A new Dad's view on Shared Parental Leave at GCHQ
I never thought in a million years that one day I'd take six months parental leave to be a full-time dad to a newborn and a toddler. But that's exactly what happened. It was a pragmatic decision for me and my partner. She runs her own business from home. It was unrealistic for her to keep the business going as well as looking after our baby daughter and two-year-old son. We had a choice: either we both keep working and put the kids in childcare, or I take shared parental leave - on full pay - to look after the children myself. It was a no-brainer.
To be honest I would have been slightly nervous about broaching my plans with previous employers. Not in GCHQ. It's the most family friendly place I've ever worked and the reason my family left London to settle in Cheltenham. Parental leave and flexible working are more than just policies in GCHQ - they're engrained in the culture.
I never know whether people expect me to eulogise about those months being some of the best of my life. The truth is I found it hard - really hard. Any illusions I had about it being 'time off' were shattered pretty quickly. Newborn babies require constant care, 24/7. There is no 'time off'. I had no idea how exhausting it would be. More unexpectedly, I felt quite lonely. It made me realise how much I took for granted the daily social interactions at work, despite the keep in touch days where I could bring my little ones in to the office and catch up. So I threw myself into every baby group going - baby yoga, baby sing-song, messy play. You name it, we did it. Having that support network of parents who felt just as strung-out as me was a godsend. There was a real "we're all in this together" camaraderie.
Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. I bonded with my daughter and became closer to my son in a way that would otherwise not have been possible. I also learned that while I'd never want to be a full-time parent, I'd also never want to work a five-day week again. And that's the beauty of GCHQ. I was able to return to full-time work compressed over a 3.5 day week. My life is now split equally between my career and my family. I have found my balance.