6 things to consider before taking a split parental leave

by
The Parentaly Team
Oct 7, 2022
Parent and baby working on a laptop

Introduction

More companies are offering extended parental leave to all employees, which has led to an uptick of questions - especially from non-birthing parents - on whether they should split their leave.

What’s the better choice – to take a few weeks off when the child first arrives and use the rest at a later time, or take the full parental leave all at once?

Our answer is: it really depends on your personal circumstances at work and home.

There are many factors that come into play before landing on what feels right, including employer policies, childcare options and what is most helpful to your growing family.

First, a few things to consider:

  • Most parents who weigh the option of splitting up their parental leave have a partner who they are “taking turns” with for parental leave; as such, much of our advice will reference another partner
  • Some of our advice, however, also applies to single parents who have extended (20+ weeks) of paid parental leave where they may want to start outsourced childcare options before they fully utilize all of their weeks of parental leave, and save the remaining time for later
  • The ability to split paid parental leave is dependent on your company’s willingness to allow two shorter leaves, so review your policy or consult with HR to learn if splitting leave is even an option

Assuming splitting your parental leave is an option, weigh the following pros and cons before finalizing your parental leave plans with your employer to ensure it will best serve your needs.

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The pros of splitting up parental leave

Pro #1: You can choose a schedule that best supports your family

Flexible policies that allow structuring your leave creatively can be extremely helpful, and many feel relieved to have the option to save a portion for a time that is most suitable for their family’s needs.

In many cases, we see non-birthing parents save some or most of their parental leave for after their partner finishes their leave, particularly to fill a gap in childcare to save money - or to wait until the child’s immune system is stronger before putting them in daycare.

Others have coordinated their parental leave with other important family needs - like for summer break when an older child is home and needs supervision, or to take an extended trip to allow out-of-state or overseas family members to meet their new addition.

Pro #2: It gives you the opportunity to focus on solo caregiving

One major benefit to taking most of your leave after your partner finishes theirs? You’ll find no better opportunity to be thrown into the parenting deep-end to figure out how to be a strong caretaker.

Learning how to be self-sufficient in caring for a new child is not often an option for both new parents in a partnership. Coordinating split leaves creates this significant opportunity for new parents.

This is an incredibly big deal! Splitting caretaking responsibilities with your partner not only improves your bond with the baby, but it also allows you to support your partner in their individual journey as a new parent.

Pro #3: You can design your leave for a “better” time to be away from work

This is a controversial statement, but it’s important to acknowledge that many working parents will split their leaves simply because they feel it is better for their careers.

Sure, this may feel awkward to talk about since most birthing parents do not have the luxury of scheduling their parental leave around their ideal work schedule. But, many non-birthing parents do. And that certainly creates an unequal situation.

Still, for non-birthing parents who are worried about the timing of the arrival of their child, it can be hugely beneficial to delay their leave until work settles down. A concrete example of this is someone who works in retail and feels like they need to be around during the holiday season.

The cons of splitting up parental leave

Con #1: It’s usually MUCH more disruptive to take two leaves than one

“I split my leave because I was worried it would be too much on my team for me to be away for four months at one time. I wish someone had warned me that being gone twice would be way harder on my team!”

We hear versions of this feedback over and over and over.

Many parents think that it’s better for their team and the business to be gone for multiple shorter periods instead of one long period. In actuality, it’s almost always easier on the business to have you leave one time.

Why? Because going in and out is disruptive. It’s hard for you to truly own anything, and you’re constantly ramping down and ramping up. It’s also really hard to staff against multiple leaves and ensure full ownership and coverage of your work.

Con #2: You have to build two coverage plans instead of just one

If you’ve been on parental leave before, you know a lot goes into preparing to make sure no balls are dropped while you’re out. Imagine having to do it all twice?

Creating a coverage plan is a lot of work. Creating TWO coverage plans can feel completely overwhelming - for you, your manager and team.

With a split leave, a lot of your time will be spent ramping up and down and handing projects back and forth. This can feel counterproductive and disruptive to all parties involved.

Con #3: You may not get the experience of taking leave with your partner

Navigating the transition to parenthood can be challenging. Like many other difficult and new experiences, the weight can be lifted when you have someone to learn with as you go.

But taking a split leave means that you will not experience much of the early parenting days with your partner, which can lead to loneliness and isolation.

If your partner is the birthing parent, it also means that they’ll need to care for the newborn while recovering from labor if you’re not on leave with them that first month.

There is no wrong answer – do what makes the most sense for your situation

There is no one-size-fits all approach to taking parental leave – we’re just glad to know your company offers paid parental leave and you’re taking advantage of it!

Taking it all at once? Great! Feel better about splitting it up? That’s great, too.

It’s not easy to decide how to approach parental leave, especially in a way that benefits you, your family and your career. But considering these pros and cons should help guide your decision.

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