In Management Today’s Women in Business section, Lady Barbara Judge tells me that long maternity breaks are bad for women. She says all babies need is to eat, sleep and to be kept clean, and that this can be done by an 18 year old. A Mum’s job, apparently, is to earn money to pay the 18 year old. Judge returned to work 12 days after having her baby.
Judge says taking time off is career suicide, because people realise they can manage without you. Your job then becomes a less critical part of the business.
Megan Dalla-Camina, in her book ‘Getting Real About Having It All’, says that 40% of working Mums admit to hanging by a thread, and 70% say it’s not possible to be successful at work and at home. When so many women work, can this really be true?
Well some of us have to work. Some for financial reasons, but for others maybe it’s not about wanting to have it all; it’s about feeling like we’re making a difference in the world. We’re using our brains, solving problems and feeling good about being creative. We can do more than sing Twinkle Twinkle and play with train sets and we like it. At work we’re having adult conversations and going to the toilet by ourselves. Sometimes we’re even drinking the odd hot cup of coffee.
Our husbands work, and nobody questions that. Nobody writes about how hard it is to be a working Dad. Nobody looks at a man like he’s crazy when he says he works five days a week. But according to our culture, being a woman in business is so different from being a man in business that we even need separate sections in business magazines.
Wanting to work doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids, or can’t bring them up properly. It means we want a balance, and we’re better people for having that range of things going on in our lives. It might mean our windows don’t sparkle and there’s a film of dust on our TV stands. The dust is on the TV itself too actually, because nobody’s got time to watch it.
Judge is right, taking a long break from work is bad for your career. Out of three breaks from work for maternity leave, twice I’ve returned to a different job. This hurts the feelings of a woman on a postpartum emotional rollercoaster, breaks the ego of a dedicated career girl, and takes some time to recover from. But recovery is possible, and any step backwards can be overcome by two steps forwards when the time is right. I relished every moment of my maternity leave and I wouldn’t give back that time for anything in the world.
Dalla-Camina is also onto something. Life does hang by a thread when you’re working and running a home. It’s not possible to do everything perfectly. It’s really hard, and it makes me want to drink lots of wine. But what is perfect? And what is easy? It’s not perfect or easy being stuck at home all day with a bored baby who just wants some friends to play with. He doesn’t want to play trains again either. But it’s raining outside and there’s not enough fuel in your car to get you to baby group or a play centre. You look forward to adult conversation so much that you’ve taken to hanging around in the school yard just for someone to chat to. You used to meet up with friends but they’re all back at work now.
It’s not perfect or easy being the one who gets up with baby every night because you don’t have to work the next day. Or being the one responsible for three loads of washing every single day. Wishing someone else would cook tea and that you could have just one still-warm meal all to yourself. It’s still impossible to get things done at home when you’ve got children making more mess than you can clean up.
The way to win is to be thankful for what you do have. Is your family healthy? Are your children’s nursery and school caring environments where they can have fun and make friends? Is your manager flexible enough to let you go to reading morning or class assembly every now and again? Do you get paid holidays and are you building up a pension? Can you pay your mortgage and buy the odd meal out? Can you afford to take your family on holiday?
We’re very lucky to have a system that pays us to take time off work when we have a baby and keeps a job for us to go back to. We can order everything online to save time, even our food shopping. We have access to cheap fresh, healthy food and clean water every day. We can get someone to clean our houses while we’re working if we want to maintain the cleanliness standards of a child free home.
Take a step back and look at your family through someone else’s eyes. Maybe someone without family; someone who can’t get a job. You’re already winning. That thread you’re hanging by, just hold on as tight as you can and keep reminding yourself you’re doing just great.