Who else looks forward to a future where all new parents are entitled to equal paid parental leave, are given the opportunity to experience being a full-time carer to their children, and feel supported during their return to work?! Well, fabulous news for Iris Appelo and her family who had access to and (important to note!) took advantage of four months’ paid paternity leave on top of mum Iris’s time with their new baby.
Shared leave enabled this young family to design the ultimate ‘handover’, incorporating a worldwide adventure, and so comprehensive that Iris was able to return to work without any apprehension—knowing her son was being confidently cared for by the best man for the job…his dad. Through her experience, Iris explains to us the benefits of shared parental leave.
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 since then I have acted in a variety of exciting (leadership) roles. At the moment I am, as a general manager, responsible for operational excellence across our key client accounts. This role was newly created after I returned from parental leave. The combination of professional growth, support and flexibility the company has offered me since I joined, are definitely the reasons I still love working for Randstad.
You recently returned to work. Tell us about your experience.
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 you as a 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. And now, after more than a month back at work, I still take a moment each day to be grateful for the amazing position we are in to share parental leave in this way.
How has your partner, having four months’ paid parental leave, supported your return to work? How has it made the transition easier?
He has supported me in many different ways, but the three most important things that have made the transition easier are as follows:
- There is no better person to look after my son than his dad; so it is such a great feeling to know that he is 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 is a new phase in life for our family. The same goes for starting childcare. The fact that I don’t need to think about care (yet) because our son is still at home gives me a great kick-start at work. I can literally focus my headspace on getting back into the work routine instead of worrying about the logistics of day care pickup and drop off.
- The fact that we now have two ‘experts’ at home to think about all the facets of parenthood (and the chores that come with it) is not only making the transition easier, but will allow us to share parenthood in a different way moving forward than would have otherwise been the case.
What has been the biggest insight your partner has had about being at home in a full-time carer role?
First of all, he has realised just how much fun it is to spend so much time with our son during a period when our son is 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 now he knows the full reality of what days on your own with a six-month-old look like.
How do you and your partner practically manage the work–life juggle?
Technically, the juggle hasn’t officially started with my partner still on parental leave, although we have had extensive conversations over the last year about how we can find a solution that will minimise our stress levels and still accommodate our needs when the juggle really begins.
As my partner’s work involves travel and we don’t have family support in Australia, in the event he is away for work the added pressure of childcare would be too much for me to manage alone. So, we have decided to go down the path of employing a live-in au pair who will take care of our son three days a week, and support us with light cleaning and cooking. On Friday our son will go to day care, as my partner is always in Sydney on Friday and we can share drop off and pickup. As I can arrange to work flexibly with Randstad, I will be working four days per week which I feel is a good base to start our work-parent-life juggle.
How has becoming a mother 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!
If you could only go to one holiday destination for the rest of your natural life, what would it be?
South Africa. I visited Cape Town once for three days which was way too short. I would love to go there again with my family and enjoy the perfect combination of outstanding food and wine, wildlife and nature.
Favourite time of the day is…early morning in summer.
Instagram sites that inspire you…not sure if inspire is the right word (maybe respect is better) but @manonproper is a Dutch woman, and mum of twins and triplets (under the age of four!). Her situation puts parenthood with only one little boy in perspective!
I’m happiest when…walking along the beach with a good coffee and good company.
I’m addicted to…photos of our son that my partner sends when I am working—the outfits and the fun activities are the best! Dads are made for that—just give them the opportunity to do it.
Favourite wardrobe staple for work…one of my dresses by Dutch clothing label Vanilia.
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend…jeans and sneakers.
My role model is…I don’t have one role model in particular, but Sheryl Sandberg has definitely opened my eyes to how becoming a mum does not stop your career. And my friend Bibi always offers the best down to earth parenting advice with respect and without judgement—two factors that are critical to create an environment of support instead of competition between women.
Heels or flats? Flats.