The luxury of guilt

Last year, my future was divided up in my head, into “before baby” and “after baby”.

“Before baby” was filled with Things To Do.  Get the builders in to do the bathroom.  Work out how the hell a breast pump works (not on the same day).   Assemble bouncy chair, waving a screwdriver victoriously aloft.   Make soup to freeze for when the baby is born and eat the soup because it smelled so good.  Have (another) argument about whether the nursery is dark enough, lose the argument and make (another) trip to Dunelm Mill for lined curtains.  Have an existentialist crisis about becoming a mother and then get over it.

The “after baby” column was empty, a bottomless pit of white space, filled with thoughts and feelings and maybes but nothing definite, nothing tangible.  A baby was an unknown entity. I didn’t know if I’d collapse under the weight of it all, or breeze through it like a seasoned pro. I didn’t know what I was facing.  There’s something terrifying but liberating about that.

And when she came, it was glorious, having nothing else to concentrate on but her.  There were ups and there were downs.  There was staring in wonder, and there was jolting myself awake from a 4am feed, having nearly dropped her from my arms.   There was the day she first smiled and her eyes lit up in astonishment, and there was the day she wailed so much I thought her heart would break. There was feeling grateful at having a baby that didn’t cry too much and there was Googling “when does the crying stop?” I kept up with the news, political and other people’s, reading Twitter and the online papers during night feeds.  For the most part, though, I was in a bubble, where I had the luxury of Ellie being my everything.

I’m not sure at what point the bubble broke.  At six weeks I went on a course for work, and left her at home for the day.  I was in bits as I left her in her basket.  “She’s watching me, she’s asking me not to leave her WITH HER EYES!” I sobbed.  “No she isn’t” said the ever-practical Mr K.  “Just go, and don’t be a muppet”.

And I stood on the station platform, I’d forgotten my gloves, and the wind made my eyes sting.  I bought myself a coffee and I waited for the train, and I saw all the commuters around me, bundled up against the cold, and I realised that life had gone on, whilst I was wrapped up with my baby, the world had kept turning, people had still loved and lost and undertaken the daily grind of work whilst everything in my world changed.  And then I had my reality check.

Ellie is a big, big slice of my pie, but she is not the whole pie.

I’m going back to work in two-and-a-half months.  I’ve gone from “I will never leave this infant, she NEEDS ME  AND NO-ONE ELSE WILL CUT THE MUSTARD” to realising that nursery may well be the making of her.  It is a huge privilege to be able to take a long maternity leave, to spend all day every day with Ellie, and I am grateful every day for the opportunity.  But the older she gets, the more interaction she needs, and I’ve come to realise I’m just not up to the task, not full-time.  It works for some, I know, and believe me I’m not sporting my judgey face (two years ago I’d have been sporting it.  Fear not, I’ve given my judgey face a poke in the eye).  But I think I’ll be a better mother if I can go to work. I need to think about things other than Ellie, I need to talk to people about things other than babies,  I need to make decisions and lead a team and argue my case and be put under pressure in a way that I am simply not whilst I’m on maternity leave, and the biggest decision in my day is whether I can get away with breastfeeding in this cafe whilst I sip my coffee.

I’m surprised that the decision has been a difficult one.  I always assumed I’d go back to work, and Ellie would go to nursery, and play with other kids, and learn to be with other people, and that was that.  I wanted Ellie to see me work every day, to develop a strong work ethic, to understand that working can bring opportunities.  I wanted to  give my all at the weekends with her, I wanted to see her face light up when I pick her up n the evenings.   But there is something inside me which I suspect most mothers battle with. It’s that pull, that tug on your heart, that subtle whisper that says “your baby needs you, don’t leave your baby, she needs her mother, not someone you pay to entertain her”.  I know, for me, that’s not necessarily true.  But I was unprepared for the strength of that voice.  Whether it’s primal, or whether it’s guilt, I don’t know.

And that’s just my story, me, who has the luxury of guilt being my biggest problem.  The Family and Childcare Trust 2014 Annual Report ‘s headline finding was that “...for a family of two children, the cost for one child in part-time nursery care and one in an after-school club is £7,549 a year compared to the average UK mortgage of £7,207“.   This figure sickens me.  This drastically reduces choices for families, and women fail to return to work after they have children and the economy loses their skills and their taxes. Childcare vouchers go some way towards resolving the problem, but they feel like a token gesture.   We are now, as a country, in a situation where we are attempting to encourage women into the workplace yet should those women want children, we are making it far harder than it need be to do so.

It’s an absurd situation, and one that makes me realise my guilt at leaving Ellie at nursery serves nothing.  There are mothers and fathers out there who, financially, simply do not have the option of working because the cost of childcare far outweighs what they could ever earn.  Forget  pie.  That’s a real reality check.

Categories: Becoming a Mother, Written By Anna
78 interesting thoughts on this

78 Comments

  1. Fee
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Great post Anna. I think Ellie will be proud to have you as her Mum.

    Our very complicated quest to have a baby means that I haven’t worked for two years. I said to Mr H the other day that having the future stretching out ahead of me with no work related goal issuing me feel a bit scared. And useless. And that makes me feel bad because we wanted him so badly, surely that should be enough? Also, if we want another baby, there is little point in me going back to work as I would need to go on bed rest again for several months which would be an unfair bombshell to drop on an employer.

    With the cost of nursery in my area (£1400 a month for full time), if I put Max in nursery (which would be the best option for his development I think), the amount I would actually be working for would fall under the ‘is it worth it?’ question.

    I am incredibly lucky to have the choice financially of working or not – but what on earth are families supposed to do when they are used to two incomes and one is suddenly obliterated by child care costs? The question keeps being asked but as yet there is no answer.

    • Fee
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Just to add – providing child care obviously comes with costs and corners shouldn’t be cut. But the nursery I looked at that is £1400 a month per child cannot possibly have running costs that come to anywhere near that. The profit they are making must be astronomical.

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        It’s a tough one. isn’t it. It’s an issue that a certain amount has to be earnt in order to afford childcare, but also agree I don’t want childcare that cuts corners.

