Why more dads should take Shared Parental Leave – by Olympian, Abdul Buhari

Why more dads should take Shared Parental Leave

Last year I took three months of Shared Parental Leave to look after my then eight-month-old son Zakariyya. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some pretty amazing experiences in my life – I’ve competed in the London Olympics as a discus thrower and, as an athlete, I’ve been sent to Korea, San Diego and South Africa.

But those three months of Shared Parental Leave with my son were the highlight of my life so far.

With Shared Parental Leave, you can share up to 50 weeks of leave with your partner. You can take it in up to three separate blocks, or have the time together – and you get paid while you do it. I can’t recommend it enough.

I think it’s especially important for dads in the Black community to think about it. We are portrayed negatively in the media when it comes to our family involvement – that’s often unfair. If more of us knew about the opportunities to look after our children, more of us would take them up. We need to show that there are many of us who are doing the best for our families – we put our children first. The more good dad role models in our community, the better. Inspiring the next generation of dads can only be done by leading by example.

For me, the time I spent looking after my son brought us closer as a family. I loved taking Zakariyya on the tube for the first time – we went to Oxford Street – and seeing his reaction to his first banana – he absolutely hated it! Most of all, I loved chatting to him and being ‘dad’.

Shared Parental Leave taught me how hard it is sometimes to be a parent. Looking after a baby can at times make training for the Olympics look easy! When I was training as an athlete, I controlled the things around me and put things in place that enabled me to succeed, but I can’t control whether Zakariyya will eat his breakfast or whether he’ll wake up in time for our play group or medical check-up.

One surprise for me was how much my mental health and physical fitness improved while I was on Shared Parental Leave. I have a good level of fitness, but carrying my son around helped my physical fitness and I think my resilience improved. I became more relaxed and reassessed my personal priorities. I made sure I was practising what I preached.

I’ve now retired from athletics and work for a leading financial services organisation It’s so important to me to know that I had that time on my own with my son. I learnt so much about him from seeing him take his first steps and going to sensory classes together. I’ll forever treasure those memories.

I know that it can be daunting to ask your boss – or your HR department – about taking time out to look after children. My employer was very supportive. I think you just have to have an open conversation with them and explain your rationale. Go for it! http://sharedparentalleave.campaign.gov.uk.

By Abdul Buhari

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