Six weeks Paid Maternity Leave is not Enough
Today’s guest post is by Liz Purslow who is explaining why she thinks government should place more value on mums staying at home during the first year of a baby’s life. Liz doesn’t have a blog at the moment, although she is thinking about starting, but you can find her on Twitter. You can still link up your work related post by clicking the badge.
There is an exciting outbreak of pregnancy on my team at work. Three of my colleagues are delightedly anticipating the arrival of their first baby, and I’m sure the New Year will bring more announcements. Congratulations and love to them all.
What a shame their excitement is tempered by financial concerns, and worries about the need to return to work full time as soon as their paid maternity leave expires. In order to maximise time after the birth, they plan to work until the week before their due dates, denying themselves the opportunity to wind down and rest at the end of their pregnancy.
Our company offers slightly more generous terms than the statutory 6 weeks at 90% pay, allowing 13 weeks at full pay. Still, a quick scroll through a helpful chart on Wikipedia (Parental Leave) shows that Britain has the least generous maternity benefits this side of the Atlantic (have I misunderstood – is it true there is NO paid leave in most states of USA?). The Nordic countries are famously generous, Sweden offering 16 months of paid leave at slightly less than 100%, whilst Denmark gives 52 weeks at 100%, making it the most generous for the first year, along with some of the former Eastern block countries interestingly. I was surprised to see France at the lower end of the scale with 16 weeks full pay, whilst Ireland gives 26 weeks at full pay.
Returning to work full time, my colleagues will find a large chunk of their salary will now be earmarked for nursery fees, or payment for which ever type of childcare they choose. Again, Britain gives little help with this, yes nursery vouchers slightly reduce the cost by deducting it from gross rather than taxed pay, but frankly that is a drop in the ocean when facing fees of around £150 per week.
It is depressing how little we, as a society, value a baby’s first year of life. All the reams of research into development and early childhood are frankly just so much hot air, since no notice is paid to any of it, at least as far as Government policy is concerned. Apparently babies are inert little beings, who just need occasional nappy changes and regular feeds which can readily be delivered by any moderately capable person.
A baby is designed for one on one care from a loving carer, who is consistently present in their life most of the time. This is how they learn attachment, self worth, speech and laughs and so much more. There are also practical issues related to physical development: for instance we are advised that babies should ideally be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. How does that fit in with returning to full time work at 6 or even 13 weeks? (Yes, yes, I know you can express, but honestly, for a full time worker is that practical? It didn‘t work for me, even at half time working.)
Next it is time to introduce solids to your baby. This is possibly one of the most important phases of a baby’s first year. Introducing a balanced diet, a variety of foods, an enjoyment of new tastes, establishing good eating habits for the future. When you work full time, not only are you not there at these crucial meal times, but you also need to be pretty dedicated to rush home from work to liquidise a tasty meal or two for the next couple of days.
I haven’t even touched on mother’s needs. Some women snap back into their pre-pregnancy shape, their babies sleep through the night, what is all the fuss about? What about other women for whom childbirth has been a real challenge physically or mentally? I’m not going to give a whistle-stop tour of a midwife’s worst cases, but will just repeat the old mantra: it takes 9 months to make a baby and 9 months to recover.
Believe me, I support mothers working – I returned to work at 3 months with the first and 6 months with the second, but it was part time in both cases. I have had a spell of not working and now I work full time. I am lucky to have had the choice.
I feel so sorry for mothers who do not have the choice, and angry that Government policy has conspired against this. Gordon Brown loved to talk about hard working families, but mostly he just wanted families to work hard to top up the tax take. Of course he didn’t have to worry about childcare – his wife gave up work to stay at home with the children.
Random highlights of days at home with toddlers:
Spending an hour (I kid you not) rolling around my bed with a one year old as she struggled to put a sock on. I can’t even remember if she succeeded, but we had such giggles and I’m sure it helped her develop the coordination needed to achieve that small skill.
A picnic tea in a bluebell wood on the way back from pre-school. Both girls were awed by the sea of flowers, pottering around quietly, picking a generous bunch while we listened to the cuckoos and a wood pecker tapping in the distance. I don’t have any photos – someone broke the camera the week before, but the memory is all the richer for that.
Mornings spent doing parental duty at pre-school. I learned so much, observing the children at play and the wonderful staff at work. I treasure the memory of a role play trip to the hairdressers. Wonderful Mrs White chatted away while giving my daughter a perfect French plait. Then roles were reversed and Serena attacked Mrs White’s hair with enthusiasm, inflicting a style which can best be described as “Demented Hedgehog”.
A day when I dissolved into angry tears of frustration after spending the entire afternoon trying to clean two small bathrooms. Someone was just crawling. I put her on my bed with some toys. She fell off. I put her on the floor with some toys. She found my new lipstick and did some art work on the bedroom wall. I took her into the bathroom and she squirted Cif everywhere. I took her to the next bathroom. She brushed her hair with the loo brush. My plan for some light housework before heading out to enjoy the sunshine was in tatters.
Of course it’s not all bluebells and play dough. Spending time at home with your baby is not always easy, especially if finances are tight, but it is the best investment you will ever make. Enjoy it.