5 Weeks?!

Pastoral Leader and MTPT Project Accreditation Coach, Chris Reddy (@brightwayscoach) explains how taking 5 weeks shared parental leave with both his sons challenged parenting stereotypes and enabled him to make family memories that will last a lifetime.

I remember our pastoral team meeting so clearly: it was June and I was sat at the back of the classroom as we started to explore our plans for September. Our Line Manager casually said, ‘We also need to remember that Chris is likely to be on paternity for the first five weeks of term so….’ 

Before his sentence finished, the whole team of ten, which was an equal split of male and female members, immediately turned around and said… ‘Five weeks?!’

I must admit, whilst I was sure five weeks was the amount of time I’d decided to take for my paternity leave, this hadn’t fully been explored with school HR, so I was a little surprised that it was announced publicly so early. Clearly, gauging by the unified and collective response, I was not as surprised as my team. 

Our team are strong and well versed when it comes to the support we offer our students and how we work together as team. We’re close and all enjoy working together. Their response was simply one of shock. As a team, we’re used to discussing things openly and honestly, so I didn’t mind, it just took me by surprise. It 

turned out that a few members of the team didn’t realise that it was possible to share paternity leave or have longer than the standard 2 weeks set out in the previous entitlements.

The daft comments started to roll in: ‘I’m not covering your lunch duty for 5 weeks!’, ‘That’s one less brew to make in a morning in September’, ‘Does your wife know you want to steal some of her maternity leave?’ and ‘Your wife won’t be able to put up with you for another 5 weeks at home after the summer!’

We then got back to our pastoral planning for September.

Over the following weeks I had more questions and comments from my team, staff members and when discussing this with family and friends outside of work.

‘Really, school are letting you have five weeks off?’ 

‘Do you not feel guilty about being away for so long at the start of term?’

‘The first half term is the most important for setting standards and getting to know your students. Are you sure?’ 

‘Five weeks…after the summer holidays – you jammy git! Are you sure you can do that?’

‘Is your wife really OK with you taking five weeks of her maternity leave?’

‘Don’t you think your wife deserves all the maternity? After all, she carried the baby all that time and had to give up alcohol.’

The list went on. I didn’t mind any of this this. My relationships with the people I work with and spend my time with is strong. We can laugh, joke and have deep and reflective conversations quite regularly. It’s on looking back that I realise that many of the comments, questions and jokes that arose, came from a lack of understanding about the rights partners now have when it comes to their paternity and also based on stereotyping of both the male and female roles when it comes to parenting.

I quickly realised as it came to planning for my paternity leave that there seemed to be very little advice out there, or at least it felt that way. Every time I asked school HR, my line manager or other teaching colleagues both in and away from my setting, I struggled to get answers. It helped that my wife was a HR Manager at the time so I had direct access to good quality HR legal advice on my rights for paternity. My experience at the time and now, two years on from this leave, is that for a man to take longer than two weeks paternity was something that was against the norm. Why is this?

Gender stereotypes? Financial reasons? Lack of knowledge of paternity rights? Concerns over perception from peers or colleagues? Lack of support from leadership? Or is it that men do not generally want to be at home in those early weeks?

Throughout my 15 years of working in schools, I’ve always said to the staff and colleagues I work with, ‘Family first.  Always.’ I know it’s often easier said than done, but sometimes, we need permission to put our family first.

When it came to what I wanted for my paternity leave, I was clear on what I wanted. This came through long conversations at home and with some colleagues at work. These conversations increased my confidence when clarifying my thoughts and boundaries with my employer early on. 

Being able to take the more than two weeks paternity for both of my sons was incredible. The benefits went far beyond the anticipated ability to help out with the practical things – the night feeds, the additional housework, the heavy lifting.  It was the additional memories we created: the days out together, the new coffee shops we found, the mini breaks we went on and the opportunity to take my eldest to school every for his first five weeks. These times will be remembered forever!

Being connected to The MTPT Project has not only helped me gain support with my parenting and professional development, but it’s also help challenge my stereotypes.

It’s always worth remembering that you’re totally replaceable at work, but you’re not at home. Home is your real life. 

So, to all those men out there considering taking longer than two weeks paternity leave, go for it!