Shared Parental Leave Experience: An interview with Adam Jarvis

Generally in the UK workplace, women are expected to be the ones to take parental leave. Women are – because of the gender pay gap – earning less on average, and therefore many heterosexual couples feel it makes sense for them to take the hit in their careers. This expectation seems to have an impact on the uptake of dads when it comes to parental leave.

Sadly, we’ve heard of cases where there’s been shaming of the mothers who dare to break from the “norm” and share their leave, returning to work, as if it’s against nature. And we’ve also heard from men who’ve been made to feel “silly” or even “cheeky” for daring to take their fair share of parental leave. 

Current government policy also allows dads who qualify (via their partner’s qualification) to take shared leave. Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015. In 2021 only 2% of families used shared leave, and paternity leave is at a 10 year low.

There are many benefits of shared parental leave. Other than the financial element, it is proven to have a positive impact on child development. Involved fatherhood is linked to better outcomes on nearly every measure of child wellbeing

We thought it’d be good to find out more about Adam’s experiences of shared parental leave. Adam is a research scientist at Unilever. He has two children, Charlie who is 8 and Jesse who is now 4. After initially taking just two weeks of standard paternity leave with his first child Charlie, Adam took 9 months of paid parental leave with Jesse as the “primary caregiver”. 

How did you feel at the time about the 2 weeks of paternity leave you took with Charlie ?

The 2 weeks of paternity leave was certainly not enough and the majority of memories are certainly mainly negative. All of my paternity leave was spent in the hospital due to complications. The 3 things that stand out about those 2 weeks are (1) seeing the pain Emma was in after having to have a C-section due to complications during the birth and struggling to cope (2) having to drive to and from the hospital everyday as I wasn’t allowed to stay after the birth. I used to dread leaving at night as I knew Emma was struggling with pain due to the procedure and (3) I went with Charlie to have a lumbar puncture as there was the possibility he had meningitis so needed to be tested. I had to stay in the waiting room but I still remember the scream when they inserted the needle.


How does your experience with Jesse compare to the time you had with charlie?

They are at 2 different ends of the spectrum. When I think back then the majority of memories are negative with Charlie’s paternity leave. Due to Charlie and Emma being in the hospital for 2 weeks then I certainly didn’t have time to form a bond with Charlie. With Jesse, with the amount of extra time I had off I remember more of the positive and fun times that me, Jesse and Charlie had together. There were certainly hard and difficult times during Jesse’s paternity leave but for me, these have seemed to have started to fade away. This experience of answering these questions and remembering back has certainly showed me that I look back on Jesse’s paternity with fondness and an experience I will treasure forever. I certainly feel like I got that emotional bond with Jesse a lot quicker than I got with Charlie.


I don’t think either of us ever imagined that you’d be the one to take the majority of the parental leave. When I first suggested it as a better financial option what were your initial thoughts?

A whirlwind of thoughts and emotions over a period of time. Surprise, shock and terror to begin with. I was worried over several things such as how would I cope looking after not one but two children for nearly 9 months. would I forget technical skills at work with not practicing, would I be bored with a day of routines and changing a nappies.


Did you have any doubts ?

Yes. I was initially concerned about my career as well as if I would be up to looking after a baby

I was worried about how I would be perceived internally in work as well as concerned that I would lose skills whilst out of it. This was soon dispelled by my company and LM going supporting me and going through all of the options with me as well as my work colleagues who were supportive once they found out. It was my LM first time that had asked for paternity leave and he was keen to understand the process and what was involved. I felt less apprehensive once I had the conversations and meetings


Most people think parental leave is like a holiday and not proper work. What would you say to those people?

It certainly isn’t a holiday as it is hard work that is 24hrs a day sometimes with few breaks. I also think it is what you make of it. I tried to make it fun for all of us but there were testing times especially with also looking after a 3 year old. I was lucky to have a good support group with Emma and grandparents to ease the burden on occasions. 


What was the hardest part ?

Lack of sleep and tiredness at the beginning of paternity leave which sometimes would affect the most simple of tasks or decision making. 

Sometimes going for stretches of time without the chance of getting anything to eat or drink. I have now become accustomed to eating meals that have gone cold. The one thing I have found out is that this doesn’t change even when the kids are older!

I always remember the feeds (especially at night). The trepidation during the winding process of if Jesse was going to burp. Sometimes he would burp immediately and the elation that I felt from knowing that he would fall back asleep within a few minutes and I could get an extra few hours sleep. Sometimes I could still be trying after 30mins and dreading that the clock was ticking down on my sleep window.


With Charlie you definitely thought I had the easier job with me being at home on maternity leave and you going to work. Did being the primary carer change how you feel about this?

