For starters, the assumption is that we are happy in our work, and that we’ve chosen to have children when work is stable, or that we are riding the storm and plan to use maternity leave as an excuse to get out and never return. But women do want to work, indeed have to, around very small children. While financial considerations might be paramount, they should be equally weighted with mothers’ own emotional needs, which, if career is a lifelong process that incudes periods of education, work and caring, we forget are directly related to her career development.
Straw poll time, I know, but I have two close friends who also had children this year around the same time as me. One is back at work as she runs her own business / is self-employed and the other has changed jobs (paying back a chunk of maternity pay in the process - disproving how women on mat’ leave “cost the business”) to something that better suits around health conditions and a small child. For the three of us, there's been not a suggestion that careers advice is something we might need at this stage (OK two of us are qualified careers professionals, but regardless …). Both times I’ve had children I’ve had a well-planned return to work lined up but many women have no idea what comes next after childbirth, aside form 18 years of raising a child.
Figures on the average duration of maternity leave are quite difficult to obtain but suggest that a full 12 months off work are far from the norm. And further complicating any figures is that many women don’t return to work after childbirth because their work no longer suits. And as soon as the first child is out, there comes the inevitable next question, about when you are planning to have another. If another is on your radar, there’s plenty of “good advice” (aka speculation and ill-evidenced hearsay) online about child spacing and how long to best leave it without utterly destroying your children’s well-being or your own career, for new mums to read during the night-feeds.
What do I suggest? Indeed, what have I suggested to my local health board when they asked for my feedback on my experience of having my second child? A strong starting point would be careers service involvement in health visitor programme. For example, offering a CV clinic at baby club and referrals to careers services. Prior to maternity leave all employers should offer a maternity leave interview rather than leave women to complete the paperwork and wait for the pink, blue or yellow cupcakes to arrive during their last week. And my own bugbear is shops selling cards that say, “You’re leaving to have a baby.” Leaving? Is it still the olden days and the law says I can’t come back? We need to stop discouraging mums of young babies to work and we need to stop making those of us who come back “early” (see previous post!) feel like we’ve done something so unbelievably out of the ordinary that life has to be tough.