My experience: Motorhoming on maternity leave & role reversal in the home
Wednesday August 28, 2019
Shannon Conway, Vice Chairman Women in Property North West Branch
In my twenties I would airily say that Maternity Leave offered the ideal opportunity to travel, much to the amusement of parents. A decade later, with a four-month old baby in tow, that dream became a reality as we set off on a motorhome tour of Europe.
Since 2015, under EU Law, parents/adopters can share up to 50 weeks Parental Leave (SPL) and 37 weeks’ Shared Parental Pay. In 2016, when my husband and I told our employers we wanted to take Shared Parental Leave, neither had received such a request before. My husband took three months SPL (I took the remaining nine) and also applied for a three-month sabbatical to be tagged on to the end. The legislation allows the SPL to be used concurrently which would allow us to spend six months together.
We saved up throughout the pregnancy but didn’t make any travel plans until our happy and healthy baby daughter came along. As I was nursing Bea into the early hours I would learn about motorhome specifications, quickly becoming an expert on terms such as “twin axel”, “payload” and “leisure battery”. After many hours of research, I found the ideal motorhome and we bit the bullet. I joined motorhome forums, looked into EU road laws and created packing lists which included all the toys, books and medicines that a growing baby would need. Finally, after Bea’s final set of jabs at four months old, we set off on a journey which would see us travelling across France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.
The trip was incredible. We took in villages and cities, beaches and mountains, forests and deserts - we took our time and moved as the mood took us. Bea’s first foods were experienced in tapas bars, trattorias serving fresh pasta, and local markets. She learned to crawl along the banks of the Hopfensee in Bavaria and her first word, picnicking on the French Riviera, was “cheese”. We spent time together as a family, walking for miles everyday and meeting locals who loved cooing over a baby. Of course there were days when everything seemed to go wrong – national holidays when we had run out of nappies, an unbearable heatwave in Italy, a few flat tyres and a minor collision – but we were together and could manage setbacks as a family.
We were sad when the trip came to an end but reality and a return to work loomed on the horizon. My husband, however, had other plans. He had enjoyed the time he spent with our daughter so much he put forward the notion of being a full-time dad and homemaker – an option we have embraced whole heartedly. My daughter in now almost three and has had the undivided attention of her father who takes her to playgroups, classes or the library every day. They buy food and prepare family meals together; she helps him with the cleaning (sometimes!) and empties the washing machine. I get to concentrate wholly on work and spend lots of time with my daughter when I get home without having to worry about housework or chores. We have to manage on a single income of course, but this is outweighed by the quality of our family life.
Men are always keen to hear about our trip and are surprised when they find out more about their right to Shared Parental Leave. I am often asked about my husband’s experience as a full-time dad. A few years ago men would say “I’d love to do that but I worry that it would affect my chances of promotion”, to which I’d reply “Welcome to our world!”. But thankfully times are changing as employers see the benefit of a healthy work/life balance and flexibility for both men and women when it comes to Parental Leave and working hours. However more needs to be done to raise awareness in this area. As more men exercise their rights to take time off to spend with their family, the workplace and the home will become a fairer and more level playing field.