I’ve worked in the science and technology sector for my whole career, starting off by completing a PhD in Physics, then migrating into computer modelling, and then into software development. I had my son during the final year of my PhD (oh how naïve I was about how easy that would be) and then immediately hit the dilemma of “how are we going to pay for this?”
Students are not entitled to any kind of maternity leave or pay – when I made enquiries about this I was advised to quit my studies, which would have made me eligible for various benefits. My department was much more accommodating and gave me four months paid maternity leave – something they were under no obligation to do. I also managed to claim Maternity Allowance (https://www.gov.uk/maternity-allowance/how-to-claim), because I had done some part-time maths lecturing which made me eligible.
When I made my first forays into real paid employment, I had to tackle the thorny issue of childcare. Childminder or nursery? Enlisting the grand-parents wasn’t an option, and neither was either myself or my husband becoming a stay-at-home parent. We initially picked a nursery at my husband’s work-place, and then found one closer to home. The fees were astronomical – larger than the mortgage – but we scraped by. I had some comments (addressed to me, never to my husband) along the lines of “why bother having kids if you’re never going to see them?” which I shrugged off.
We timed having our second child so that we would not have two children in nursery at the same time for long – if nursery fees for one child were astronomical then double nursery fees were on a whole other level. My employer at the time (not 67 Bricks, I should add) only offered the barest minimum maternity package, and so I could only afford to take four months’ maternity leave (my take-home pay went down to around £120 a week after the first 6-weeks of leave). This was before the change in the law that would have allowed my husband to take some extended leave himself – when he requested to do so his employer said something along the lines of “you can do that when men start giving birth to babies”.
Despite the deficiencies in that company’s maternity policy, my immediate line manager was wonderfully accommodating. He allowed me to have an arrangement where I worked in the office for about 5 hours a day and then completed the rest of my hours at home. This enabled me to reduce the nursery hours from 9-4 rather than 8-6, and save money while spending more time with the kids. He also gave me considerable flexibility around school holidays, and working from home on days when I had various child-related errands such as school plays, parent appointments etc.
Speaking of school, nobody ever tells you that having a school-age child is actually harder to fit a job around than having a nursery age child. The school day ends at 3pm – and who is ready to finish work at 3pm??? Also, there are 13 weeks a year of school holidays to somehow cover. At the time, the school did not have an after-school club (they started one up in later years) and so I had to find a child-minder who could do after-school pickups. There was a holiday club at a school in the next village which I used – it was heavily sports-related, which my son in particular did not like, but I told him there was no choice and he had to go.
Over the next decade I went through various child-care arrangements, including nursery, childminders, after-school clubs, holiday clubs, and various forms of flexible working arrangement for both myself and my husband. Our days were organised with military precision. Drop the kids at school at 8:40. Drive like a maniac to work, never being able to arrive earlier than 9:30. And then having to leave at 5pm on the dot so that I could once more drive like a maniac to pick the kids up by 6pm or risk being fined (typically an immediate fine of £15 and then £10 for every extra 15 minutes you were late). And the stress of sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway, watching the clock tick, wondering exactly how late I would be. I changed jobs and my new line manager was equally wonderful – I was never quite able to complete my full hours during office-time, but he was perfectly fine with me making up time in the evenings. And he never once quibbled when I said that I could not get in any earlier than 9:30, or stay any later than 5pm.
My kids are now in secondary school and make their own way to and from school, and are old enough to be left alone during school holidays. Therefore I finally no longer have to worry about pick-ups, or astronomical childcare fees, and I don’t have to rush around like a loon trying to pick them up by a specific time.
The key takeaways from all this are:
- Parents need flexibility. We have schedules to meet, parents evenings and school plays to attend, and sometimes sick children to tend to. Having an understanding manager who doesn’t watch the clock, and allows you to complete your working hours according to whatever pattern works, makes our lives so much easier.
- Child-rearing is expensive. Attractive maternity packages will improve your staff retention and employee satisfaction no end. The 67 Bricks maternity policy is better than many (Employees who have been here 2 years get 12 weeks on full pay and 12 weeks on half pay).
- Dads need flexibility too. For every dad who you allow to leave early to do a school run, there is probably a grateful mum who is able to get on with her own job without worry. The number of dads standing at the school gate is getting bigger year-on-year. When I was a child my dad was the only one at the gate, but these days it is much higher and that is only a good thing. I have seen male colleagues experience discrimination in previous jobs, for example expressions of incredulity when they state an intention to take paternity leave.