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Three jobs + two people = the impossible equation

Today, we hear a lot about the number of mothers working full time alongside caring for children and we’re regularly reminded of the importance in encouraging mothers and fathers to return to the workplace after having children.

When my two brothers and I were young however my mum was a stay at home parent. As we were growing up I didn’t think much of it: my dad had a very successful career as an aeronautical engineer and my mum took responsibility for looking after us and the family home.

This prompted me to ask my mum why she decided to stay at home. My mum quite simply replied that there were three jobs – her job, my dad’s job, and caring for us – and only two people available to do them. It was an impossible equation where something (or someone) had to give.

As someone in their late 20s with the rare luxury to be able to say I’m working in my dream job for my dream company, I found this terrifying. I love my job and coming to work but my mum presents a very logical point. If I have children, who will care for them? Is it the expectation that I will stay at home to care while my partner works? Does this mean my career will be placed on standby? What happens if I want to return to work too?

While as a society we continue to encourage parents to return to work, there is a fear facing women considering children in the future when it comes to balancing work and caring – and not an obvious answer either.

It’s positive that there is an increased awareness of gender equality and a growing number of female breadwinners but there is still a stigma surrounding the image of the mother who returns to work full time, who is caught up in work and misses sports day or is unable to join the PTA. And there’s the guilt at the thought of leaving a child to be cared for by someone else and the potential of missing a milestone.

The conversation with my mum provoked a lot of reflection on my part about how when the time comes I will manage. After much thought (and the realisation that chaining yourself to your desk in protest isn’t a viable option), the conversation brought into focus just how important family friendly workplaces are for both our people and our organisations.

While there will never be a perfect answer, as employers we have the opportunity to create workplaces where parents wishing to return to work are not faced with the dichotomy of ‘children versus career’. Instead we have the confidence to know that whatever we choose to do, the support is available to make it work.

And while there is so much that has been done there is still so much that can be done. With less than half of parents in the 2018 Modern Families Index feeling that flexible working is a genuine option in their workplace, taking policies and procedures beyond a tick-box exercise is just one way that we can make a difference to those not knowing how to balance it all. Coupled with meaningful and practical care solutions, such as childcare and back-up family care, we can help people to reach peak performance and productivity, while also enabling our businesses to achieve organisational success.

The bottom line: creating great family friendly workplaces means that the only concern for our talented people starting families is the amount of washing, not our careers.

Stephanie Kowalewicz, Research and Public Affairs Manager, Bright Horizons

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