Balancing Work and Family Life

Balancing Work and Family



Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ignited a conversation about maternity leave in the US when she announced that while she will be taking a few weeks of maternity leave, she will be working throughout them. I can only imagine the pressure that Mayer is under, but nonetheless, she unwittingly gives women the false impression that life with a newborn is easier than it is. And, her point of view is dismissive, not only of family leave, but also of the complexity of family life. But then, she hasn’t had her baby yet. And, like most US women, she probably doesn’t believe she has much of a choice.


Less than 50% of US workers are eligible for unpaid family leave and only 11% of US employees offer paid family leave. According to Liz Watson, senior advisor to the National Woman’s Law Center, “For most of these women, pressing others into service to provide care for their newborn children is not an option. And, low-wage workers who take necessary time away from work to care for their babies often pay the price by losing their jobs.”




Here’s an example of what women in every other developed country enjoy, according to the International Review of Leave Policies and Related Research 2012:


Croatia: 6 months of well paid maternity leave.


Brazil: 4 to 6 months of well-paid maternity leave.


Poland: 5.6 months of well-paid maternity leave


Hungary 5.5 months well-paid maternity leave.


Ireland: 5.5 months of well-paid maternity leave.


Spain: 4.7 months well-paid maternity leave.


And, this is just well-paid leave. The UK, for example offers 12 months of maternity leave, 9.1 months of it paid and 1.4 months of it well-paid. Greece offers 8.1 paid months of maternity leave, 2.1 of it well-paid. In addition to maternity leave, workers in other countries enjoy childcare leave and extended leave of absences with job security.


Are you crying yet?


US companies are starting to catch on. A May article in Forbes identifies, “3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Paid Family Leave.” Five states, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico have Temporary Disability Insurance programs that provide workers with partial compensation (about half of earnings) to replace lost earnings due to absence from work for 10 to 12 weeks around the time of childbirth.



Because paid maternity leave in the US seldom covers the time necessary to adjust to a new baby, many women are not ready to go back to work as quickly as they expected. Some look to more flexible work solutions, either temporarily or permanently. While there may be financial risks, there are also new opportunities.


LEAVE OF ABSENCE: You can negotiate a longer leave, a leave of absence from your job. In other countries, parents have the entitlement to take a “career break” for childcare or any reason. In Belgium, for example, a one-year parental leave of absence can be extended up to five years by collective agreement.


PART-TIME WORK: You might be able to arrange part-time work with your boss, or find a new, part-time job. Make sure if you work part-time at your current job, that you aren’t expected to fulfill all of your past responsibilities in less time. Spell out the details with your boss in writing.


FLEX TIME: You would work the same total number of hours, but spread them out differently. For example, you could work more at night at home while the baby was asleep. Or, you might compress the work week into four days, or just work “mother hours” from 8:30 to 3:00.


JOB SHARING: You could share job responsibilities and work hours with a friend or associate. This is especially good for a job that requires a variety of skills. Of course, the arrangement would have to be cleared with management and everything put in writing to avoid misunderstandings.


WORK AT HOME: This is so much more common with the digital age and lots of online jobs are done routinely at home. Many women have started up successful home businesses. Several of the biggest cloth diaper and babywearing companies, for example, were started by WAHMs. (Check out the WAHM Well on Mothering for inspiration.) Some mothers care for other children in their homes. Writers, artists and musicians often work at home.


TAKE YOUR CHILD TO WORK: While all jobs obviously do not lend themselves to bringing children to work, many businesses actually enjoy it. The success of this has to do with the age of the baby, the privacy afforded the worker, the organizational skills of the mom, and the nature of the business. We have offered this to our employees at Mothering with good results. It requires clear expectations between boss and employee as well as among all the employees.


START A NEW, MOTHER-FRIENDLY CAREER: Having a new baby may be an opportunity to look around and see if there is another career you are more interested in. Many new mothers look to becoming a midwife, doula, childbirth educator or lactation consultant after they have a baby. Others start successful websites or local services related to some aspect of parenting.


Please share your solutions to balancing work and family life with us.


Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)Peggy O’Mara founded in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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