Suffolk: Women are working twice as hard as ever as they try and have it all, says mother-of-two Adrienne Ablitt
PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 August 2014
Thinking about returning to work, or not, after having a baby is one of the toughest decisions a mum has to make. Guilt, money fears, loss of confidence, childcare woes, more guilt... it's a toxic cocktail of 'Do I? Don't I?'
Mum-of-two Adrienne Ablitt concludes that, sadly, the figures surrounding motherhood just don’t add up.
She writes.....With my second child fast approaching eight months, I decided to take on the presumably simple task of exploring what comes after maternity leave. Work or no work?
Having researched the mind-numbing legislation surrounding maternity leave, and more enjoyably been honoured by the views of some of my favourite mums, I am now in a more confusing place than where I started.
Returning to work is without doubt the most complex issue facing mothers, thanks to the advances of feminism. We no longer just slot into our stereotypical roles, but actually have to think about every tiny decision we make, within a strict Government-imposed timeframe.
Growing up, I was never a “baby person”. I never even knew how many I wanted. One? Eight? Who knows? Who cares? I always knew I’d have them, though − cue Charlie, four, and Frankie, almost eight months.
I left a well paid office job at the age of 24 to have my first child and due to relocation did not return. Had I stayed in the area, I probably would have been forced to resign when my statutory maternity pay (£123 per week at the time) ran out. I would not have been able to afford the childcare on a part-time salary if a part-time position had even been offered, and probably was not willing or emotionally able to give up full-time care of my child.
When my first child reached the worldly age of one, I decided I was ready to go back out into the big wide world and contribute to society (and hopefully earn a little cash on the side).
I wanted a job that allowed childcare to be provided by my husband, who works a 9-5. I found this in a local café bar, working two evenings a week plus Sunday daytimes. This basically means being a full-time mother who then goes out to work until midnight while her child sleeps, and loses half her weekend (precious family time).
This is a type of work I really enjoy but the arrival of my second child has seriously put to the test the strength of the minimum wage, which was already tested to capacity − being, in my opinion, too low.
This time round, do I have the stamina to be a full-time mother to two children, the youngest of whom is with all due respect a little on the high-maintenance side (breast-fundamentalist and stand-up-cuddle-addicted), and then go out to care for someone else’s needs, payment or no payment?
The answer to that is probably “no”. But with funds dwindling, do I have a choice? And again, my mind is drifting to “no”. I could be one of those “kept” wives (not “trophy”, as I’m too fat) but since my husband’s wage is not about to increase as compensation for my choices, and we’re already pushed for money, will that really make things any easier?
He’ll have less and I’ll be relying on him, and therefore restricted in my financial freedom. “Can I have twenty quid? It’s your birthday next week” are soul-destroying words for both the speaker and the listener. Oh, and you think nitpicking is a bore? Try skint-nitpicking. It brings out a pretty ugly side.
The answer is: there really is no answer. Everybody’s situation and outlook on parenting and work are different. I would have to say, however, that giving mothers 12 months’ leave and paying them for only nine is good for no-one.
This either forces women back to work before the year is up or makes them endure a difficult, three-month-long, nitpicking fest while they continue raising their baby to the ripe old age of one. By one it’s fine! Chuck ’em at whoever will have ’em. Hopefully they’re walking and talking by then. There’s not much after that.
We women have in fact given ourselves a massive workload. Our expectations of ourselves are higher these days. We raise our babies AND we go out to work. We now do twice as much as our mothers and grandmothers might have done (and may I take a moment to thank them for their single-minded efforts) and because of this are unable (or at least struggle) to perform to our highest capacity at both. Something has to give.
And so I return to focus on this whole dedicated path-of-motherhood thing. It is not an easy option. Children notoriously “play up” to their parents. They leave the tap running when they go to the toilet. They don’t flush. They have snotty noses a lot of the time. They are messy eaters.
You feel guilty when you sit and play with them, because your house is a mess. You feel guilty when you’re cleaning your house, because you should be playing with your children. You feel guilty when you’re not earning money. You feel guilty when they’re babysat or looked after.
Motherhood is a never-ending cycle of guilt, feelings of inadequacy and struggle. It is a choice. But where are the rewards? It is filled with more love and joy than I can possibly put into words, so perhaps this is the reward.
Love and joy. Both great, but I can’t eat them.
What do other Suffolk mums have to say?