        Fee – I’m not sure I agree that the nurseries must be making a huge profit? With 1 staff member per 3 children plus managers, plus all running costs (lease of buildings, insurance, qualifications, staff costs to name but a few), I sometimes wonder how our nursery turns a profit at all?

        • Fee
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          I commented (somewhere below!) that childcare costs have apparently increased 77% since 2003. When I asked for a vague breakdown of costs or an indication of what caused the (far above inflation) annual increase, I was refused. Kind of frustrating on something that would be costing more than our mortgage per month.

          I may well be wrong and would be happy to concede that to be the case but when I tried to query even just the large annual increase with the nursery ( as I would with any huge financial outgoing), they flat out refused. And they can – because they know parents have no other choice.

          • Fee
            Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            P.s. But from an ‘inside source’ I know that non management staff salaries were frozen so it wasn’t going to them!

            • Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              :) yes, sorry, just seen your reply further down!

              I can’t comment on the increases since 2003 (as I have no experience) nor their secrecy, and maybe that particular nursery is indeed turning a huge profit, only on the figures as I see them at our nursery. I agree it seems odd, but on my calculations of our nursery, it seems hard to see where they make a profit!

              Are there any other options in your area? My nephew’s nursery is 50% more expensive per day than our own. One of the only paper differences is that his feeds the kids organic Waitrose food only. Ours mostly seems to shop at Tesco! We figured as a very foodie family, it was good for Pip to have different types of food at school and the saving is beneficial to us.

              • Fee
                Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                Unfortunately our area is all v expensive – am sniggering at Waitrose organic food!

  2. rachel JHD
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I also feel so lucky that I’m returning to a job that I enjoy. My epiphany moment came when walking around the park, pushing the pram, & daydreaming about winning the lottery. By the end of the daydream I’d decided that although I may not return to teaching with the daydream millions I would have found a charity to volunteer with & that being permanently & full time at home wasn’t my ideal. At the same time the thought of Alice’s long days… Maternity leave has been wonderful & precious for us & I wonder if that’s because it’s finite? Thought provoking post – thank you.

  3. Lee-Anne
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Im currently on maternity leave with my 9 week old son and 2 year old daughter and I sometimes cant wait to go back to work for a break. Seriously though I am very lucky as our parents take care of childcate for me so I have the chance to go back to work. With our joint salaries we couldnt afford full time.childcare but also couldnt afford for me not to work. Although even of we could I would still go back. I studied for a long time to get where I am and although im not in my dream job and still want to work to get there.
    The cost of childcare in this country is terrible and I really feel for those people that work just to pay child care x

  4. Lara Blue
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Amazing writing as always Anna. This topic is something I have given many an impassioned speech about, especially recently when dealing with my peers and colleagues. As the only woman at work, whenever I have so much as a headache I am asked if I am pregnant and have been quizzed as to whether I want children on various occasions. I point out the sexism of this to them (to my knowledge, they have never asked my male counterpart this question) and the difficulties of being pregnant or having a child when doing such a physical and relatively low-paid job that I commute for. It seems ridiculous to me that I would be financially better off not working rather than paying for childcare and travel if I went back to work after having a baby. That the financial concerns of returning or not returning to work are exacerbated by societal judgement over your choice makes me impossibly frustrated. I don’t understand why people don’t accept the validity of someone else’s decision- there are various factors involved (even if you take it down to the essence of parent and child, that’s two people with separate personalities and needs) making it a complex and ultimately personal calculation as to what’s best. Why can’t that be respected? Anyway, I’m going to end this comment there, mostly because I’m walking to college and the likelihood of me walking into a lamppost whilst typing is ever-increasing… Xx

  5. Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I know a few people in the position where their wages don’t/barely cover their childcare costs. It’s an insane lose/lose situation for them. Once upon a time grandparents would have been the answer but I hardly know anyone who lives near enough their parents for this to work, and many who are soon going to be caring for or financially supporting their parents as well as their children.
    As my boss said last week (in response to this situation arising for someone at work) THIS is the glass ceiling – this is why there aren’t enough women at the top. Something has to change.

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Yes Amy. Add to that our parents generation are working later and also caring for their own aged parents. I know a woman who actually pays out of her own pocket to go to work, simply because she wants a career long term and using their savings is the short term cost of that whilst their babies are young.

      Of course this is not just a female struggle, it affects the whole household. So although men wont have the pressing questions about their family planning or judgey looks as other staff at work gossip about whether you’re pregnant or not, it does affect men if they are in a relationship with someone who is going through that. The pressure on men to carry on their careers in times of financial strain, then leaving their baby and partner after just 2 weeks (if that) after seeing them go through one of the biggest traumas of their life…it isn’t easy.

      I wish we lived in a world where free childcare started at 9 months for working mothers. But the cost would probably be crippling? Or would it?

  6. Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    It wasn’t financially viable for me to go back to work, and pre baby I thought I would be happy not working and staying at home. And I am, but it soon became clear I needed something else. Maternity leave gave me the push to change direction entirely, and a year on I have a fledgling photography business with a few award wins under my belt already. And I’m maybe a better mum for it – I have more motivation and determination than I perhaps wouldn’t have had before.

    I still feel guilty though – it’s a mother’s curse no matter what choices you make. As Lara says, this isn’t helped by society’s attitudes to women and motherhood….we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

    Thought provoking as always Anna!

  7. Katielase
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I’m currently doing a job that I do because I love the work we do and I believe in it, I am not well paid. If childcare costs £1400 per month (and I live near Fee so let’s assume), then, on top of the £300 I pay to commute to work per month, I do not earn enough to cover those costs, I’d be paying £500 to work. There are things I can do to alleviate this, I can work part-time (although this might raise my commuting costs and I’ll likely still be paying to work on the days I do work), I can hope that my parents will still want to be involved in childcare in a year… or, as is most likely, I can work nearer to home in a different, hopefully better paid, but potentially less aligned with what I love, job. I already know that this will be a grim choice for me when I come to make it, I’ve known it all along.

    On top of this is the feeling that I don’t think I will want to be away from my baby for full-time working hours, although this isn’t something I can know until I’ve tried it, obviously. I know women who don’t want to and women who find it is best for them an their baby, it’s hard to say which I’ll be. Rocking with angst in the middle somewhere, I should imagine. Standard.

