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Shared Parental Leave: Worthwhile?

So as i mentioned in my last post, i am back to work and am looking at a bit of retrospection on three months of time off on Shared Parental Leave. Was it worth it? Did it make a difference to our relationship? Would i do it again?

I’ll be looking at it in two minds: from a climbing point of view (being as this is indeed a climbing website) and from the view of parenting in general. Throughout i’ve been trying very hard to champion the idea that you can still get out and stay active and debunk the myth that children kill your interests so it’ll be interesting to see how well i’ve succeeded.

First, What Is Shared Parental Leave?

It’s not a daft question as Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is something that nowhere near enough people in the UK know about. Typically, the mother of a newborn will get a year off work, on varying levels of pay. Fathers meanwhile generally get a fortnight.

To even things up slightly, SPL allows parents to, in a nutshell, move the mothers leave onto the father. There are various caveats and conditions to this but in essence, since my daughter was born, i’ve found it easiest to explain it to people by saying i’ve stolen some maternity leave. It’s not 100% accurate but people understand.

In our particular case, we decided that Emily, my partner, would take the first six months off work and then i would take over and take three months before we looked for childcare. The final three months on offer were unpaid so originally we opted not to take them but then, once i was off, we decided to go for it and so Em took the last three months, meaning i got a bit in the middle.

There are many different ways you can arrange the time off to suit your circumstances and it is possible even for the self employed. This has been one of my missions over the course of Rosie’s first year: to raise awareness of this as an option. For more information, there is a dedicated government website on Shared Parental Leave that i emplore you to read.

The Plan At Six Months

As we reached the Great Work Switch mid-way through SPL, i started to get some ideas of what i wanted to do with my daughter on our time off and what i wanted to achieve. For me as a climber, and even more so as a boulderer, and with Rosie not crawling yet, i had the #babyatthecrag circling around my mind: baby play mat for her to lie on and play while i dabble on boulder problems nearby, stopping often to check on her.

The timing was good too, with the release of the highly anticipated North Wales Bouldering guidebook at roughly the same time that we swapped over. Ideal! So much more to go searching for! Still, with so many variables and not much certainty this was going to go well, i opted to stick with places i knew well that would fit what i was looking for.

Company would’ve been great but hard to come by a lot of the time so i figured i’d need to be self sufficient. Sessions would need to be short too, or at least planned to be. An hour or two might be all we could muster between us!

When we couldn’t climb, i was still keen to get out and make the most of being off work with my little one. I was very determined not to spend three months sat in the house, staring out the window, pining to be out and moping as a consequence. So for those wet days, scouting missions to new crags would be the next objective. For this, we could go almost anywhere, within reason.

Did It Work?

Yes, no and kinda.

I’d figured out i needed somewhere with a relatively short walk in, due to the excessive amount of kit i’d need to be carting in there, and somewhere with a decent flat area to leave Rosie while i was on the wall. With me happy to repeat old lines again, our first three targets were Caseg Ffraith, the Braichmelyn and the RAC boulders. All three would be dog friendly crags too.

They all worked a treat, with a steep learning curve. That first session at Caseg Ffraith and i’d opted to leave the baby bag in the car; a mistake i did not repeat! Even so, i had a good climb, got some awesome photos and Rosie had fun being out in the mountains. Tess had a whale of a time too, as she always does when we go bouldering together.

The Braichmelyn was similar although better planned and better executed. Conditions weren’t great for climbing but i couldn’t ask any more from the structure of the session and the whole day was exactly what i wanted.

The RAC was similarly a great little session and a long one at that! Still, Rosie did catch the sun a bit and i learned another important lesson about parenting!

The imposing figure of the RAC boulders – imposing to those that don't know the #climbs they hold. This is #northwales premier beginner venue, with a plethora of low grade lines ideal for those just finding their feet in this #sport – now with all documented on 27crags.com For those of us with more experience, these days, there are a handful of harder lines to be searched out or, thanks to my No Retro Ticks rule and the challenge of repeating everything in the area, a chance to get some mileage in. Despite not doing anything over 6b+ today, 29 problems actually worked as reasonable training on another glorious day in #snowdonia. #babyleave is rapidly becoming #bouldering leave… #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #Bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram @27cragsofficial

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But then the rain came and it honestly hasn’t really gone away enough since for me to have any success taking her out. Where alone you can risk it on those iffy days and bail if the weather turns, i couldn’t take that chance with a baby and all the associated crap in tow – it just isn’t possible to run away in a hurry and keep the offspring safe. I might be determined but i’m not that mad.

It started to get to me a little after a month of outdoor inactivity, culminating in a moan on the blog and a mid-point retrospection following a Facebook debate with an old friend.

I never really recovered, as neither did the weather. From then on, it became solo missions on the occasional baby free day or indoor sessions – for which i can’t thank the Indy wall enough. Without that, i probably would’ve been substantially more surly.

Then came a rash of non-climbing interruptions that were far more important. In short, we moved house and climbing took very much a back seat, albeit for a very good reason. Sadly, #babyatthecrag lasted about a month, although not for lack of trying. And in that time, we honestly made the best of a damp situation.

We snagged one final day out, in great company with Dan Webb and Pete Fagan, at Upper Tier Tremadog which gave the whole time off and out some closure. All told, considering the stories i’d been fed before we started, we’d done bloody well.

What About Time Off With Rosie In General?

I have said before and reiterate now, having this time off with my daughter has developed our relationship so much. I don’t know, obviously, but i imagine it would’ve taken years to get to this point without this dedicated time together.

It’s given me some perspective as to what Em had to do while she was off the first time around and given me empathy as to what she’s doing now. Now i walk through the door after a long day at work with a totally different mindset and i’m happy to grab Rosie straight away and catch up immediately, where before i often just wanted to sit down for a few minutes.

Mostly though, and this may sound bad but hopefully makes sense, i think i love her more now than i would do otherwise. I’ve seen her grow every day into a wonderful little human, as she develops more personality, more emotion and she learns about the world around her.

I’m so glad that, climbing aside, i’ve been able to show her more of the world than the four walls inside the house and i desperately emplore any new parents to do likewise. Please get out with your kids, take them and show them the world as it’s been a wonderful experience that i wouldn’t change for the world.

I’m glad to be back at work now and have some normality back in my life – i don’t think being a stay-at-home dad would suit me that well. But if you took me back to that point at the start of the summer again and asked if i would do the same, there is not a second i would change. Now we can take this experience and grow even more and i can’t wait for the rest of our lives.

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