(laughing) Most definitely yes! I hadn’t realised how difficult and stressful it is being the primary carer. It is not only about the day to day activities but also looking after and worrying about another human being. Are they sick, is it serious, do I need to go the doctor’s or do I need to go to the hospital etc. With being the primary carer it is a 24hr job with nowhere to hide. It can be hard if you are own your own during the day with nobody to talk to when you feel the day has been a complete disaster. 


How did you find the transition back to work?

I found it initially difficult. I started to feel dread with 6 weeks  of my paternity leave remaining as I didn’t want the experience to end. I really understand now why parents on leave find it difficult returning back to work as it was the same for me. I had a couple of catch-ups with my line manager which helped but I do remember sadness on the last day before I returned to work.

On my return, the first few weeks seemed really surreal and strange as it felt that I had time traveled back  to the day I started my paternity leave and nothing had changed (the people, the projects and business). One positive I did find was that I felt so refreshed and full of energy when I returned. I remember researching and writing a couple of scientific proposals and the great feedback I got after presenting them.


Did you know anyone who had taken shared parental leave before?

No. Unfortunately I didn’t have anybody to discuss  and get advice. Looking back now I think it would have made me feel more relaxed about the decision I was making. Since I have been back in work, both a friend and a work colleague have taken paternity leave and hopefully seeing my experience has helped them make the decision to do the same.


Best part

Combining my paternity leave with looking after our 3 year old who was going to start reception in 7 months time. We made the most of the time together  by having fun  on days out to the zoo, seaside , parks etc as well as getting him prepared for school. I also feel I have a stronger bond with both children.

Describe a typical day in the life of your parental leave

This is quite hard as a lot of days were different! I think of my leave in different phases. The first phase was with a newborn and not having enough confidence to venture to far from the house. I was certainly nervous about going out between feeds for too long or having to change nappies in public spaces. This phase was a routine of feeds, nappy changes and sleep. Making the most of the baby’s sleep periods with quickly doing jobs (tidying or making sure all of the bottles were clean and ready to go), eating, getting some extra sleep myself or maybe sneaking in a quick episode of a netflix series that I was watching. I also remember this being the most tiring phase with the night time feeds and nappy changes. I also remember initially how hard it was to work out what a crying baby wants (food, nappy change, sleep or burping) but did get efficient at working it out (although there were days where nothing worked at the daily routine just vanished. 

The second phase was going out to  places like a local large park or supermarket for a few hours which covered feeds, nappy changes and eating in local cafes. I was lucky as it was spring followed by summer so it wasn’t an issue to change nappies on the grass in the park. Sometimes the issue was trying to change nappies in restaurants or shops where there were no changing facilities. This was certainly an issue with the state of some of the men’s toilets but learnt to do a quick change and turnaround whether it was in a corridor, bathroom floors (only if it was clean) or even quickly in the restaurant.

The 3rd phase which was the most fun was when I had the confidence to be able to go out for trips for the whole day and be able to contend with what was thrown at me with 2 kids. We bought family membership at a zoo and would go 2 – 3 times a week. 

How it affected career (positive or negative):

Positive. I felt refreshed and invigorated  when I went back to work. I certainly don’t believe it had any negative impact on my career and the feedback I got was that I was missed during my time off.

Would you do anything differently?

Take longer, like 12 months, because 9 months goes so quickly.

What did you learn

  1. There are many different types of options for parental leave to suit your needs 
  2. I certainly believe that my work colleagues were not judgemental and perceived my decision in a positive way.
  3. I believe the bond I created with Jesse was obtained quicker than with Charlie. I also see now that Jesse will come to me more for things such as hugs and cuddles if he has hurt himself
  4. Make the most of your time with your child as it will fly by 

What would you say to someone thinking about using shared parental leave

I have had a couple of conversations with people who have since  taken parental leave. Make the most of it and enjoy it. The biggest part for me was to have the meeting with HR and my LM to go through all my options and finding out they were both very supportive for what I wanted to do.




Gender equality matters in the workplace and in the home. 

Dads taking greater responsibility for childcare, easing the home burden and enabling women to rejoin the workforce, will contribute to reducing the gender pay gap, but it will also have a huge impact on bonding with their children and benefit society as a whole.

We’d like to see a higher uptake of shared leave and parental leave, but it’s going to take all of us talking about dads as caregivers and breaking the gender stereotypes to make it happen.

About Adam Jarvis

Adam is a Research Scientist at Unilever R&D.

Facts and stats

Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015. In 2021 only 2% of families used shared leave, and paternity leave is at a 10 year low.

There are many benefits of shared parental leave. Other than the financial element, it is proven to have a positive impact on child development. Involved fatherhood is linked to better outcomes on nearly every measure of child wellbeing

Find out more about shared parental leave here: Shared Parental Leave and Pay: How it works – GOV.UK (

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