Parental leave is a society-sized problem

Anna is about to become a parent, so in January we sat down and talked about what a supportive environment for new parents looks like. At FF Studio we reckon parental leave for directors whose partner is having a baby is 3 months at full pay. Ideally taken in two blocks.

Personal context

For context, we don’t currently have any employees; Anna and I are both directors, and we have a gang of highly skilled freelancers who weave in and out as projects need them. So rather than a policy for employees, we’ve started with what directors do in this scenario.

A present father and mother was my normal. I was quite young when my dad retired. My childhood memory is of domestic and caring work done by both of them. And tbh this family history has shaped my views on parenting and care.

I was working at the Ministry of Justice as a contractor when my first child was born. My contract basically meant no paternity pay - but that’s part of the contractor game - you save money for holidays, sick pay and parental leave. You look after yourself.

With this freedom to make my own choices, I decided to stop working for one month initially directly after birth. Two weeks felt like a very short time given quite how transformative having a child is to life, norms and routines.

Seven months later in the summer, I decided to stop working for 2 months. (In reality, I quit the contract I was in and hoped to get another contract two months later.) Those two months were when my daughter was 8 months and was just starting to interact with me and the world around her.

This worked really well for me and my wife. Our household income took a hit, but the time with my daughter and my wife in those three months more than made up for it.

Experimenting our way forward

I’ve looked at government policies, and I’ve looked at what other companies do. Broadly I don’t think that there is enough support for non-birth parents to take time out from work to spend time with their new families.

As ever - all problems sit in their next bigger context - and so does this. Parental leave is a society-sized problem. Two weeks as a standard should be left in the 20th century. Where there are two parents, more equality of leave is more beneficial to the birth parent’s mental health, and it helps to spread the responsibility of care across both parents. That has repercussions for career progression and workplace equity across a lifetime, not just the first year of a child’s life.

We think it should be different. We want to model a compassionate and flexible approach that supports families while also acknowledging the economics of running a new business. I want to be able to point at things we have done, not ideas that we have.

So, there you have it. Having a child enter the family? Take a month off, then another two months off when the time is right.

We’ve only had to think about non-birth parents for now, in one very specific scenario. But we know that life brings loads of other scenarios too: being pregnant and giving birth, caring for older or disabled family members or friends, adopting, fostering and a million other nuanced scenarios as yet unlabelled. In an ideal world, I’d like us to head towards a broader carers’ policy’; fingers crossed we grow enough to make that a reality.

So without writing policies for every possible scenario that could lie ahead, our broader position is this: new parents should be supported by their workplaces, their families, their communities. People who look after other people are great and should be supported. Caring is what life is for.


June 19, 2024