Maternity leave: What is it good for?

So, what do we get out of maternity leave? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • breastfeeding
  • daytime TV
  • an ongoing yet wholly unsustainable justification for the gender pay gap

But hey, that’s not all. It also provides the ideal conditions in which Mummy can learn to talk about herself in the third person. For now and ever more.

As you might have guessed, I’m not perfect “maternity leave” material . The whole “leave” thing got thrust upon me when it became clear that me taking care of the the children in return for SMP seemed a better option than my partner taking care of them for fuck all. It’s okay, I’m only kidding. It was a biological imperative. A woman’s biological imperative to breastfeed and watch daytime TV. And, of course, to justify the gender pay gap.

I’m very much in favour of Britain adopting a more flexible approach to leave once a baby is born (I’m allowed to say this because I am a woman. My partner tried to say it once on a feminist web forum and was hung, drawn and quartered for being a closet member of Fathers4Justice. Must have been the batman costume he used for his avatar).

I would have returned to work earlier but couldn’t afford it (once SMP ran out, it was either have two children at nursery and earn next to nothing, or stay at home earning nothing. I took the first option, given that my partner didn’t have a permanent job so it was a question of long-term security). Another option might have been my partner taking care of the children. We did consider it. We were scared about him getting his foot back in the door, more scared than we’d have been for me. Back then he was an academic. Academia still loves childless men. Childless men who eventually get a permanent job at 45 then marry someone young and fertile, ideally from the student pool.

I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work. From my perspective, that was fine. It was like having lots of fag breaks but without having to feel guilty (oxytocin-tastic!). Unfortunately, not everyone else was as keen. I ended up having to hide my milk in the back of the fridge, double-wrapped in a mini coolbag for “hygeine reasons”. Me, I suspect someone misread “Avent” for “Cravendale” and complained to HR about their extra-creamy coffee.

Obviously I’m interested in the government’s proposal to make parental leave more flexible following the birth of a child. Of course, I’m suspicious of it too. For starters, it seems to be a ploy to dramatically reduce the leave available (see the six months for mums campaign). Moreover, I would expect most women to take any remaining leave instead of their partners, what with women generally earning less than men. And then everyone will say “look, it’s just natural, the women want to be at home with their kids more than the men! It’s nothing to do with the pay gap; on the contrary, it proves the pay gap right!”. And then there’s another thing that gets to me: why is the focus on leave at all and not on life?

“Leave”, “flexible working”, “keep-in-touch days” – doesn’t it always feel like everyone’s doing you a sodding favour? You are doing something completely normal – having children – yet it’s basically suggested to you that any re-entry into the workplace is down to the government having decided to be nice. To give you a bit of a break. The problem isn’t that we have working patterns and structures which are set up for a privileged minority (men who either don’t have children, or who don’t bear an equal load of the work if they do). The problem, apparently, is you. But hey, aren’t you lucky? They’re not about to throw you onto the streets forthwith. Accept the lower pay, hide your milk at the back of the fridge and they might – just might – allow you to help them in their economic endeavours. Great. Sodding great.

Hand me the TV remote and the Widgey cushion. Mummy’s just had enough.


2 thoughts on “Maternity leave: What is it good for?

  1. Hello! I can see this has topic has touched a nerve and you are so right. I had no idea that I was in any way a feminist until I became a mother and saw what a crap had we are dealt by society. Over scrutinised, under valued. We are educated, work is something that is part of our lives. Countries such as Denmark manage to create a flexible workplace for everyone, so that it isn’t out of the ordinary to work flexibly and be able to spend proper quality time with your children, it isn’t a gift bestowed on you by a benevolent employer. I am very much a stay-at-home-mum transitioning to be a work-at-home-mum, I want to be there for my daughter in her early years and I want to be there for her whenever she needs me. But I also want to work, my brain needs it and quite frankly, our bank balance needs it! Why should it be such a big ask to make this possible!!

    1. Thank you for your comment! All the judgements we have to face are ridiculous. My partner’s lack of job security, while it’s not what we’d want, has perhaps protected me from the worst of it. Everyone can pretend I’d be doing the proper “feminine” thing if only he was properly “masculine” and supported us financially. Of course, if that was the case, I’d still be doing it wrong because mums always are.
      The funny thing is, I work full-time with no flexible hours and no one I work with ever even notices. They see me every day but just assume I work part-time because that’s what mums do. I’m always tempted to skip days and saunter back in, saying “yesterday? Oh, that’s my day with the kids…”

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