The art of better marketing – or – What’s the difference between Additional and Shared Parental Leave?

As reflected in the name of this small blogging effort, I am taking Additional Parental Leave (APL) to look after my now 10 month old son for 3 months. However this scheme is no more. As of 5 April 2015 it has been replaced by Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

“So this is a significant shake up that has completely reformed the way it works to ensure that everyone gets a better deal?” I hear a reader cry (probably into their beer at my grammar). Well, I’m not so sure. In fact, I know it hasn’t as the purpose was never to significantly change the scheme.

In essence SPL is simply a more flexible form of APL. It doesn’t assume that the mother will be the primary cater for the first 20 weeks as APPL does, and allows you to take leave in more than one block. In essence it really says that you get up to 12 months parental leave between you, and you can divide it anyway you like. Including to overlap it, so you could both take the first 6 months after birth as leave together. 

Do I think these changes are significant? In a word, no. Yes, they are more flexible, but aren’t going to make a real difference to most families choices. Until the other parent (mostly a man) gets paid equally to maternity leave (i.e. employers pony up for at least 3 months full pay), it won’t increase take up rates on its own as so many men still earn more. Chatting to the ladies in the NCT group it is clear that none of them could realistically have done it without significant sacrifice, had they even wanted to.

(I would also note that the increased flexibility is likely to most benefit nurseries, as it will mean mothers will return to work and require childcare services sooner.)

What it does do is provide an opportunity to market the concept better than they did first time round. Almost everyone I’ve told about taking APL (who has heard of it) asked “oh so that’s the new system then?”, to which I’ve politely always replied “no it came in in 2011” to general surprise. This included enlightened parents who might have taken advantage of the scheme in the past 4 years! So the additional publicity SPL has had is welcome, and will hopefully encourage more people to take advantage of the #dadtime on offer. ‘Cos it’s brilliant. 


A busy little bee – Auntie then Granny then Grandad Time!

I'm basically making excuses now for not blogging enough – but we've had a pretty busy couple of weeks, with lots of visits and visitors.

After Uncle came Auntie, with my sister making a flying visit to check in on the little man. We had a fairly quiet time, although we did make it to the British Museum (cue lots of “Mummy Issue” jokes in the Egyptian exhibition), which was ok for a pushchair, but not great. The biggest disappointment was that the children's area, including the bottle feeding facilities, was actually inaccessible by pushchair as the lift to the way in was broken. Junior then had fun crawling around on the lawn in front of the museum, chasing some more pigeons. I'm still not sure how he'd react if he actually caught one…

My favourite moment of the whole trip however was going into the disabled/baby change toilet (when we eventually found an open one) and finding this wonderful contraption! How life changes – very different to the types of vending machines I used to find amusing – “Herbal Viagra” anyone?

Then last week saw Granny (my Mum) come down – this was both pleasure for her and help for me, as I was in court (as a magistrate, I hasten to add), and we needed some childcare – which this being the first time my Granny has looked after Junior all day on her own, and the first time I was the one doing the leaving behind, as Mummy went to work as normal, was slightly nervous for all involved. But it all went swimmingly!

The day before we had been to visit the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. This is a small but pretty oasis in the middle of the parkland that is turned over to the types of tropical plants that you get in ornamental gardens and at Augusta golf course in the Masters. And this is the right time of year to go, with some very pretty blossoms out, with the whole plantation obviously fairly recently having had some development, as there was a lot of relatively new paths and signage. Junior wasn't the only small child there by any stretch (at least one nursery class was on a visit!), but he did get to look at some more ducks and geese. I'm not quite sure what he makes of them, but they do seem to hold some interest.

Then this weekend we made a flying visit to my parents house, which allowed Grandad to catch up with Junior, and for him to visit another National Trust garden, this time belonging to Croome Court. Grandad is a National Trust volunteer at the nearby Snowshill Manor, which Junior will love in a few years time, as it is full of interesting things, including plenty of toys, and hopefully in a couple of years time will have a model village and railway (if Grandad gets his way – he's trying to replace the train set we had in the loft as children…).

However Croome is quite a new NT property, apparently having been bought by a developer who wanted to turn it into palatial apartments, but rightly had his plans blocked by the local community with the NT getting involved to take over management. The house is open but apparently has nothing in it, as it is very structurally unsound – so in an innovative way what they've done is turn the huge amount of scaffolding around the house into a visitor attraction of its own, by putting a cafe on top with views out across the grounds and Malverns. As you can see, there is a LOT of scaffolding!