    The whole decision is a car crash, there’s no right answer, no easy answer. Every choice comes with guilt and indecision and sacrifices. As Amy said, THIS is the glass ceiling, while there are no better answers to this, women can never be equal in the workplace.

    KL xx

    • Katielase
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      PS: Forgot to say (sorry, on the train, having fringe drama), it’s brilliant to read someone being so honest about what will work for them and their baby, and why.

    • Liz
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I am that woman, rocking with angst in the middle – quite literally a fair amount of time! Such an accurate description! x

  8. Becca
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Completely agree with KL. Another brilliant piece from Anna. With honesty. All at 8am.

    I’m firmly pre baby but am already having issues with work which I feel make it entirely unsustainable to return. Whilst they offer part time working if it fits in with business need, the example set by my boss is to take the pay cut and work the same (or longer hours). So far my request to start maternity leave and take holidays before was considered ‘inflexible’ and they wanted me to work until the Friday as Baby was due Wednesday. Hours are 8.30am until 8.30pm and anything less e.g. leaving to be sick at 6.30 or 7pm during the worst parts of morning sickness was met with comments (by colleagues but in front of management who said nothing) about requests for part time working. A nursery wouldn’t work with these hours (even the one that charges £130 per day…like Fee said….what profits!!). Luckily my parents have volunteered to help out two days a week with an overnight stay – which we’ll be massively dependent on in order to be able to cope.

    Whilst I knew it would be hard, I wasn’t expecting it to be THIS hard. Like Bella said on twitter….a happy parent is a happy baby. If going back to work makes you happy….do it. Now…does anyone have any suggestions to make the Mother happy?!?!

    • Aisling
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      So, your work are bellends.

      *helpful face*

    • Katy W
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      I was contacted last week about applying for a private practice role when I decide to go back to work. This is exactly why I turned it down, it all sounds very familiar. Hope you can get things sorted Becca.

    • Frances
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      This is so familiar – the idea of flexible working, of working part time – only work if your employer backs you up. And they so often don’t, quoting that magic phrase ‘business need’ – I see women who are supposed to work at home one day a week who can’t do it for weeks/months on end, and women who are supposed to be part time and get paid as such but then end up working the other days anyway. It’s all a smokescreen for a lot of companies.

  9. Aisling
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    When I left my previous job, I had two interviews and received two offers. I took the job I did because, and only because, I knew it would guarantee me flexibility if I were to ever get pregnant and return to work after a period of maternity leave. Bear in mind that at that time we had absolutely no reason to believe I would be pregnant at any point in the immediate future, and my decision seems slightly ridiculous.

    I do not love my job. I’m good at it, it’s fairly interesting, the people are nice and the environment is fast-paced and ever-changing. But there’s nothing to love, nothing to strive for, no career path for me should I want that – now or at any point in the future. But that’s ok, because I didn’t choose this job to feel valued and important and challenged. I chose it because I can work whenever I want to, because I’m hourly-paid and therefore in control financially, because I can come to work at 6am and leave at lunchtime if I need to, or not go in at all.

    I’m starting to waffle, but I think what I’m trying to say is that on paper, taking a job that bears no resemblance to your dream career and that doesn’t make you proud or excited to go to work PURELY because it makes sense from a what-if-I-have-a-kid POV is mental. It’s mental and that we live in a society that makes that choice a very real one is appalling. And I wish I knew how to make it better.

    The other job? Managing an art gallery. SIGH. I dream about my sliding-doors-life sometimes. I’d have been an amazing art gallery manager…

    • Becca
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Whilst you would have been an amazing Art Gallery manager, the job you have now sounds pretty damn perfect.

      I’m not sure you need to LOVE every aspect of your life. For me, providing I have a good home life, I would willingly accept average from my professional life. Its just hard when work demands extra-ordinary super women type abilities which just aren’t possible. And I was scared to jump into a job which was average before conception in the event that conception didn’t happen and I’d given up my professional job I worked so hard for with no family benefits. You are right though, we shouldn’t have to work PURELY because it makes sense from a what-if-I-have-a-kid point of view but we do.

      Why is this not more of a political issue?

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        Hmm! I think if you started out in a career you didn’t love them you might be willing to accept it but having to not do a career that essentially you’ve worked your arse off to do and that is a massive part of you just because you have dared to make a human being seems very wrong to me and not something I want to accept!! With us potentially having to work until 70 – surely a few years part time shouldn’t be the end of your career! It’s so short sighted !!

  10. Liz
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I’ve been back at work for 6 months, for 4 days a week. My mum does 2 days childcare and T goes to nursery for 2 days. However, in a few months nursery is going to be upped to 3 days as my is beginning to find looking after a toddler a struggle – there’s a reason our bodies stop us having children much past our mid-forties as looking after little people takes an incredible amount of energy!

    I like my job, I think pre-baby I would have loved it but now I find there are too many things to juggle to really concentrate on one. I find that tough to manage mentally. I was used to giving my all to work, to striving and I don’t have the mental energy for that just at the moment which feels a bit like failing.

    I don’t think there is a correct balance for me, as I know that I would find being home with T all the time tough too. However, I keep thinking that if we have another I’m not sure going back to work will be an option as asking grandparents to look after 2 is completely different to 1, which is already tough, and paying for 4 days of childcare for 2 would leave me working for peanuts.

    Argh….

    As Amy said – this is our glass ceiling.

  11. Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Just picked myself up off the floor after a solid hour crying to read this. Perfect timing. It makes me feel less insane to know that even the workaholics and those who love their jobs question their return to work. I have no choice at the moment and that’s the hard part for me. Will come back later to comment properly when a little less overwhelmed.

    Px

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Snogs.

    • Aisling
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Oh, P. I know there’s only so many times you can hear ‘it’ll be ok’ without wanting to punch the sayee in the face. Twice. Wearing a knuckle duster.

      So instead, you’re amazing. And we’re here.

      x

    • Katielase
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Love you, P.

