America needs to loosen up

I have a confession to make.

Like all decent, hard-working people who occasionally work from home, I was doing that thing that you know everyone does whether they’re working from home or not. I was on Facebook. Mainly for recruitment purposes, as you do when you’re intent on adding good people you actually know and like to your growing team (vs. stalking total strangers on LinkedIn and feeling like, well, a stalker). Even with this higher purpose in mind, however, you can’t help clicking on the occasional compelling post that catches your eye.

Which I did, because it’s the day after Election Day in America, and as an American working in the UK I was attracted to a classic Huffington Post click-bait title: A Working Mother’s Plea to the President.

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Author’s note: I am not a working mother. I haven’t started a family yet, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it might be on the cards at some point in the future given I’m a newlywed with 34-year old ovaries.

However, the topic is still highly relevant to my day-to-day life now – not only because most of my friends are working parents, but so are many of my colleagues. And anyone responsible for the well-being of a team will tell you – it doesn’t hurt to know where they’re coming from.

So I confess, I clicked.

In it, author Regan Long (a working mother of four), described the whole ‘not wanting to leave your new-born behind’ thing in a way I never quite understood. Maybe because my own mother worked, and furthermore loved work, even admitting to me that she would’ve gone crazy staying home any longer than she did. Which was more than most at the time – she saved and scrimped 12 weeks maternity leave instead of the barbaric six weeks granted American women in the 1980’s (and my mother worked for the federal government!). It wasn’t until 1993 that the Family Leave Act doubled the terms to the 12 weeks my mother had taken 13 years earlier.

So it’s unsurprising that I wasn’t terribly moved by the typically emotional language Long evoked, i.e. “Tomorrow, I will miss the bonding experience that is nursing my baby.” Rather it was how she observed this impact on her baby, the biology of it, as if through the lens of a reporter or third-party witness that got to me: “Tomorrow, I will miss the bonding experience that is nursing my baby. Instead, she will struggle to eat (she doesn’t do well with the bottle) as I rush throughout my day…”

Instead, she will struggle to eat.

I regularly miss my American home and family and friends and food and roads and cars and malls and…I could go on. But this, this I do not miss. In the UK, it’s easy to take for granted that women get varying lengths and amounts of paid maternity leave, that in most cases your job will be held for you for a year, and the government pays families a monthly sum to support this.

So what happens in the office when women leave work for up to a year? That’s where my experience lies, being part of the team that remains on the job when expectant mothers cautiously celebrate their last day before maternity leave. Unsurprisingly, people make it work. We find wonderful freelancers who come into our business lives and often add enormous value, gracefully departing stage left when mothers return. We are lucky enough to be employed by a company that embraces flexible working – and not just for returning mothers. Because life is full of transitions, and everyone comes together to support that; we fill in the gaps and do what needs doing because we inherently buy into it as the right thing to do.

It’s time to catch up America.

Ann Hughes – Associate Director

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