Our whole working world seem totally unprepared to be supporting working families. The overt message, through paid maternity leave, subsidised childcare, is that we value mothers in the workforce and want them back. However, women seem to be being asked to make a choice. After she returns to work from maternity leave, during which time her general exhaustion would have made her entirely useless to the workplace anyway, most employment practices then seem to expect the woman to get right back on the horse – ‘just keep working the way you did before the baby was in existence and we can all just pretend that nothing has changed’.
This message is meant to comfort the mother. It is in line with non-discriminatory practice. That is, everyone should be treated the same in the workplace and there should be no distinction between employees. But it really makes no sense. Once one is a parent, one is different. There are different responsibilities and work is now only one of the things that matters, and can never ever be entirely the priority ever again.
Yet I see employers who have wonderful family-friendly practices, yet the message is still clear – we have expectations that your output will not be diminished and that you will find a way to contribute, even when your mind is on your child.
It would be far healthier and more relevant to parents if there WAS workplace discrimination for parents. Workplaces should not be doing parents a favour by allowing them to have more flexible work hours or allowing them to work from home.
Workplaces who truly value families should see it as a matter of pride that parents are allowed to make their families the priority, and when they are calm and relaxed about the wellbeing of their children, their contribution to the workplace and their employers is likely to be even greater.
We have to encourage employers to be creative, in collaboration with the parents in their employ, to support rather than tolerate parents in raising their children. We know it takes a village – it is time that workplaces acknowledge their own membership in that village which is raising the children of their employees.
A happy worker will be more productive and creative – so everyone becomes a winner.
Contact us if you are struggling with the balance between your work and family life.