      KL xx

  12. Frances
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I’m leaving my job at the end of the month because I’m not getting anything from it apart from a salary. It’s a temporary position anyway and I was hoping they would be in a position to make it permanent before now but the dithering has just got to me. It’s not good timing and I’m making the jump in the full knowledge that I’m unlikely to get another job before September/October now. I’m also very lucky in that my husband’s salary means we can have the luxury of me not having to commute to a job that would be going nowhere even without being pregnant over summer if that’s what it comes to. And yet, I feel guilty too – that I get to do this, that many women don’t have that choice, and even that by us making that choice for me, it negates my husband’s freedom to do something similar.

    What this all means post-baby, I’ve no idea. Do I want to go back to work at some point? Yes. But I am incredibly lucky that I have the option and the time to be able to work out the mechanics later.

    I think what I’m trying to say (as if we didn’t already know) is that in a fair society it would be nice to be able to do what you feel is best for you and your family, whether that’s going back to work, or quitting a job that isn’t right for you when you’re only a few months pregnant. Where the problem lies is the issue of those who don’t have a choice either way and how this can be solved, or even whether it can.

  13. Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I have so much to say about this Anna, that I can’t quite get it all out.

    The short version is this. I’m torn. Part of me thinks we should accept the status quo if we have made the choice to have a family as we’re unable to change it between the point of conception and our return to the workplace, and just either earn less by not working, earn more by working or earn less by working than not working. The world doesnt owe us anything, children cost money and it is up to us as women to make it work for us if we want a baby. Or babies (heavens knows putting multiples through childcare is a whole other subject). I know this will probably make some of you have a rage blackout but believe me, this is just my practical hat speaking.

    The other part of me is so angry that this is the choice households all over the uk are facing. Why is it so difficult to allow men and women to have the career they want or need just because its women that carry and give birth to babies? Surely if women didn’t have to take into account the affordability or practicality of work then the economy would do better because women would have more income to dispose rather than just pay it into the nursery coffers.

    As an aside, I know someone who runs a large nursery. The running costs are massive with health and safety, insurance, equipment, premises, training, wages etc so as with most things that seem extortionate it’s not just profit.

    • Aisling
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I do *sort of* agree, L…. but I’m pretty sure that I’m able to think like that because I AM in a position to accept the status quo. Does that make sense? I can see your point because I don’t have a career to be passionate about – Phil and I knew that nursery was never going to be a financially viable option for us and so the decision was made. But I’d find it very hard to stomach if I had a job that meant the world to me – yes, the world owes us nothing but that doesn’t mean we should have top abandon our dreams.

      My practical hat doesn’t fit very well, apparently.

      Hmmm. *musing face*

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        I think you’re right. We all approach this from different perspectives with different experiences.

        I don’t mean accept the status quo and do nothing about it. I mean reclaim it and take ownership of your fate. Be realistic about the outcomes in advance to save disappointment later. I know that as a solicitor, my role would have become untenable with a baby. I know solicitors who have got out of that career before children came along for this very reason or at least changed tack and gone into the public sector. The smart ones did this before they ended final salary pension schemes. I do think a lot of it comes down to priorities and those change over time of course, but if children are ever on your radar you do need to look into it. If that rings true for you, you can do something before it is too late. It doesn’t have to be a step down the ladder, hell it doesn’t even mean losing the job you love. But as women, as people, my limited experience tells me something will have to give.

        I wish schools taught this stuff to girls. The AOW school certainly would.

        • Katielase
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          I did this, I deliberately walked away from the possibility of a career in research because it isn’t a career that fits well with children. Even though I made this informed choice, with practical hat on and all, it still feels wrong. I shouldn’t have had to walk away from something I could have been excellent at, and adored, on the off chance I’d be able to conceive. It’s a sacrifice, I was willing to make it and I don’t resent the choice I made for my own life, I prioritised the chance of a family over the chance of an amazing career and I’m okay with my decision, but I sort of do resent being forced to make that choice in the first place. I resent that every person in the research community I told about wanting children in the next 5 years all agreed that I needed to walk away, without even seeming to consider that something was wrong with this picture.

          Also, with regards to husbands, my husband would be willing to work part-time but this is absolutely not a financially viable option for us. He earns so much more than me, partly because I walked away from that career that wouldn’t suit children, that we can’t afford to lose part of his salary when my earning potential simply can’t replace it. I think sometimes the stories of people who have made it work make people for whom it is impossible feel worse!

          KL x

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        I’m a practical hat wearer too Lucy, I totally agree with what you’re saying here (make a bed, lie in it to turn a phrase) and also upthread about the choices men have to make (although I have to say I don’t know that many who would be prepared to give up THEIR work to raise a child). I just can’t help but think there MUST be a more practical solution for everyone (I’d like to add more flexible working arrangements for non parents too!) – it’s like (terrible example coming up) but when everyone made flexible working allowances during the Olympics and London was AWESOME and everything worked and everyone was happy, but as soon as they were over it all went back to normal because it was easier (easier, not neccessarily better) for the people at the top.

        • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          I love that example Amy. London was amazing during the Olympics.

        • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          A man who comes to my outdoor baby group was telling me yesterday that he and his wife both went down to part time, both taking the hit on pay but saving childcare costs and sharing the upbringing of their baby. A rare example indeed. I guess because men have it drilled into them by society and the workplace that it’s not the done thing. It wouldn’t work in every sector either of course, but if it did then it could save a load of problems for some families.

          • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            Now THAT is practical! Go them!

          • Becca
            Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

            This is something Rob is keen on. He’s suggested for my parents to do two days, Rob and I to take a day each by each going down to four days if we can and nursery one day a week. You know…”business need dependent”.

            It would make sense, from a financial point of view as I earn more than he does and so the salary hit would be less than me working 3 days a week, and we would both get time with Baby AND to remain focussed on our careers. Technically, it would make the most financial sense for me to work 5 days but there is no way I would agree to working 5 days if he worked 4 (Mother Guilt + Total Jealousy = Unattractive combination).

            Its on our “to discuss” list.

            • Katy W
              Posted April 23, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              We’re having this discussion too (although hopefully 4 days each = 3 days childcare -no grandparents near enough unfortunately). Helpfully though I have to find a new job and I suspect that part time roles in what I do are rarer than hen’s teeth. Hmm.

