Whether it's a gurgling smile, a first word or teetering steps, there can be few greater joys for any new parent than being there for those precious landmark moments.
That's certainly true for Branch Manager and first-time dad Matt Taylor. And thanks to our shared parental leave policy, he’s been able to spend even more time with his baby boy Maverick. Matt took three months away from running the Bitterne branch near Southampton to share the care of his son with partner Natasha.
Shared parental leave lets partners take an equal share of care during the first year, and can be used both with or instead of maternity or adoption leave. Creating more choice for fathers means mothers benefit from greater choice in how to balance their own work and home life. So it means people like Matt can more easily fulfil obligations at home and at the branch.
‘When I found out we were expecting, my line manager Sarah encouraged me to explore the options available rather than just take standard paternity leave,’ Matt recalls.
‘It almost seemed too good to be true. There was a part of me that was worried how it would be received if I asked for three months off. But Sarah was tremendously supportive about my rights as parent.’
Initially, it was the financial security that shared parental leave brought that looked like the main benefit.
‘Natasha worked for a small independent retailer at the time,’ says Matt. ‘They didn't have a similar policy in place, just the statutory leave, so for me to be able to take that extra time was a great help.’
Maverick was born in July 2020. Having discussed the options at home and work, Matt opted to take three months off from October 2020 – when Natasha returned to work – until the start of 2021.
With Natasha also taking some holiday entitlement at the end of 2020, plus some time on furlough during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it meant the new family of three could spend more quality time together.
‘It also meant we could save up to enable Natasha to take more maternity leave and not feel she had to jump back to work too soon,’ says Matt. ‘That flexibility was a real benefit and took much of the financial pressure off.’
Having both parents involved with childcare from an early stage has been shown to have a positive impact on child development and long-term family happiness. Matt certainly found it boosted his confidence as a new parent.
‘I learned a lot about sleep patterns,’ he recalls. ‘And there were a lot of NHS Zoom meetings with other parents, mostly mums. I stood out in the “Introduction to Weaning” session!
‘There were many challenges, as all parents will know. But I got him sleeping through the night and into a good routine. Not having other work pressures was more than just a help – it was priceless. I think I'm a better dad and a better partner as a result.’
Help families thrive
While Matt was honing is new parenting skills, back at the Bitterne branch his colleagues also excelled at taking on additional responsibility.
‘With me being away, there had been discussions about getting another branch manager in temporarily, but in the end my fantastic Senior Personal Banker Katie stepped up. I knew the branch would be in safe hands and she did a superb job. It was a real development opportunity for her. Having thrown myself into full-time parenting, there was a moment just before I went back when I thought “I have to speak to adults now!” But thanks to Katie and the team I was able to return to a relatively seamless handover.’
Shared parental leave is one of a series of policies in place to help families to thrive, and to make informed choices about child care or adoption. Those policies have helped us be recognised by the work-life balance charity Working Families, who’ve named us a top ten family-friendly employer in the UK for the seventh time in 12 years.
Most of all though, shared parental leave is enabling Matt and other colleagues to develop closer bonds with their children and partners. And providing time to cherish more of those special moments.
‘There's nothing that can ever properly prepare you for becoming a parent,’ says Matt. ‘But all the challenges are massively outweighed by those tiny moments when your child does something new or just smiles at you. You completely forget you've only had two hours sleep!
‘Mav is now walking and has a decent set of teeth. He's chatting away in his own little world and really starting to develop his own personality. That's really special to see.’
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