Recently my colleague Tracy had an article published in the Journal.ie.
The article was about how some women can feel sad or anxious about returning to work after maternity leave and Tracy offered some suggestions to lessen the anxiety and make the transition more bearable.
At the time of writing this piece the article had received over 19,500 views and 58 comments. What I found surprising was that in the comments there was a strong thread of outrage that any mother dares to feel sad or anxious about returning to work after maternity leave. Comments ranged from suggesting that this generation of women just ‘needed to get on with it’ to the fact that women should count themselves lucky that we have a ‘generous’ maternity leave in Ireland compared to countries such as the USA. Unsurprisingly none of the comments compared Ireland’s leave to the maternity leave in Norway (46 weeks), Denmark (52 weeks) or Sweden (420 days). There were also comments airing opinions about leaving children in a crèche versus staying at home.
I’m media savvy enough to know that people can be very vocal and often deliberately provocative with their views when behind the anonymity of a social profile. However these judgments don’t just happen online. They happen all around us, in our family, social circle and especially when we’re going back to work.
I’m not a mum; I’ve never taken maternity leave or left my child at a crèche or with a child-minder but that doesn’t stop me having empathy with working parents who are in this position.
I think some of the ‘judgers’ out there need a quick lesson on why maternity leave is important. Even in medieval Ireland maternity leave existed. Servants were allowed one month’s ante-natal leave with a further month for post-natal recuperation. In 2011 researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that women who worked and had a 3 month old infant suffered higher levels of stress and depression than women who stayed at home. The authors write “The results still suggest that the transition back into employment immediately after childbirth is difficult for the average family, detracting from maternal health and increasing self-reported parenting stress. These findings emphasize the need for parental leave policies that allow new parents to take longer leave, and/or work fewer hours in the first few months after childbirth.”
And in the spirit of equality I’m not just about the mums here. Dads also have a role to play. In Ireland we have only just secured paid paternity leave of 2 weeks (as of September 2016) and we have a long way to go before we see the introduction of shared parenting leave schemes such as the UK or Sweden have.
It’s frustrating that despite all the evidence and research which illustrates how beneficial paid parental leave can be for not just parents, but also for children, society, and companies that there are still people out there who think women should just ‘buckle down’ and ‘get on with it’.
So, what can we do in the face of these people who are quick to judge? We know from the mums we work with at Mumager that there are working mums out there who face this kind of negative reaction regularly. Even the most confident of women can start to doubt themselves and the choices they’ve made by a seemingly innocuous ‘so your child is in crèche for five days?’ or ‘you must find it really hard to leave them with someone else?’ Here are my 5 top tips to dealing with the working mum ‘judgers’.
- Don’t react or respond immediately. Take a deep breath and think about the most appropriate response, let your emotions subside before answering. The less reactive you are the more you can use good judgment to handle the person. ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is an apt online expression.
- Use humour, (or in my case sarcasm). “Yes, you’re right the progression of women’s rights and gender equality is totally out of control. In fact take away our right to vote!”
- Listen and agree and walk away. There are some people who are just not worth your time. Nod your head and say yes, yes, yes as if the person was a small upset child. You know they are talking nonsense you don’t have to join them
- Realise that their view comes from their own personal experiences of life. This doesn’t make it wrong or right, just different. You don’t have to agree with someone to have empathy for them. Use this as an opportunity to be grateful for your experiences that have shown you the value of being a working mum
- Take the lead and take a stand. (Only to be done after no.1 has been followed!) Share some research and knowledge you have about the benefits of maternity leave. You never know they may change their opinion or at least seek out more information
One of our most popular modules on our Mumager ‘ramp-up after maternity’ workshop is on the subject of handling difficult conversations. If you want to come and experience this first-hand then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org