        • Frances
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Mr F has said something similar. If flexible working became the norm, or at least acceptable, for all workers where sector allows for it, parents or not, then parents, whether male or female, then it wouldn’t seem so out of the ordinary, whereas at the moment it’s seen as ‘something we have to do to look like we are family friendly’ and something only parents (and mainly women) do. I think this will change in the future though.

    • Fee
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I still find it hard to believe that it costs anywhere near £1400 a month per child – I hoped I was wrong and asked for a breakdown of costs or even just a guideline of how the fees and annual increases were calculated but was refused.

      I live in a ‘commuter’ town (not by choice, by necessity for T’s job) and the fees here have a premium added. Fair enough, they need to make some profit but taking advantage of parents because you have them over a barrel is unfair (and in my opinion, unethical).

      Maybe some sort of standardised fees or capping is the answer.

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure childcare is possible to standardise though? There are good nurseries, there are superior ones, there are awful ones. The government could open their own ones though, I suppose? That way they could try to standardise it, like they do with schools.

        I know it’s easy to think people are out to rip us off but if you live in an expensive area, the living costs of staff are going to be higher and the building costs are higher too. I don’t know the ins and outs of the one you’re referring to, but it is an expensive business to be in not the cash cow everyone assumes it to be. Especially due to insurance premiums in our blame/claim culture.

        • rachel JHD
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          Lucy – the Labour government did through Sure Start & local children centres have nurseries for under threes, that I think were means tested. They are currently being closed more & more & having to make money so the cost increases. If anybody is interested then twitter @eypledge & they have a website are trying to make sure this becomes an issue in the election.

      • Liz
        Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        I have done a bit of thinking about this in the past… say its £50 per child per day – that’s only £13,000 per year which is just about going to pay the wages of the girl looking after that child but probably not national insurance costs. She’s probably looking after a total of 3 children so the other £26,000 is paying for the managers, the building, the equipment, food, insurance and allowing a profit for the business. I just don’t think that there is much scope for it to be much cheaper sadly.

        The only way for it to be more affordable is going to be government subsides…

        • Fee
          Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          I would just really like to see justification for why childcare costs have (apparently) risen 77% on average since 2003. It seems mad that it would be A LOT cheaper for us to send Max to private school when he is three than to a local nursery.

          • Fee
            Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            All of these comments and debates are giving me very interesting reading for the afternoon – am googling all sorts!

    • AK
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Regarding your first point, society and government by extension needs humans to procreate, otherwise the economy cannot sustain itself. The biological imperative means that women have to fulfil this duty to society, hence I disagree, the world does owe you something.

  14. Emma
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    This is a really timely read for me as I am returning to work in just over a month after 14 months off (which I know in itself is amazing and makes me incredibly lucky). I like my job, and there are parts (and perks) of it that I really love. But if I had a choice, would I go back? No. I have loved this past year with a ferocity that I never anticipated, and it makes me so sad that despite growing up thinking that I would have a choice when it came down to whether I would return to work or look after my children, I don’t have a choice at all. We can’t afford to live on one salary, but equally my going back to work is going to mean I only bring in around £500 a month after childcare and train fares are covered – that’s £500 that we need, sure, but it feels especially cruel to have to work four days a week and only have that to show at the end of it, not least because it won’t stop our financial worries.

    It also feels cruel to have to pay someone else to do a job that I want to do. I desperately want to stay at home with L. And it breaks my heart that I can’t. Ideally, I would work freelance which would mean that I could fit my work in in the evenings and nap times, and put her into childcare for shorter hours – two days a week of 10am to 4pm would make me a lot happier than the 8am to 6pm she will be doing (though it’s only two full days thanks to my mum helping out) – so it’s not exactly that I don’t want to work, but I guess that the way that I want work to fit into my life has shifted.

    I keep having to tell myself that the path I take now doesn’t have to be forever. With any luck, I might be in a position to reappraise things in a few months time. And god knows that if we’re lucky enough to have another child, there’s no way that I would be able to return to work unless my work suddenly started adding another zero on the end of my salary. But there’s only so much reassurance that that provides right now, because right now all I know is the gaping disparity between what I want, and what I have to do.

    • Fee
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Sending so much love Emma – this broke my heart a little bit.

      I don’t know how my attempt to return to work will go after what will be nearly three years out of a fast paced environment. We’ve had to rely on our financial back up to get by and are now cashing in our ‘stability for the future’ options and trying to downsize so I can stay at home with Max for the rest of this year.

      I guess I’m trying to say – we’re all here to cheer you on, if you ever need a shoulder to cry on or someone to empathise, just shout xxx

  15. Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I feel extremely lucky to have been able to have 12 months of maternity leave. My company does not give any maternity provision beyond statutory so those 12 months have been 9 months of hard pre-baby saving, and a return to freelancing and bits and bobs on the side when my son turned 8 weeks old. It was extremely tough at times, but I’m so glad I was able to do it.

    I’m due back at work in just under two weeks, at a stressful job I don’t enjoy and left me crying in the loos at least once a week when I was there. I would have left had I not fallen pregnant 10 days after starting there. Its one saving grace was the team- good guys. My manager assured me I could come back part time and was thrilled to bits for me when I left. However since I’ve left the company has been taken over, my manager given the hoof and most of the team have gone. The new guard are tough as old boot and without going into the wrangles have been bloody shitty about me coming back. The workload has doubled, my job has de-skilled and there’s now a manager above me. All breaches of maternity rights, but its a grey area as the company has restructured.

    The good news is that I’ve fought them into giving me 4 days a week, but it’s on a trial basis, and if I drop that day at nursery I lose it. So I’m having to work on my “day off” doing something else to pay towards the nursery fee for that day, as the waiting list is astronomical and we’d be screwed if we needed it back.

    I’m also working outside my day job in the evenings to get the extra money we need to live. My wage effectively pays nursery fees, so, like Emma, I can’t afford to work and can’t afford not to either. At the moment I’m hoping my extra work will supplement us enough to manage. As it stands I bring home about £200 after working all month in a job I don’t like, doing something that isn’t even keeping my career ticking over anymore – all of which I could deal with if I didn’t have this overwhelming, borderline hysterical PANIC growing inside me about paying somebody else to look after my little boy.

