most dads-to-be fear that they wouldn’t be able to cope – well, I am proof that you can! It’s not so much a learning curve as a learning rollercoaster!

Growing up, I didn’t have much interaction with babies – Thomas was only the second baby I’ve ever held! But it’s 17 months later (at time of writing), Thomas is developing really well, and as far as I am aware, I did a good job!