There has been some media attention on the fact that in the UK job market, about 1 million women are missing. They are missing because work doesn't pay for them as second earners and they've made the decision of not returning to work after they've had children or leaving their jobs.
This isn't surprising as such. I've thought about it. Childcare is expensive and there's not a lot of support with the cost here in this country. For parents with two children in childcare, the second earner needs to be on an above average income to make work pay.
What really got me though is the invariable response when this topic is brought up. Summarised in one sentence: Why have kids if you then go out to work?
Of course, this phrase is said to the mother. Please contradict me if I'm wrong! Now I'm all for extended and paid maternity leave, I know about the importance of child-mother bonding, breastfeeding and responsive care by the primary care giver, who due to breastfeeding usually is the mother. So while I do believe that our roles are different at the early stages of parenting, determined by biological facts, I don't buy this statement because we do have maternity leave (even if partly unpaid) for a full year.
After that, we're mostly equal.
Until the same question is directed to fathers, something is at odds. Because you know, really, kids would love both parents to just be at home with them and play all day, but that doesn't bring food on the table, warmth in cold winters and electricity to your home.
So for the record, as a mum who'd love to spend more time with her kids at home, as I'm sure their daddy does too, this is why I have kids and still bother going out to work:
1. I have skills that are well used in my job and I'm making a difference. I'm a confident trainer, researcher, thinker, writer, project manager. I'm not a confident parent (though I'm working hard on it, being ambitious and all that). In fact, I actually think my kids benefit from a bit of childcare by people who know what they're doing.
2. I've been told all my life that this was an equal society and that both men and women have equal access to the workplace and will be renumerated equally, regardless of whether they have children or not. I've come to understand that in reality this is not the case, but I believe that what I've been brought up to believe is at least something we should aspire to.
3. I've never believed that my primary role was that of raising kids. In fact, for most of my life, I wasn't sure I actually wanted kids. I made a decision to raise kids but did not make a decision for this to be my end all and be all.
4. It's a bloody hard job juggling kids, home and work. Many days I think I can't do this anymore. But it's also a bloody hard job being a stay at home mum, and to be honest, I prefer the juggling situation. Not by much, but by enough to keep going.
5. Let's talk money. Kids are expensive. You need more money to offer a decent life for them, like a bigger home, a car to take them places, days out, and let's not even mention the doubled cost of a holiday as the little ones pay full price. Oh yeah, and there's clothes, toys, presents for them and above all their friends and the incessant fundraising forms from nursery and school. I think I may have even bought a poppy this year, my principles are crumbling.
6. Let's talk some more money. If I took a career break, this is my financial loss: pension contributions. Income while I'm out of work. And then, as I rejoin the strained job market, a 30-40%% cut of my salary because I'd have to start from the bottom again. This cut is for good, also impacting on my already tiny pension prospects. So even if for a few years, work doesn't pay, in the long run the loss of earnings would be so massive for me, that I'd probably work for nothing
7. The insecurity of the job market: would I be able to find another job?
8. I enjoy my job. Nobody wails, whines, screams, hits and kicks me or spills milk over my clothes at my job for 8 lovely hours. But seriously, I do like my job.
9. And just to say.... I'm not a career woman. I don't strive for a 50k plus income, promotion and managment roles. This is not about my career, just about being a worker. I also think that parents who stay at home do an invaluable and tough job, a job that I'm probably not too well cut out to do. I simply don't want to have to justify why I work when I have children just because I'm not a man.
So in the public view I shouldn't have had kids then in the first place. Let's give the dads a voice now too, shall we? Should daddies have had kids because he's out of the house 9 or more hours on a weekday? Can I invite working dads to justify why they're working instead of spending quality time with their kids?