Judging The Working Mum

The comments of Lady Barbara Judge - about length of maternity leave - have caused a heated debate in the news and social media. Such an emotive subject is bound to create a noise. But has she focussed on the wrong issue?



Multitasking mum

After the birth of both my boys, I took some time off, but when you run your own business, you never really step away. I remember a meeting I conducted in my living room with the manager of our London agency. She was talking, and I was listening, writing notes, and breastfeeding.

In many ways I envied mothers who could take maternity leave and leave their work behind, safe in the knowledge that their bosses or colleagues couldn't contact them about work (these were the days before KIT).

On the other hand, it did mean I was never out of the loop, so that when I went back to work properly after 8 months, it was not a huge shock.

So how long should a woman take maternity leave?

In my mind, there shouldn't be a general rule for all.

Some women love their jobs. Therefore they want to be back at work as soon as they can. Good for them. They shouldn't be judged as bad mothers because of that.

Equally, women who take a year off should be welcomed back with open arms by their employers. They've not been sitting at home, drinking cups of tea and watching day time TV as some people (men) seem to think happens.

If only that were true. They've spent the last year managing a household, working out how to look after a baby without a manual, and more importantly probably had to deal with a grumpy man whose ego may be slightly dented because he's no longer Numero Uno in the home. I'd say they are well prepared to go back into the work force.

Lady Barbara Judge's comments shouldn't make them feel they have to go back sooner than they want.

In my view, how long you take for maternity leave is a matter of choice that only the woman can and should make.

The bigger issue

But all this is focussing on the wrong problem with women returning to work after maternity leave. The biggest issue, in my mind, is whether they can go back to work, because can they afford to pay for the childcare?

My eldest son went to a nursery from the age of 6 months. This was not what I wanted for him, but it was all we could afford at the time, and even those fees were a big stretch.

I would have preferred to have a nanny come to my home every day. That way my son would have been more settled, less sick, and able to sleep during the day. Yes, he eventually had a great time at the nursery but I don't feel nurseries are the right places for babies. They should be at home.

Affordable childcare

But most mums cannot afford the cost of having a nanny, because to pay the salary, tax, NICs, and now pension contributions for that nanny, the mum has to do that out of her already taxed income.

I spoke to a parent only the other day about this. The woman desperately wanted to go back to work, and financially felt she needed to in order to contribute to the household income. As with most people who work, she had to commute, which meant leaving her house at 6am every morning, and wasn't home until late. A nursery was out of the question, so she wanted a nanny. But when she did the sums, she discovered she would have been left with a couple of pounds a month change after paying for the nanny out of her net salary.

So that career that she had worked so hard to build fell away. And all because this government, and every government that has come before, has failed to properly address the issue of affordable childcare.

The "one size fits all" approach of offering free places in nurseries is not the answer. Something has to change and fast, as we are losing a valuable workforce of women, which has nothing to do with the length of maternity leave.

Amanda Coxen, Working Mum and Tinies Director

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