Georgie Dansey is a mum of two, who works part time for the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA). She likes to run, and explore, and is interested in building community back into an individualist society.

I’m writing this from a plane, in which I’m flying to Christchurch for work. Before boarding I saw a little boy waiting with his mum, eating a gingerbread man which was probably a bribe. Now I can hear him crying at the back of the plane with most likely a stressed to her eyeballs mum desperately trying to control the annoyance he is causing other passengers.

Unfortunately, too often, women are penalised for having children, particularly in the workforce. I say women here, because more often than not, it is the mother who takes time out from work to care for young children.

If you’re a mum, and you’ve just had a baby- maybe taken some time off and ready to go back to work. You’re the woman with your foot half out the door,  you’re the woman who is out of practice, who’s been out of the game the one who isn’t really committed to the job, because you know- your kids. Sorry lady, your kids give you the mother penalty.

Of course, none of this is true, there is no reason why having children would make a woman less committed to work and a man more, the mother penalty is just another example of societal inequality.

Our work force is not set out to support and compliment mothers, a group of people who should be praised for the hard work they do are being left in the lurch. They aren’t paid for long enough to look after children and will often suffer financially, forcing them to return to the workforce early and miss vital time with their kids. Taking time out means they lose experience in the work force which effects promotion and wage increases, and opportunities for family friendly workplaces are far and few between.

I believe that there are ways to combat some of the employment inequality that arises for mothers; the most obvious is to extend paid parental leave to allow a principal caregiver to stay at home with their child for longer and be financially supported. Right now, New Zealand offers 18 weeks paid parental leave for the principal caregiver, an increase which came from a Labour party bill, who are still campaigning for six months ppl.

As far as returning to work goes, employers being open to flexible hours, is a great- and easy place to start. Employment law states that employers must consider all applications for flexible working hours, yet too often I hear of employers not being open to look at part-time hours for mothers of young children who are looking for a work/home balance.

Some collective agreements offer childcare credits, if a parent has been out of the workplace looking after children, this is not excluded from their length of employment and she may be credited some time towards her total service.  This allows mothers to reach pay increments and other benefits sooner and not be completely penalised for taking time out.

What about if we had child friendly workplaces, offering areas for women to breast feed, and a play area for children. Why can’t we offer a crèche for young children on site, so they can be close to their parents. Research shows that the more time a child spends with their principal caregiver in their first three years the better, integrating work and home life will endorse happy, thriving families.

I have the option of taking my children with me when I fly for work, because my work place see working mothers as a benefit to them, not a hindrance. Mothers are a fiercely passionate bunch with some of the biggest hearts you will ever come across. I encourage employers, and the government, to celebrate mums, and give them the credit they deserve.

One Reply to “Returning To Work: A Young Mum’s Story”

  1. Excellent article that identifies the marginalisation of children and their caregivers. We like to think of our society as child friendly, but compared to many others we are not. Certainly our levels of violence against children and child poverty point to a fundamental failure of our country’s commitment to the well-being of children. As the article points out, a key indicator of how serious a society is about doing the best for children is how much support it gives to caregivers and parents. In most jurisdictions paid parental leave is a key element of this.
    I have grandchildren in NZ, the US and Sweden and the differences in paid care provision are stark. In the US there is no federal legislated paid leave and unless you are a well-off family with a benevolent employer the birth of a child is a financial disaster. New Zealand is, as the article describes better, but still difficult: 18 weeks paid leave, unfriendly workplaces and an undervaluing of children and those who care for them (usually women.)
    By comparison each of my Swedish grand kids brings with them 16 months paid parental leave that can be used in any way by either parent as long as it is used before the child turns eight years old. The impact on kids and parents lives, the status of women and the engagement of fathers in the lives of children is visible everywhere. Add to that free ECE and a child benefit payment, and you have a society making the well-being of children and their caregivers central to its vision.
    And, by the way, the economy continues to thrive. Go figure.

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