Family before Fampany
Learning the importance of parental leave the hard way
Wednesdays are the one morning I don’t immediately rush into the studio. Normally I walk out the door at 7am, escaping the ensuing madness that is my 6 and 8 year old refusing to get dressed and refusing to eat Cheerios because this morning they want Coco Pops (we don’t even buy Coco Pops!). The moment that door closes I switch into what I’ve always called my ‘passion’ mode — I almost shut off from anything that isn’t work related.
But, Wednesdays are when I walk with little G (she’s just like me but 8). We talk about total nonsense which I love. I like to think I’m teaching her the latest street vocab… but she’s totally used to ignoring almost everything I say. In the words I put in her head, I talk pure ‘Barry Bongo’.
Other than weekends, this is pretty much the only quality time I have with her — that 20 minutes (one could argue that is the actual Barry Bongo).
Lis is my best friend — we’ve been together 20 years and been married 10 years on June 9th (note to self: I have to make effort for this milestone). Through those years, we’ve always had an unsaid agreement: I focus on my passion (work) and she focused on hers (little G and Louis Peter). Back then, I felt that I couldn’t have driven ustwo to where I wanted it to go without having the time and space to truly focus, almost 100%, on work.
But you see here’s the twist… except it isn’t one. Eight years ago Sinx and I were young(ger), establishing our business in the industry and focusing on doing what we loved — while also keeping the lights on. At the time I was so focused on the business – the ustwo blinkers were on. I felt that my place was at work and, to a large extent, took for granted that Lis would look after the family. What’s more, this outdated, ignorant view was certainly backed up by what the government were telling us telling about statutory pay for parental leave… there was a set standard and we followed it without question.
Personally, I took one week off when Gracie was born. Apparently I promised to take the second week off at a later date but never did. In those early days, I actually remember thinking how convenient that babies always sleep — I found night feeds a great time to be reading up on what was going down that day at the ‘studio of dreams’.
Looking back at this time now, it’s with guilt and shame. Little G was born via C-section on November 13th at 11am — and at the time I hadn’t even thought about the trauma of birth and how Lis was impacted. Lis if you’re reading this and I hope I do show you, it kills me that you told me that I had never said I was proud of you…
I was, and possibly still am, selfish. I literally took everything for granted. One week later I was off, racing back to work — the inconvenience of not being there was over, let’s roll.
This damaged my relationship with my brand new little family. At this time, we never had the chance to bond as a three, to take the time to truly understand how Lis felt in her new role as a mother. My mind was always on the studio, work was what I did and that made me proud. I was also a man, and felt like this was my role — 1 week off was the norm, I was supposed to be back at work. It was a naive view, especially to build the foundations of a company on.
So here’s why I am writing this. What I’ve realised is, the lack of attention I have paid to parental leave as an issue comes from the fact that I never took extended parental leave myself — I didn’t have that chance to understand and appreciate first hand how important that early time forming family bonds is. Not only that but it was a case of not listening and taking in fully the experience of those around me — my colleagues at ustwo who were young parents and of my own family.
Last year I spent 5 weeks away with Lis, Gracie and Louis where I promised that I’d not use my phone. It was time to focus on them, leave work behind and start being a father and husband. I realise they deserve more than five weeks, but this was my own first step. But what happened on that trip blew me away. I actually felt like proper father. I began to appreciate the challenge of looking after children properly and to understand the reality of being a family unit.
I loved it so so much I often find myself looking back over Lisa’s instagrams of our USA road trip to relive those memories (she wasn’t banned from the phone as she is enough of an adult to use her phone in a balanced way).
I feel I was put on this earth to make a difference (I know we all are) — And ustwo is a vehicle to make a measurable difference.
And, yesterday was the proudest day of my working life. ustwo London have made a commitment to give new mums and new dads the same paid parental leave. A full 6 months.
This decision did not happen in vacuum — activities across the ustwo fampany have made this a reality. But my road trip did cause a shift in my personal perspective. I saw the work already being done in the New York studio with Pledge Parental Leave and the amazing standards set by the Malmö studio with renewed focus. And on a more individual level, there was a new urgency to help the mums and dads across the studio spend time with their kids and transition back into work after their leave. So, when the London Leadership proposed a change in policy – it was a no-brainer.
Now, both men and women can take 6 months off at full pay within that first year. They have the choice to not pay any attention to what happens at ustwo and the time to give their partner support and love, in a way that I wasn’t able to. Go off and be a little family… enjoy the time… it goes quickly… form that proper bond.
There is another, perhaps larger reason why this change in parental leave is so important — and this is something I have been slower to realise. Until companies enable men and women to care for families equally there won’t be societal change. Outdated gender roles — ones ingrained in any unequal parental leave policy — will persist.
Without companies enabling and encouraging men to take time off to be equal parents, we won’t help more women have the careers they want and the balance we all need. With equal parental leave we hope to take a step to addressing this imbalance within our own fampany.