    I’m sorry if I haven’t expressed myself well, I know this is a massive vent and I also know there are people much worse off than me – had I been in the old minimum wage job I’d been in before this one there would have been no choice about returning to work. I simply wouldn’t have been able to.

    I just feel beside myself at the moment – I have no rational thoughts left. It’s llike I’m standing on a cliff about to jump off, against every natural instinct in my body.

    Thanks for sharing this today Anna, it really helped me.

    Px

    • Aisling
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      I think Emma’s point about what’s coming ‘not being forever’ is what you need to hold on to, P. One day at a time, and I’m crossing everything that the right job/balance of work is out there for you.

      So much love xxx

    • Emma
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Oh Penny, sending endless hugs your way. xx

    • Fee
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Sending so much love P.

      I think we should set up an AOW lottery syndicate.

  16. KateQ
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m commenting on my phone whilst running after a toddler so excuse any incoherent ramblings…

    I’ve given up work, I didn’t find it a particularly hard decision in the end but I struggle with things I didn’t expect to find hard. Because the majority of mums I know are now back at work I find myself slightly lying about my reasons to stay at home because I don’t want them to think I am judging their choices, similarly I find it hard when working mums talk about needing the intellectual challenge/more adult interaction etc as it makes me feel bad about my choices.

    I was a neuroscientist at a top London university, there aren’t many jobs that can rival that intellectually but I can honestly say I don’t miss it and I genuinely feel challenged and stimulated “just” looking after Ben. I like to think about it in the way I do weddings, just because I chose my dress/venue/photographer doesn’t mean I think that anyone who didn’t make those choices had a worse wedding.

    The financial side is so so difficult, I am fortunate that my husband earns enough for me working not to matter, in fact I do to have to watch money at all really (my middle class guilt is another matter) but it was still a factor in me quitting work as I wasn’t going to be taking home any money and that seemed to quantify my job somehow and make me realise I was better valued being with Ben.

    I have a meeting with a difficult client now (naptime) but will check back later on discussion as great comments on this post.

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Even if you weren’t a neuroscientist, you make a very valid case. The fact that you are though…!

  17. starlet_haylz
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Nothing new to add to this except I feel your pain – I’m expecting twins and am already having to reserve their nursery spaces – 2.5 days for the year = around £12,500! What stings is that you have to pay for the whole year, even when they’re not going to be in on those days e.g on holiday. Granted it seems like an amazing nursery. Parents aren’t quite at retirement age so can’t help. Again, I’ll be going back to work to keep the career ticking over until they’re at school/get free childcare places. Our budget is going to be seriously tight!!!

  18. Katie
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Great debate and comments. We are currently trying to work out how our childcare will work when our first baby comes in October. At the moment I’m the one with the steady job which I enjoy and which pays our bills while my husband does an MBA. He graduates in September and wants to start a business. My logical hat says that what I need to do for our family is go straight back to work and leave husband with both infant baby and business baby. My feminist hat says that there’s no reason a man can’t be as brilliant a primary childcarer as a woman. Unfortunately my gut is listening to neither of those two sensible voices and desperately wants to stay at home with the baby.

    I know I’m lucky in that I have a job I enjoy that will let me provide for my husband and baby while he gets his dream business off the ground, and that hopefully if we have a second child the business will be doing well enough that I can take maternity leave, but all my cultural associations and expectations of motherhood are around taking care of my own child and not leaving it to someone else – even its father.

    It makes me sad that if things were the other way round and my husband were supporting my degree and business and parental leave he’d do it without a though and no questions would be asked, but that I never expected the boot to be on the other foot!

  19. Caroline
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    As the mother of a 2 week old (who me? Still feels weird to say!) I am completely burying my head in the sand. I work in the city in a job with no progression that I was considering leaving until I fell pregnant. I have decided not to return as informal discussions with my boss before I left led me to realise that they wouldn’t allow me back part time and I barely earn enough to cover travel and child care.
    So I’m going to look for something part time in about a year. Ideally something nearby.
    But I don’t know really how easy that will be to find. And part of me hopes our finances will stretch and I won’t have to try too hard to look for a bit longer than a year.
    It’s tricky. And if I looked at our finances too closely I would cry because it’s going to continue to be tricky. And that isn’t even counting the fact that I live next door to my elderly in laws who have slight *ahem* privacy issues therefore I REALLY want to move.
    Fingers crossed for a lottery win.

  20. Fran
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    There are some heartbreaking comments in this post. I don’t have children and am not expecting but have recently found a new job, my job search in part prompted because my current job requires a vast amount of travel and long hours that simply won’t be possible if we decide to have a baby. I fought with myself over whether it was the right thing to do and in the end chose to move job because of a lot of other good reasons, like salary, the type of work I would be doing and also that with the new job I would get to spend more time with my husband and friends, which is something I want to do regardless of whether we have children or not. But it took a lot of soul searching and a hasty trip to Waterstones to purchase ‘Lean In’ (!) before coming to that decision. And I don’t even have kids yet!

    I’m going to say something really nit-picky now, and Anna, I apologise in advance because this post is fab and doesn’t deserve to be picked at. But you used the stock phrase “women fail to return to work,” I’m sure completely by accident, because it crops up in newspaper articles all the time. Women don’t fail to do anything. They make difficult choices based on circumstances and personal priorities. Everyone is different, but there is no failing. You can’t fail at being a woman or indeed at being a person. We need to cut ourselves some slack.

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Yep, agree, didn’t spot that so thank you for pointing it out!

  21. Katie
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the baby in nursery, learning from other children, being stimulated, and presumably happy – has everyone found this the case?

    When my sister-in-law returned to work, it took five months for her little boy to settle in nursery, and stop crying every time she dropped her off. To start with, he refused to be spoon fed or have a bottle from anybody other than his parents or nanna. Fortunately, he got hungry and relented on this. He is at a very good, and very expensive nursery. At two years old, he loves it, but it took ages for him to settle.