But the gardens are an early example of “Capability” Brown's work, and are quite pretty even now, and have the potential to be really quite something. However, as Grandad observed, it also has the potential to be a complete moneypit…but worth a visit if you're passing!



Swimming with the Fishes – one of the gifts I hope to give Junior

As I've previously written about, we are keen to give Junior the opportunity to learn to swim. So we've started taking him to swimming lessons on a Saturday, and we've also taken him a couple of times outside that.

While neither Mum or I are particularly confident in the water, Mum is at least a competent swimmer, while I'm definitely in the “get me on a life raft or I die” category – it is clearly a myth that humans naturally float!

The swimming lessons, at Dolphin Swim School in Mitcham, are fairly typical child fare to a certain extent – lots of singing of nursery rhymes and remaining very close to Dad/Mum (although the majority of those in my class at least are Dads – I guess because it's the weekend). However the thing that surprised me most was the emphasis on submersions – literally completely dunking Junior in the water. There are a number of varieties of this, the most basic being facing each other. The idea is to get them used to firstly holding their breath – they do this automatically when younger, but lose the instinct over time, and secondly to rise to the surface. The remainder of the lessons are more about then being able to swim to the nearest solid thing and hold on, although this will take longer.

Junior appears to take more after me when it comes to water, unfortunately. Not a natural. He doesn't really like his ears being underwater, which combined with his general aversion to lying on his back is making backstroke seem like a distant prospect! However the tactic is clearly to keep exposing him to the water, so I'm now going to try taking him during the week at least semi-regularly. And to my surprise, lying him back during his bath seems to be making quite an improvement.

We'll also try a number of pools, as SW London is well served by council leisure centres (mostly provided by the Better not-for-profitish organisation). Thus far we've only been to Putney Leisure Centre, which is quite good with a splash pool for small people – kept slightly warmer than the main pool, with a family oriented “Changing Village” that allows you to stay together as a family. And doesn't require you to have correct change for the lockers, but you do have to remember a padlock!


Things they don’t tell you at Parent School – sleeping babies are a myth, and still then they “regress”

….Ok so I admit there isn’t a Parent a School. I’ve reached the conclusion that this is because it isn’t until you actually have a kid that all the privations and difficulties would seem worthwhile – a school that told you about them beforehand would simply mean no-one in their right mind would actually have children, and so the world would be populated solely as the result of drunken one-night stands. Nothing wrong with this method of conception, it just isn’t going to keep the chimneys swept!

The latest thing we’ve found out about after it happened is the “Nine Month Sleep Regression”. As noted a couple of posts ago, Junior’s consistently poor record of sleep actually succeeded in getting worse, with him returning to his neonatal levels of waking every 1-2 hours (at best). Ideal with Mum having gone back to work.

According to the reassuringly comprehensive blog Baby Sleep Science this is perfectly normal. At various times in their development, because of the huge amount of changes going on in their brains, their sleep patterns “regress” to earlier ones. Nine months is one of those, as with the mobility changes and social development that we’re currently seeing. Junior being the lack-of-sleeper he is, this means he did completely regress, not just a bit, so we’re currently back to square one of trying to teach him to sleep again. Which we hadn’t really succeeded in doing, but were at least getting the odd 4-5 hour stretch out of him.

Apparently the same thing happens again at 18 months too. Looking forward to that already…


The Week That Went – but no Yogurt Test pass

Another week flies by, and one without a blog – my literally dozen of readers are protesting – and Junior is passing developmental milestones like crazy. This week alone he has started stacking cups, clapping and identifying different shapes (did that this morning!).

He still hasn’t passed the yogurt test however. This is one of Mum and mine’s devising to test when his problem solving and motor control skills have reached the real milestone of serious tool use.


The Yogurt Test


  • 1 small pot of yogurt or fromage frais
  • 1 baby spoon
  • 1 baby
  • Optional (but advised) – All-over neoprene bib

Present baby with opened pot and spoon. Observe results.

PASS = Baby uses spoon to extract yogurt, demonstrating ability to solve simple problem using tool.

