Working mum of three

Figuring it out as we go along. Blogging is cheaper than therapy.

Maternity leave and other basic human rights

on June 14, 2013

20130614-100003.jpgIt’s hard to admit that you can be replaced. It’s tough to work full throttle on something and not be able to see it to fruition. There is never a good time to have a baby.

The pendulum is about to take a major swing in the family direction. The nesting phase has already started; the garage has been rearranged, the toilets have been scrubbed and the chocolate drawer is well stocked. Sleep patterns, feeding patterns and poop patterns will dominate our world. Familial harmony will be the key objective. Work will be a distant and irrelevant memory. Once the baby arrives, Monday mornings will no longer be feared, because every day will be the beginning of a full working week. Frustration, tedium and exhaustion will take on a whole new meaning. Work meetings, corporate responsibility, banal and bizarre parts of my job will all fade into insignificance. My own tiny imprint on the UN Human Rights infrastructure is about to go on hold. Switching from the international stage, to the domestic minutiae.

It is hard to describe the paradox. If family and work are the two major components of my existence, then opting for one implies a disloyalty, a lack of dedication to the other. Even if it is temporary. Some think that having children is a selfish and conformist act that sucks you into traditional roles and restricts your ability and desire to make a difference in the world (I know this because someone said it to me). In fact, having three doesn’t make me want to achieve less, rather the burden of responsibility to improve our life, society, global circumstances, weighs even more heavily. So the pull in both directions is mutually reinforcing. What an impossible conundrum.

The sadness of leaving a job might seem a bit foolish, it is the UN after all, and the civil service, so the amount of change while I’m away will be invisible to the naked eye. But there is a lot wrapped up it. Work represents my independence. My skills and achievements are my own (not someone’s mummy). But more specifically, I have worked hard and I’ll be missing out on the tea and medals. It’s really hard to hand things over and let things go. Perhaps hardest to swallow, it feels like my professional achievements are overshadowed by my role as a mother.

A decent maternity leave is such a privilege. Hats off to my American mum friends who survive with no legal entitlement. And even here in the private sector, women are only entitled to 6 weeks at 90% pay. The dedicated time off with our newborn is precious and vital. So while the discussion about enabling both parents to share the parental leave must be a step in the right direction, asking mums to sacrifice that time, even if it is for their partners, seems a bit unrealistic. There are physical and emotional considerations to take into account (most notable is breastfeeding).

Which leads us on to the broader gender disparity. Like many dads to be, Rich recently commented that it is hard to ‘bond’ with the baby until the bump is really big. So while I have been mulling it over (panicking) for 9 months, going to appointments, perfecting my pregnancy small talk, it has so far had little impact on Rich’s day to day, and even less so on his work. This is just the beginning of the different impact parenting takes on each gender in the work place. Remote working has given me a bit of an insight into what it is like for a bloke; my colleagues have been largely unaffected by the pregnancy, in fact, many have been shocked when I’ve told them.

While my team has been hugely supportive (in fact my line manager told me I was an inspiration – hohoho!), they have had to run a recruitment and figure out the logistics of it all. Rich isn’t even entitled to a statutory paternity leave since he has only recently joined the company – so they won’t bat an eyelid.

On my return to work in 8 months, it won’t be reasonable to expect to walk into a promotion. Without the absence, my recent opportunities would have given me the confidence to push for it. Now, when I go back, it will be back to square one: questioning own abilities, balancing home and work commitments, rebuilding skills and confidence. Ok – I recognise that some of this is self inflicted, but in my experience, this is a common mindset amongst returning mothers. Meanwhile I have watched a male peer dance up the promotion ladder in the same period as having two children. Choosing to have three kids will undoubtedly have an impact on what I seek to achieve professionally. No matter how good my references are, there will be gaps in my appraisals and assumptions made about my commitment to work (thanks Alan Sugar). On the radio today, a woman was introduced as ‘impressionist, mother of two’ while none of the male contestants had their family circumstances referenced. There will be none of this discrimination against Rich.

By my reckoning, that’s gender, personal fears, cultural biases and practical considerations holding women back. But I wouldn’t give up my maternity leave, nor my right to ‘found a family’ any more than I would give up my right to work. So something needs to be done to redress the inequality of it and to support mothers in their return to work: answers on a postcard please. Luckily, I’m about to have some time to ponder these bigger questions.

In the meantime, there will be a few tears shed as I clock off work for a while, but even more when my tiny, completely dependent, miniature person arrives.

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One response to “Maternity leave and other basic human rights

  1. CDsimple says:

    This is why I am happy to be having my baby in Canada. While 55% (max) of my regular pay for a year is not brilliant, it is way better than in the USA. Regardless, I would never give up that precious first year with my child – no matter what I was being paid.

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