Hands up for equal paid parental leave and a supportive return to work experience for all! Well, fabulous news for Iris Appelo and her family who had access to and (importantly) took advantage of four months’ paid paternity leave on top of Iris’s time with their baby.
Shared leave helped this family design the ultimate ‘handover’, weave in a worldwide family adventure, and enable Iris to return to work confident in the knowledge her child was being well looked after by his dad. Through her experience, Iris explains the benefits of shared parental leave. We look back on this inspirational story.
Can you tell us about your career journey?
I studied psychology and graduated with a master’s degree in business administration. When I started my career, I looked for an organisation that would enable me to apply my passion for people and business, and also offer future leadership opportunities. Randstad, a global leader in the HR industry, offered me an opportunity in their fast track management programme. This programme supported me to grow rapidly as a professional and step into an operational leadership role in the Netherlands.
Late in 2015, Randstad gave me the opportunity to continue my journey with them in Australia, and I acted in a variety of exciting (leadership) roles including a newly created general manager role after I returned from parental leave in 2018.
Tell us more about your experience returning to work.
It was good! I felt that the time I spent at home full-time had come to an end naturally, and I was ready to return to work. Initially I worried that the time I had spent at home would have an impact on my skills, but that worry disappeared quickly after returning, and made place for a renewed focus on my newly created role.
What was it like ‘handing over’ home and care duties to your partner when you returned to work? How have you made it work for your family?
It was a smooth transition, which, in my opinion, all comes down to the amazing parental leave policy my partner’s employer offered.
We decided to use the four months of paid parental leave he received around the ‘transition’ period of my return to work, and spend the first two months as a family travelling through Europe and the USA. This period was a great adventure and the most beautiful time for us to bond as a new family, but it also gave my partner time to become comfortable with his role as full-time dad.
You could say we had such a thorough and extensive handover that, by the time I took the ferry into work on the first day, I did not even question if he would manage it without me. I am so grateful for the amazing opportunity we have had to share parental leave in this way.
How did your partner, having four months’ paid parental leave, support your return to work? How did it make the transition easier?
He supported me in many different ways, but the three most important things that made the transition easier are as follows:
- There is no better person to look after my son than his dad; so it was such a great feeling to know that he was with his dad all the time (and that it also allows them to create a strong bond together).
- My return to work after parental leave was a new phase in life for our family. The same goes for starting child care. The fact that I didn’t need to think about formal care because our son was still at home gave me a great kick-start at work. I could literally focus my headspace on getting back into the work routine instead of worrying about the logistics of childcare pick-up and drop-off.
- The fact that we had two ‘experts’ at home to think about all the facets of parenthood (and the chores that come with it) not only made the transition easier, but allowed us to share parenthood in a different way moving forward than would have otherwise been the case.
What was the biggest insight your partner had about being at home in a full-time caregiver role?
First of all, he realised just how much fun it was to spend so much time with our son during a period when our son was literally learning something new every day! Also, that the job description of full-time dad includes many more tasks and responsibilities than he could have imagined.
Before taking parental leave, I’m sure he had asked himself what I did all day at home while ‘only’ taking care of our son. But he quickly found out the full reality of what days on your own with a six-month-old look like.
How has becoming a parent changed your perspective on life? Has it made you more or less ambitious?
When our son was born, I was struck by the realisation that life is happening now so we shouldn’t live just for the future. He is only going to be tiny for a short time, so we better enjoy it to the maximum. Becoming a mum has changed my perspective and I try to be more present rather than often thinking about what the future could look like—something that had always been a strong driver in my professional life before my son was born. From that perspective, it has made me more balanced and calm.
I do not think that it has impacted my level of ambition, though. I still have strong ambition and continue to aim for what I would like to achieve from a professional perspective, but I am no longer willing to sacrifice what is important for me at home. Let’s just say I’ve gotten my values and priorities straighter than they were before!
What advice do you have for other parents planning their return to work?
Explore the opportunity with your employer regarding shared parental leave and use it if it is available (it makes me sad that dads who have amazing employers that offer shared parental leave policies don’t use the leave for old-fashioned reasons).
Stay connected with your employer while you are on leave, and aim to return to a role that challenges and energises you because it is much easier to return when you are enjoying it.
What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
Good question! I am still working on my ‘letting go’ skills. When something or someone is no longer fruitful I think I should move on and have the courage to let go!
Favourite time of the day is…early morning in summer.
I’m happiest when…walking along the beach with a good coffee and good company.
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