|The day I fell in love with my firstborn JJ|
I remember that very first exciting day when I knew I was on the way to becoming a parent. I was in my office at work and for the whole day tiredness was washing over me. I couldn't understand it, I'd had enough sleep, I didn't feel ill, I was just absolutely shattered and as I lay my head on the desk for a small rest it suddenly dawned on me and I jumped up, grabbed my bag and announced to my staff I'd be back soon. Twenty minutes later I was in the works toilet peeing on a stick and quietly shouting 'yes' whilst I fist pumped the air! I then had to walk out as normal and survive the rest of the day until I could tell my husband.
It's funny though as I can't recall how I told him. It amazes me that some memories are as clear as the day they happened and others just get lost. I've definitely found this a lot with early parenthood. It is so exhilarating to be a parent and you become absolutely absorbed in your child and new family unit but some things get lost in the blur of family life. If you asked me how old JJ was when he cut his first tooth I couldn't tell you without looking back at his baby memento book. I sure am glad I was particular about filling this out and keeping photos. Of course with the girls it is different and their whole life is documented in this blog and what a great treasury it is.
Inevitably becoming a first-time parent comes with challenges and in-fact can throw your whole life up in the air. There are some amazing resources to help you though and one of those is the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I have fond memories of my NCT coffee mornings and sharing support and advice as our babes grew and changed. I was interested to hear that the NCT (supported by their long term partner Pampers) have been undertaking some extensive research. Their report, titled 'working it out: new parents’ experiences of returning to work' is a great read as it has been developed over a period of two years and involves two separate online questionnaires of the same parents over a time-lapsed period, along with focus group input too.
The report covers the first 1000 days (from pregnancy until the child's second birthday) of parenthood. Balancing the responsibilities of parenting, work and finances was a key theme to emerge from the research, and it was found that this affects different families in different ways. Of course good communication and looking after their own relationship is really important for new parents as they settle into changing roles and boy does one tiny person throw the whole apple cart up in the air and make life change!
80% of the women responding to this study had returned to full or part-time employment and more than half of those women said they continued to do all or most of the caring activities, which is no great surprise to me, times don't appear to have changed that much! The report found that access to flexible or part-time work and good quality, affordable Childcare is critical for allowing women the peace of mind to return to work and for both parents to find a good balance between work, parenting and their relationship.
I remember this return to work dilemma so well. Prior to having JJ I just assumed I'd go back to my management role but after about six months of bonding with my little man and enjoying our time together I could not imagine leaving the house at 7am to travel an hour to work and then having to tell my team that I was leaving to collect JJ from nursery but they all had to stay as we had not made target. That was the nature of the sales environment I managed and I struggled to see how I could be the driven example I always was when I had JJ to care for and frankly I'd lost my passion for making money and working twelve hour days. So I had the chat with dh and he agreed that me working less hours, more local to home would be more practical and we could make some cut backs to our spending. I was just very lucky that I managed to secure an 18 hour a week job at a local university and then I spent the next enjoyable nine years there until we moved away.
I'll share with you some of the key findings from the research -
- 77% of female respondents said that household finance was a very important factor in their decision to go back to work, whereas only 10% cited social contacts as very important
- Then 68% said that the quality of childcare was also a very important factor
- Fewer lone mothers were planning to return to work, and for them the financial incentive is often low, particularly once childcare costs are taken into account
- Women working part-time increased from 7% to 28%. In contrast, only 4% of fathers were working part-time after they became a parent
- Generally women who had decided to return to work were older, had higher educational attainment, and were more likely to be in a relationship
- A quarter of men took less than their two weeks statutory paternity leave entitlement and only a minority of fathers (11%) took more than two weeks away from work
- Approximately a third of new mothers (35%) and half of new fathers (47%) reported that their employer did not offer flexible working hours
- Women were two and a half times more likely to report that their employers offered part-time working hours compared to men (70% vs 28%), which the report suggests shows there is clear evidence of a gender divide. I personally wonder if the men have all investigated the possibility and have any desire to work part-time
There was not really any surprises to me in here but then my job at the university was in Human Resources so I was exposed to these kind of decisions every day as I conducted maternity interviews and processed applications for flexible working and the like. Those of us who get to work in the public sector are very lucky in the main as this seems to be where there are better opportunities to work in a way that suits our family. Although I was really encouraged to hear on the radio the other day that Richard Branson is planning to offer a years paid paternity leave to his employees at Virgin Management who have 4 years service or more. Way to go Richard, good to see you trailblazing yet again!
From this study the NCT have been formulating where they need to concentrate their campaigning efforts and they have devised a three prong focus -
- Improved flexible working provisions for both men and women
- Improved access to affordable high-quality childcare at the point of returning to employment
- Better paid parental leave for men and women and clearer guidance on entitlements
These all sound pretty sensible to me and I'm happy to get behind the NCT and their partner Pampers and say yes, let's offer family friendly working to all employees. It is well documented that happy employees are far more productive after all.
To sit alongside the research from the NCT, Pampers have released their newborn journey of firsts short film, it was created to celebrate many of those special first that parents and their babes share together in the early days. It is under 2 minutes long and definitely worth a watch, I had a massive smile, especially when I saw the twinnies, there is nothing like two babes together.
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