Can a working mother be as good at her job after maternity leave?
That’s the question – a Telegraph article headline – that caught my eye yesterday. The writer, UK journalist Antonia Hoyle, goes on to say:
“Post-children I am distracted, indecisive and less confident. I am more prone to mistakes and often counter-productively manic in my desire to succeed.
I don’t think I’m alone. Surely no working mother can be as competent in her career as she was pre-children“
“Me, Me!” I want to shout, “I am just as good at my job as I was before I had kids!”
And lots of other people are too. Most women I know become super-productive once they have children; the criticality of leaving the office on time to pick up children means no second of work-time can be wasted. A four-day-week necessitates fitting everything into those four days. A job-share means not letting the job-share partner down.
Women, especially in private sector jobs where it can be very difficult to be approved for part-time hours, fight hard to win the flexibility that they have, and aren’t going to jeopardize it by leaving work undone. They find ways to work faster, to work smarter, and to leave on time to pick up the kids. Many log back in at home after the kids go to bed – doing whatever it takes to make it work.
The writer in this article is a journalist – she tells a story about sending her daughter to crèche although she knew she was sick, because she had to interview an actress. That sounds incredibly stressful, and it’s not surprising that she felt terrible when the crèche called her to collect her daughter – we’ve all been there to a greater or lesser extent. But in my job, I don’t have to interview actresses or field calls from editors at bath-time as Aontonia Hoyle does. I can work from home if my childminder can’t turn up for any reason, and I’m not so indispensable that my job can’t be done by someone else for a day if I can’t make it in. I feel sympathy for the writer – it sounds very stressful trying to juggle the kind of role she has with having two small children, and a very busy husband too. But it’s not how the rest of us live. And she’s doing that classic thing of projecting her own situation onto every working mother, via a newspaper article.
She absolutely has the right to complain; to express how stressed she is. And she makes lots of valid points about flexibility, cost of childcare, fathers sharing the workload and mothers feeling under pressure to show they’re coping.
But the core point of the article – that we’re not as good at our jobs – is what rankles; I’m not comfortable with the assumption that we’re all the same. An employer who already makes negative assumptions about working mothers or allowing flexibility, will read her statement that “We can’t expect to compete with women who don’t have children or perform as well as we did pre-motherhood. It is disingenuous and self-defeating to try,” and feel that it confirms all previously held suspicions about mothers.
Just like Bryony Gordon declaring that working-mother guilt is a myth, Kirstie Allsopp announcing that girls should eschew college in favour of having babies, and Gwyneth Paltrow explaining that her life is harder than the typical working mother, Antonia Hoyle is making universal pronouncements based on her own experience.
And of course, I’m doing the same – but my belief that working mothers are as (or more) productive than they were before they had kids is based not only on my own experience, but that of the countless mothers I speak to and encounter every day in real life and online. Now I just need a Telegraph column to tell everyone about it.