This session we discussed the heartache and politics surrounding work, whether it's a job you're paid to do or one that's about the kids.
Being a stay at home parent or a working one comes with positives, negatives and everything in between (the 'everything in between' bit being the overriding general consensus in this sessions discussion). No one mum felt totally at ease with whatever work decision they’d made. Those who chose to return to work felt guilty for not spending enough time with their children, those who stayed at home felt they’d let themselves down professionally in a career they'd worked hard for and in as well as feeling the pinch of the household purse strings and those who did a bit of both felt they weren’t committing enough either way. The activities that we took part in showed a clear preference for putting our families needs before our own and that we felt others views of our own working decisions were judged on a daily basis. How we felt in the work place before children and after had shifted dramatically in a world where reality vs expectations was conflicted, many unlike our partners.
With one in every twenty roles had by new mothers ending in redundancy whilst on maternity leave, we still face an uphill struggle in the workplace. Many of us felt that the smaller companies we worked in either didn’t have a flexible hour/work policy in place and were often refused when we tried to negotiate. Others voiced concerns that they weren’t able to commit to their jobs as they previously had because of childcare commitments and other priorities, generating anxiety and negativity where they hadn’t expected. Some found a huge lack of support was apparent from colleagues and management upon returning, leaving them feeling isolated and detached from company culture.
There were, however, a few more positive accounts of their return. Discussions about hours and flexibility were met with compromise and understanding. We discussed the policies of larger companies employing long maternity pay and a change in contract, should the parent request it. Tfl ‘offers 39 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave, and 13 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave (AML) to be taken afterwards - meaning employees take up to a maximum of 52 weeks maternity leave’ for example and Google, a similar policy. However with many of us working in smaller, more niche companies, such generous packages were not available, or even established in the first place.
Sweden is widely reported as being one of the most generous countries to expecting and new parents. Along with free antenatal courses, 480 days of paid parental leave, a monthly allowance for children and free schooling (amongst a plethora of other benefits), their gender equality is some of the most controversial across the world due to its unbiased and unchallenged policy when compared with other first world countries. Men are able to take just as much parental leave as their female partners, dubbing the new expression ‘latte dads’.
But what about those of us who have chosen to stay at home? A job that comes with no holiday pay, sickness allowance or even the ability to go to the toilet unchallenged. Many of us expressed the frustrations that come with the stigma of the ‘stay at home mum’ and little understanding of the complexities and relentlessness that can come with it. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 72% of people say that they disagree that it’s ‘a man’s job to be the breadwinner and a woman’s role to stay at home’, 33% of us still believe women should be shouldering the majority of the parenting early on.
Additionally, we discussed the paradox between wanting to return to work but not being able to afford the subsequent childcare. With many of us explaining that one salary would be adequate enough to cover these costs, feeling that it wasn’t in the interest of the family to be away from their kids and receive no financial benefit as a consequence. Even with some family help, rising costs of childcare meant that difficult conversations between partners were had. Some felt that it was assumed that they would be the one to stay at home, others had discussions about splitting time and a few of us had challenging discussions about the equality of an apparently dated narrative and their relationships as a result.
With the U.K. trailing behind many other European countries, we have a long way to go in terms of fairer parental pay and leave. Perhaps it is our fighting and persistence to create a more balanced playing field that will equate to a more sustainable and easier working world for the next generation. Until then, perhaps we can continue to battle for our own wishes and wants and demand that our value be respected, wherever we choose to be.