    Ava cries and starts saying ‘Mommma’ uncontrollably every time I drop her off at childminders. I can look through the window 1 minute later, and she is very happy playing. The leaving them, for someone who is better at stimulating little children, is in my experience, not as easy as it is on paper. My childminder is marvellous, she takes Ava to all the toddler groups, library, park, plays with her all day long, and has two other children for stimulation. Nevertheless, every single time, Ava complains.

    Sorry, I’m not helping the guilt. This is just my experience, and four months since I started with childminder, it has not got easier.

  22. Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    This is something that I think about a lot – I used to be a lawyer pre baby and made a side step into a legal blogging job (which keeps me in my profession, just about) post maternity leave. For reasons too long to go into here, the pressures and needs of my lawyer job were too much to return to. The only good thing about receiving statutory maternity pay (I made it through 5 months unpaid before I returned to work at 14 months) was it didn’t tie me to my previous role and I could look for something new.

    That said, I love working. I just wanted to put it out there that there are some kids who have no problems settling in at nursery. Pip is in nursery 8-6pm 5 days a week. We all thrive on the routine. Pip is doing very well – at 2 she can count to 20, talk in sentences and is potty trained. I would never have managed to provide all of the experiences she gains at nursery if I was at home with her, nor the varied social range of interactions she has through the nursery.

    I also refuse to feel any guilt for working. I love working. It makes me a better mother to go out to work. You don’t know until you try nursery how your child will react but not all kids take months to settle. Some do, of course, but not all. (we also need to see nursery as a family expense, not just the women’s salary – by the time nursery, travel, expenses and law school bank loans, student loans, pension etc go from my salary there is about £200 left but we try and look at it as a family income picture, not just individually).

    I spend a lot of time writing, researching and attending events about these issues at work, for work. About women in the legal profession; about working mums, about barriers to success, about ensuring the leadership pipeline is filled with enough women to make progress eroding the current deficit at the top. My conclusions have been that we all need to change the way we think about success, that men and women (with or without) children all need flexibility in the work place and employers need to recognise that a diverse and inclusive workforce will reap them more rewards. Diversity and Inclusion is a big topic for a reason.

    But, I also wholeheartedly agree that we need to address the childcare problems which seem to be the biggest barrier to women returning to work. I attended a talk by an MP about executive pipeline consultation paper – she said that childcare had been raised as a big problem but there were so many options and conflicting positions that they’d decided to just leave it out of the report. Until we address this problem, I agree that we are never going to have a solution.

    • Katy W
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I was about to write exactly this about childcare being a family expense not something to be seen as coming solely out of the woman’s salary. I don’t think of the rent coming out of just my salary (when I’m earning), or just my husband’s, so I don’t see childcare in that way either.

      Another lawyer here and I think it’s really interesting what you say about addressing the barriers to women’s success – my guess is that law firms do know what the issues are, and as Frances said above they pay lip service to flexible working etc, but they aren’t willing to let go of the billable hours and targets model, and firms are under a lot of pressure to be available all hours, and therefore so are the lawyers. But I agree that flexible working needs to be more usual for all people, not just women/parents. During the recession my department all went down to a 4 day week at the request of the firm so it is doable, (if they employed more people of course) -I don’t know whether firms are ready to look at their whole business model in that way though.

  23. Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Ooh well I feel like we should take this thread to David Cameron!!

    Timely post for me too as I’m just opening discussions to go back to work. I’m lucky enough to do a job that I love and I really don’t want to give it all up. If I’m out of the job market too long it wont be there to go back to.

    We don’t have any family nearby to do any childcare so if I go back to work full time then Annie would be in nursery 8-6 everyday (and that’s if they let me change my hours to do 9-5) I just cant handle the fact I will only really see her on weekends. I’m proposing three days which I have absolutely no idea if they will accept and it barely makes any sense financially but I feel like that is the best option for us as a family. As with others we live in an expensive area so nursery is £1300 per month full time and then I have £70 per week commuting costs on top of that. Its insane its so expensive!

    If/when we have another child I don’t know if I could make it work with two.

    Also thinking a little further ahead (because I was talking to my SIL yesterday as we picked up my nephew from school) and I have absolutely no idea what I’ll do when they reach that age. I guess i’ll be making use of before school and after school clubs but what do you then do in the school holidays??!

    Who knew it would be this difficult?

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      School holidays can be a nightmare for a lot of families. Is the only way to be a teacher??

    • Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Pip is in nursery 8-6pm and I don’t feel like I only see her at weekends – if that helps?

      We are waiting until Pip is over 3 and qualifies for her 15 hours childcare before making a decision about a possible 2nd. That way she will be going onto school by the time the 2nd starts nursery, so only one set of nursery fees to cope with. How people afford to do anything with twins, I don’t know. Something has to change.

      • Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Rachel your post made me feel better as I hadn’t thought about what she will gain from nursery! Thank you! xx

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Rachie, so glad that it helped. I can’t speak highly enough of Pip’s experiences at nursery – she has learnt so much more there than I could have ever offered her.

  24. Posted April 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    We’re veryveryveryveryvery lucky to have 2 grannies who are willing and able to look after the Peas while I go back to work 3 days a week. Without them I’d probably have to have given up work or looked for something I could do in the evenings at home. It’s made our commute a mammoth 3+ hour round trip each day that I’m in the office and I’ve no idea what we’ll do when the girls are at “pre-school” but it meant I could return to work for at least the time being which was quite important to me.

    It annoyed me that I studied for the best part of 7 years, worked full time for 2 and was then faced with the prospect of having to give up work completely. If I’d known that was on the horizon I’d have pissed about as an art student for longer and not stressed my way through uni to become a software engineer!!

  25. Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Is there something here about how the ‘normal’ working world is organised in the same way its always been – by men? Part of me feels that the world of work needs a good shake-up and a good seeing-to. My job can be easily done much more flexibly than many others, but the rules around applying for that flexibility are mad. Who decided that ‘normal office hours’ are 9-5, Mon-Fri?

    I think these comments etc make me think about the influence and profile of women in government. We need stronger voices to highlight the real misery of these problems, and the impact that can have on careers, industries and the country as a whole. For example, what would be so wrong in having state-run nurseries, about properly extending parental leave to both sexes, greater flexibility in working hours, etc?!

