My feminism questioned by work/life balance

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Cartoon by Laura Riding

Can feminism and motherhood co-exist? Of course they can, but not without conscious effort.

I am almost three months into my six-month statutory maternity leave with a seven-week old child.

Dan has long since finished his two-week paternity leave. Day one was used up when my waters broke and our child was born on day three, giving him 11 days to spend with his oven-fresh son.

It was simply assumed I would take the time off work to look after the baby, we barely questioned it.

I say barely: the possibility was once raised in conversation of Dan going part-time to share the parenting role, allowing me to work part-time and forego the cost of childcare.

Laura Riding
Laura Riding: “Questioning my feminism.”

Two halves equal one whole – we wouldn’t bring in more than a single person salary, in fact slightly less as I can’t imagine I’ll be looking at the big bucks in local part-time work.

But this would be after the first six months, when my maternity pay would be axed and I would be looking at returning to work.

It was mentioned in passing, as I say, we are yet to discuss it seriously and the clock is ticking.

It was unquestioned that those first six months of our son’s life would see me, his mother, as his primary carer.

I didn’t think twice about arranging my maternity leave with my employer. In actual fact in the UK we are allowed to split the maternity and paternity leave as we wish – we could have taken three months each, or both worked half weeks. This is an appealing set-up, we would have equal time with our boy, each developing our relationship on even footing.

It would reduce my restlessness at being left at home and Dan’s tiredness from always being the one to get up and set off to work. It could potentially have a radical improvement on our quality of life.

There are two fundamental reasons why this didn’t happen, and this is where I question my feminism.

Firstly, I wouldn’t want to cause anyone any hassle (classic female trait there, mustn’t make a mess!): splitting our maternity/paternity leaves would require a lot of organisation and paperwork, and would surely put both of our employers through a series of hoops they would probably never have navigated before. How would they arrange cover?

It would be our legal right and therefore a problem for HR to sort out – but still I would feel mortified at the idea of causing inconvenience.

In the workplace one does not want to start rocking the boat, especially as a woman who has announced a pregnancy. I feel lucky to have kept my job. Many women haven’t.

Secondly, and most worryingly, my first thought was that as a teacher, Dan’s career was more important than mine, a manager at a cafe in central Canterbury, and he should therefore keep at it.

We actually bring home roughly the same income, so it wasn’t a matter of money. The part that worries me is that I wondered if he were a manager and I were a teacher that I would think the same, that his job was more important.

I worry that this thought that the man’s career is always more important, and the woman’s is disposable – mainly due to babies punctuating our careers – runs through me like writing through a stick of rock, that it is deeply embedded and I have to consciously correct that thought.

“I am a strong and independent woman,” I tell myself, sitting in my PJs wondering what on earth I shall do with the day, now that I’ve waved Dan off to work.

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