Emma – Stay-at-home mum of three (aged five, three and one)
“I love being with the kids but in an ideal world I’d work part-time in a fulfilling role that still gave me a sense of self! Not a job that fits around school drop-offs and not minimum wage!”
Gemma – Student and retail, mum of one (aged six)
“I loved staying at home with my son but it could never fulfil me long-term and I think I also loved how often I saw my friends!”
Joanna – Customer services executive, mum of three (aged 14, six and four)
“I chose to go back to work after having children. I had hopes to make a career for myself, pay my own way, and be someone for my children to look up to. My main worry was childcare. Could I trust a childminder or would a regulated nursery be better? It took a long time to decide. It never ceases to sadden me when I do leave them but it gives me the independence I need, as well as their own.”
Kelly – Teacher, mum of one (aged 12)
“Anyone with integrity wants to give their all to their career, but of course you want to give your all to your child. So, for me, this meant feeling guilty most of the time. I’ve been a single mum for most of my son’s life and I’ve had to build a career that could support us, and I was in full-time teacher training when he was three. I’ve recently gone down to part-time and not regretted giving my son a less stressed, happier and more present me.”
Natalie – Part-time/self-employed/stay-at-home mum of two (aged four and two)
“When my first child was born I reluctantly returned to work part-time. We needed the money but I didn’t know how I could trust anybody to look after Billy as well as I could. Luckily my sister and a lovely local childminding couple laid my fears to rest and I enjoyed returning to work eventually. It’s now been two years since the birth of my daughter, Lola, and I made the decision not to return to my ‘day job’ after a traumatic post-birth experience left me revaluating what was important to me: love or money?
“As time passed I felt invisible pressure to be providing financially. I had always contributed 50/50 in the six years prior to us becoming parents and felt uncomfortable, totally disregarding my contribution to the home as a mother.
“I started up a business from home but low pay and solitary work commitments meant I felt I wasn’t able to give my full energy to my real job as a mum. After much heartache I gave it up to concentrate on giving my all to my beautiful, precious, funny little children. As I look to return to full-time work when my oldest starts school in September I really hope I can give myself credit for the job I’ve done as a working mum/stay-at-home mum/working-from-home mum over the last five years and look back with pride and the knowledge that I’ve done my best.”
Maddie – Teacher, mum of one (five months)
“I will return to work in a part-time role in September when my baby boy will be six months old. I suppose I have mixed emotions about going back when my baby is still so small and would wait longer if maternity pay was better! However, I feel extremely fortunate that my parents have offered to take on the role of childcare, which is hugely reassuring from an emotional perspective.
“Whilst I don’t think I will find it easy to leave my baby, even with my parents, I am keeping a positive mindset and looking forward to being able to continue in my career (which I enjoy hugely) earn my own money and still spend the majority of the week in my beloved job as a mummy.”
Women have fought for equal rights in the workplace and while the salary difference between the sexes still reveals inequality, and women in their mid- to late 20s often report unsuccessful job applications, we have certainly come a long way.
According to a recent survey on returning to work (www.nct.org.uk) women account for 48% of the workforce; as 80%-85% will become pregnant during their employment, employers are legally obliged to provide maternity leave and a job for mothers to return to. They are not, however, legally obliged to pay us (luckily the Government does) or offer us anything other than the hours for which we were previously contracted.
In 2013 The Guardian reported one in seven women having lost their job while on maternity leave; 40% said their jobs had changed by the time they returned, with half reporting a cut in hours or demotion. More than a tenth had been replaced by the person who covered their maternity leave. To take your employer to court for such actions would cost £1,200 and − with a baby and no job – I’m speculating most women might struggle.
Assuming legislation is met and mothers’ needs are accommodated, what’s the problem? The NCT survey found that more than one in three women finds it difficult or very difficult to return to work after maternity leave.
The main concern was childcare (60%) with “time to do everything” coming in second (57%). More than half were concerned with missing their child and 53% with their child missing them; 47% worried about their ability to be a good mother and 32% were concerned that returning to work would adversely impact on their child’s development. Only 32% were worried about money and 15% were concerned about their ability to continue breastfeeding.
The most common reason for not returning to work, according to the Government survey Maternity and Paternity Rights and Women Returners Survey 2009/10 was “I want to look after my child/children myself or at home”. Amid all the other factors keeping women from returning to work, such as financial viability, childcare and confidence, the choice to just be a mother is at the forefront. Perhaps women are looking to external factors to support an instinct they find very difficult to fight.
Read Ellen Widdup’s thoughts on this here