FAIL = Junior sucking determinedly but vainly on bottom of yogurt pot, having dipped fingers in but failed to realise the increasingly damp sensation on his stomach is the yogurt he so desperately wants falling out of the top, and covering him, the all-over bib Mum wisely bought, the high chair and the kitchen floor. And if he’s really lucky Daddy too.


#uncletime with the walrus and llamas @HornimanMuseum and Gardens

We also had a visit (the first in a line of my relatives, they clearly know me well enough to know I’m likely to need encouragement/support by now…) from my brother, which coincided with some of the nicer weather. Apart from getting some quality playtime in, we also went to the Horniman Museum and Gardens in East Dulwich. Passing through SE London a fair amount, I’ve seen it advertised quite a lot. The setup is reasonably familiar – a Victorian gentleman collector, who was interested in other cultures (in the “how many beads do you want for that priceless treasure” way), who philanthropically opened his collection up for the edification of the masses. It then became too big and having knocked his house down to replace it with a purpose-built home then graciously donated it to the London County Council in 1901.

I think it’s safe to say that the collection then entered a slightly awkward phase, that is still having an impact on it today. It was organised by the prevailing ethnographic theory, which was, and it is incredible now to write this, that all non-Western cultures were human but simply not as evolved as us, and so you could map the stage of their evolution based on their technological and social advancement. It’s safe to say that Africa didn’t do well, although it wasn’t clear where this would leave the Welsh. Obviously, and as was pointed out on every information notice that mentioned this theory, we now know that this is wrong!

There were a lot of stuffed animals including the infamous walrus (@HornimanWalrus if you’re interested) demonstrating more conventional evolutionary theory, some real odds and ends such as a torture chair (probably mostly fake apart from the head screws – nice), and an entire gallery devoted to showing off the African artifacts the museum still holds, but in a much more culturally sensitive way. Clear existential guilt, although it was very interesting how masks play such a crucial cultural role in so many African societies, in the same way clothes and adornment do in the West.

The gardens were also nice – with a surprise city zoo – quite small but with 2 llamas, unlike Deen City farm which although much bigger overall has only 1. Perhaps this is how they measure themselves.

An Easter of Kings, Curry, Cousins and Less Sleep!

Another Easter passes, Junior’s first ritual consumption of chocolate passing in what could have been a diabetic haze, but instead was quite a good weekend of eating. Although his obsession for all forms of bread-related product continues – this weekend we added muffins to his approved list, along with pancakes (possibly pikelets) which frankly are a bread substitute. We’re already trying to hide other food-groups in the bread in the hope he’ll pick up their taste!

It opened with an evening of curry and beer – Junior and Mum departing early once Junior had won the prize for cutest customer in the curry house for the evening. Some of the waiters really took a shine to him! This was followed on Saturday by the start of a visit by his two little cousins (and attendant adults), aged 6 (Boy) and 4 (Girl).

Boy Cousin and Junior were endearingly fascinated by each other – playing very happily, which unfortunately left Girl Cousin somewhat out of the loop. This was ameliorated during the visit to Hampton Court by the fact that Junior spent a lot of his time in the back pack, thereby being out of reach and conversation for both of them.

Hampton Court was in fine form – as it should have been for its 500th birthday! We obviously weren’t going to the HCP500 evening bashes (with children?! Absurd…). There were a range of playlets going on throughout the day to keep everyone occupied and give those who didn’t have their ears glued to an audio guide an idea of what the main historical events at the palace were. Mum and I actually visited last year, when the plays were probably less well done and slick, but had more of a storyline to them – this weekend they were mostly significant but unrelated events dotted through the palace’s history. Obviously Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn got centre stage, but also a range of other monarchs. However the dancing and singing was very good – at one point I definitely felt like an extra on Shakespeare in Love!

On Monday we went to Dad’s Playgroup, which was attended by a fairly select band – but this allowed Junior more opportunity at the toys – which he failed to take advantage of by sleeping and then clinging to me most of the time! This was followed by a junior hosting one of his NCT girlfriends and parents – he was on good form for her, of course. Demonstrated his spectacular eating skills by demolishing some more bread. And in fairness a bit of meringue. Little bit.

In amongst all this jollity, Junior did absolutely sideswipe us with a complete sleep relapse. According to the Wonder Weeks theory he has just entered his next developmental leap, so this has probably contributed, but he may simply have mistaken his mother for a chocolate Easter egg, and been enjoying the opportunity to stay as close as possible. As the scratches from a couple of nights’ close attention prove….