This week was one for the books. I started a new job and my dayhome provider had a seizure leaving us without childcare for two days (side note: she is doing well and recovering). My husband and I split time at home and a good friend came to our aid. Not having family in town always makes for a challenge when it comes to emergency situations, but we always find a way to pull through. And, fortunately, my new boss has children and was incredibly understanding. To top it off, I announced my second pregnancy to my new employer.
I closed off the week torn in two; I felt completely unsuccessful in both of my leading roles – employee and mother.
Since my return to work at the end of January, which has been fraught with a myriad of change and upheaval, I have felt a constant tug between both my professional and personal worlds. A tug that amplified this week when it was obvious I wasn’t quite living up to my potential in either capacity. My time at work was interrupted, disjointed, split between home and the office. I was stressed getting to and from the office, not wanting to be late (or absent at all) or appear anything but incredibly excited about this new opportunity. I was stressed trying to find interim childcare and having to ask friends to support. I was stressed regarding the care of my child, uncertain of whether I wanted her returning to dayhome. I was stressed trying to accomplish deadline driven tasks in an an area completely foreign to me. So, yes, I was stressed.
This was a two day period. This wasn’t a week or a month. It was two days. And it’s passed now and we are returning to our “normal” routine. And yet, this experience has made me think, at length, about the bind that employers and new mothers experience. Surprisingly, it has made me incredibly sympathetic to employers who take a “risk” when hiring a young woman who may be contemplating a family.
Yes, I am using the word risk, because it is. Employers invest considerable time in training, mentoring and developing young talent; young talent that may leave shortly after training culminates. Young talent that may not come back. In my case, I’ll be leaving for another maternity leave (length to be determined) in just five months. That means in five months they may need to hire and train a replacement only shortly after finishing my training (I’m brand new to this role and area).
A number of moms who decide to return to work sometimes leave shortly after their return, finding the balance of work and family too challenging (Stevenson, 2012). Sometimes its after the second baby arrives – the daycare costs and time challenges are just too much. Some decide to work part-time. This, among many other factors, contributes to the wage gap we continue to hear about. It’s not that women get paid less on the dollar (seriously, that’s ridiculous and just isn’t the case…anymore), it’s that women more often than men have to make the hard decision to work part-time. And this is largely because women tend to work in roles that earn less (because they are lower risk) relative to men and thus, make more sense to leave to care for children and the home. Obviously this is shifting as we see more and more women attend professional schools and participating in more dangerous / higher paid work, but it’s a reality. Not necessarily a fair reality, as it indicates women are more than often then men at a disadvantage in the workplace, but a reality nonetheless.
So employers take a risk when investing in young female talent. Sometimes it pays off and other times, it doesn’t. And it’s not just the risk of young moms not returning after baby one, two or three, it’s young moms returning who are constantly torn between their role as employee and mother (reference first paragraph). While my husband and I work to strike a balance, I am often the one who has to stay home. I have a tad more flexibility than he does so it makes sense, but it doesn’t always feel right. Especially when starting a new role. And here’s the kicker: employers have to be accommodating, flexible and relatively nice about it. If they’re not or show any sign of frustration, they are referred to as discriminating and unjust. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t.
I now have a better sense to the challenges faced by working moms (specifically, dual-income families) and employers who take the risk to employ them. It’s not easy for anyone. Working moms are constantly torn between two worlds where they often feel like an impostor; employers are torn between employing / not employing young women who may leave them in the lurch or be their next EVP.
So who has the short end of the stick? In my opinion, it’s both.
Check out http://www.liveitactive.ca for information on my business! New or experienced mom looking for a small slice of serenity this summer? Check out the Rejuvenation Retreat, August 19, The Crossing at Ghost River. All details on my site.