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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8 thoughts on “Balancing Work and Family Life”

  1. “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.” I’ve been slightly appalled by the firestorm of sorts that Mayer’s comments have caused in the media – and now in one of my favorite websites. I do not think that Mayer “unwittingly” is giving the false impression that life with a newborn is easy – no where in the brief mention that she’s taking x-weeks of maternity leave and working through it did she say “and life with a newborn is going to be easy.” She – like the rest of us new and to-be mothers out here – has no clue. What we need is the support of veteran moms, not judgment or the perception that we’re putting our jobs before our children or that we’re bad moms because we’re not taking 12 weeks of maternity leave or if we periodically answer the phone when our employers call to ask us a question. I cannot wait to be a mom, but to be honest – it’s commentary like this that make me shut my mouth when people ask me about my plans for maternity leave or my parenting choices in general. This is not supportive. It’s defeating.

  2. i left my career as a psychotherapist after having my son almost 5 years ago. i was with him full time while my partner worked and i started a home business to help suplament our income (child and educational support and consulting). i have just recently returned back to work as a psychotherapist – now making more money than if i had stayed with my former employer and i am now doing exactly what i wanted to do – working with mothers on parenting and complex trauma issues impacting mother identity/roles. my partner is now at home full time with our now almost 5-year old running the business that i started. with a little creativity and ingenuity, you can make it work! you just have to be brave and trust you heart to tell you what it right <3

  3. I find it interesting that when other country’s maternity leaves are compared with the U.S.’s that the fact that some women in other countries do not have a choice in the matter in returning to work after their leave is up is strangely overlooked… for instance in Sweden…you get a great leave but then MUST go back to work, unlike the US where we may not get the government mandated leave but we are not forced back into work. I would take my freedom of choice in being a stay at home mom over a paid leave any day. Does anyone have statistics on how many stay at home parents there are in those socialized programs over the US ( up to 5 years of age?) I always thought I’d go back to work after having my first but when the time came I was devestated at the prospect of leaving my baby and fortunately had a supportive husband who backed me in staying home with my now 3 children. So grateful to be able to do what was right for our family with no government involvement!!

  4. Canada: 1 year of paid leave.

    And women are not “forced” to go back to work.

    This should be something regulated by the government; companies will never do anything about it on their own.

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  6. I’m an American woman living in Denmark. Here,we get a total of 52 weeks of paid maternity leave. First,we get 4 weeks before the due date,then the father gets 2 weeks once the baby is born. Also as soon as the baby is born,the mother get 14 weeks. Once the mother’s 14 weeks is done,there are 32 more weeks that both parents can use as they want. My husband took 12 of those 32 weeks and has been home this whole summer with our son and me. He will also get 6 paid vacation weeks,4 of which he added on to his barsel,or maternity leave to have a total of 16 weeks off to be home with our son. This is really wonderful as I will be going back to school when our son is 7 1/2 months and not quite ready for daycare (here,most children are about 11 months when they begin daycare,so the centers don’t really seem prepared to care for younger children),so my husband will get to be home with our son while I begin work. Then,we’ll all go to the States to visit my friends and family,and,after we come back,I’ll have another week off for autumn vacation(yes,we get weeks off in the autumn,winter besides Christmas and then spring),so I can wean him into the daycare during that week. It truly is a gift,to get to spend the better part of your child’s first year of life home with him and still get paid for it.

    Before I moved here,I never understood how women could only be home for 6 weeks with their babies. I can not imagine how difficult that must be. I was only beginning to be able to walk for any real length of time at 3 weeks! It saddens me to think that this is the way things are in the US. People always ask me-why did you move to Denmark? You’re from AMERICA!! Even worse when they find out I was living in New York City! Then they ask if we have any plans to move back to the US and are shocked when I answer no,and the reason being that there’s nothing there for us.

    Here,not only do we get a long maternity leave and 6 weeks of mandatory vacation,but we also get health care,dental care for the children till they’re 18,college education plus we get paid about $1000 a month just for going to school. We also get money every 3 months for having a child until that child is 18. This is all automatic and all Danes and people who have a residence and work permit. Even as a non-Dane,as soon as I moved here and got all the paperwork done,I was allowed to see my doctor without having to pay a thing. As a non-citizen,I have more benefits and freedoms than I did in the US as a born and raised citizen. Had a baby,after 5 days of hard labor and lots of different procedures which would have cost a huge fortune in the US,I pay nothing. Yes,our taxes are high,but it comes out in small amounts a little at a time. Besides,we get paid a higher percentage than other countries-our minimum wage here is $20 an hour!! I wish America would catch up to other countries and take better care of the people in the country.

  7. You’re not FORCED to go back to work,you just have to go back if you expect a paycheck. In Sweden as well as other countries,you’re free to stay home with your baby forever if you want,but you won’t get paid after that year. No one is coming to your home with a gun and forcing you back to work. Trust me.

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