    Maybe more female voices at the top could really help tackle some of these barriers (through that glass celing – nappy ceiling??).

    Personally I find it heartbreaking that someone feels they have to give up on a career they dearly love, because there’s no logical way to make childcare arrangements which will allow them to continue for those first tough years. Or that others are castigated for making the decision to move on to new pastures or be full time at home.

    • Katy W
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      You’ve put into words what I’ve been struggling to articulate all afternoon. If all the women leave their jobs because it’s too difficult to sort childcare, and we start telling them that is is what they should expect and they shouldn’t aim for high flying careers because they’ll want to leave once they have children, are we in any better situation than the 1950s?

      Workplaces need to do more to sort their retention and morale issues, including offering genuine flexibility. If they can support women (and men) through the babies-and-small-children stage (which given that we’re all likely to have much longer careers now, is actually a relatively short period, although it doesn’t feel like it at the time), then surely they will benefit by keeping experienced staff, and making it a place people want to work in (rather than just enduring to pay the childcare fees). Encouraging more men to work flexibly if they want to join in with the childcare would help as well I suspect.

    • Becca
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      I’ve had to wait to comment on this post as I was too scared in the office but actually I’ve found senior women more difficult than men in an office environment. It’s almost as if they had it really hard then we should do too. They become, in my experience, stereotypically male in outlook and less flexible than male management. But then, as Aisling says above, some employers are just bellends.

  26. Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Also, oops, pressed ‘go’ too quickly…

    Yes, we’re better off here than in many countries with this, and many of us better off than the poorest in our own country, but it totally needs discussing. Its not a race to the bottom – its about equal opportunity for all.
    Off my soapbox!!

  27. Rach M
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    What a thought provoking-post. So much to think about. Brilliantly written as ever, Anna. Reading this and all the comments has been running through my mind all afternoon. As someone considering having a family in the next few years this has really brought home to me all the challenges families face around working/not working. It seems so unfair that the experience varies so wildly from person to person.

  28. Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Well done for being honest, Anna. And yet again you seem to have found a way to get everyone to open up! I feel like I could talk about this forever, but as everyone has already mentioned the important points I’mll try and keep this short and personal to my family.

    I started freelancing in January because I couldn’t see a way to find a job doing what I used to do that would bring home any money. It took me a long time to make that decision because I felt like I should stay at home, but I really thought about what I wanted and I realised that I just didn’t want to be home with the baby all the time. Part of my guilt was putting F into nursery for long days for a selfish reason, i.e. that I wanted to work. One thing that really helped with that is someone told me that babies have no concept of time.

    I’ve now actually started a 4 day job and completely changed my mind about how much I bring home etc – this is what I need to do. As a family this is the right choice for us and it’s been a fantastic decision.

    A lot of you are talking about theoretical scenarios, which is good and what I found myself worrying about for a long time. But when it actually came down to it, it’s all been a lot easier: childcare vouchers help with costs a bit, my in-laws have realised they love looking after F one day a week and Tom has requested condensed hours. We’ll see how it is a few months down the line…

    One more thing – F has developed a lot since he started nursery. It’s been wonderful.

  29. aDizzyGirl
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading along all day and getting more adn more annoyed at the difficult choices that families have to make. I don’t yet have children, but we hopefully will and therefore children have become a consideration in our choices.

    I am unbelievably lucky to have just started a job that I love in a very family friendly company (although, I don’t know how things might change in the next few years). My boss works 20 hours per week and there is huge importance placed on work-life balance. I don’t have any concerns that my career will be harmed by taking time off to have children.

    I hope this isn’t taken as a boast- I appreciate how lucky I am because the last 2 jobs I’ve had have been in companies where I just couldn’t see how I could possibly have children. There was the job where my female boss told me how angry it made her that women were allowed to come back part time after having babies and that my chances of promotion were limited because I didn’t reply to emails after 11pm. Or there was the company where all part time working requests are refused and a colleague was demoted because she refused to travel to the other side of the world for a 10 day conference/jolly. She didn’t actually refuse, but is a single mother and the logistics just didn’t work. These are both companies who have published maternity policies outlining their commitment to supporting working mothers.

    When I was looking for my current job, I had several interviews. I could have taken a job in financial services with more structured career progression, bonuses and higher salary. Instead I chose the job that I thought would be better for our future lifestyle. It was a risk that has thankfully paid off, but at the time I was choosing a role that I saw as being lower and with less chance for progression. It’s wrong that people are having to make these choices.

    I think we possibly could afford for me to stay at home with our children, but I don’t work in an industry where I could easily get a job after a lengthy career break and I would worry myself silly about our financial situation.

    I think that a lot more should be done to help protect families from prohibitive childcare costs and job risks – in Germany parents can take up to 3 years off with the right to return to their job afterwards (although ex-colleagues who did this came back to very different jobs!) . How much easier would some of our decisions be if we had this flexibility?

  30. dee
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    The luxury of choice is something to be grateful for (although inevitably fraught with guilt,as all decisions for a mother seem to be!)
    I would love to stay at home with my little one,but unfortunately things didn’t work out with her dad,he doesn’t earn enough to contribute a lot financially (& was unemployed for a long time). I had to go back to work as soon as maternity pay ended. Yes,I was lucky to receive decent mat pay and to be able to afford (just about) to go part time (4 days a week). I’ve even been able to work from home one of those days…but…my work pays the bills,nothing more. I earn exactly enough not to qualify for tax credits. I have a mortgage so wouldn’t get any housing benefit if I were to drop my working hours & pay. My dad very kindly looks after baby when I work,because he knows I couldn’t afford childcare and keep a roof over our heads. I realise I am lucky too in this sense, but I also know it’s getting harder for him to keep up with her and this might not be a long term solution. Every day I am miserable to leave the most wonderful person in my life, to work in a job I don’t love. I agree as adults we make our decisions and live with the consequences but I cannot see how this situation benefits business & the economy or (more importantly) our children’s future well being. I absolutely believe that every mother/family should do what suits them, but for many of us there is no choice in this matter.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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