With both my daughters, I took a short maternity leave for UK standards : 4 months. Whilst this is a standard duration in many countries (including my home nation, France) and a generous one in many others (including the most powerful country in the world, the USA), for the UK, it is considered short.
Many colleagues were shocked when I told them I intended to take only 16 weeks off. I didn’t feel like they judged me but they were very surprised. Clearly, I was outside the norm.
I am very conscious that I am in the very fortunate position that my employer topped-up my pay to 90% for 16 weeks. Many mums have no choice but to return to work after 6 weeks for financial reasons.
Instead of explaining why I made that choice, I will instead give you 3 positive things that came with a short maternity leave. This is absolutely not a judgement of all the mamas that take a longer mat leave, or even those heroes who become Stay-at-Home mums : they are all doing a fantastic job ! But my objective is to help mothers who are taking short leave out of choice or out of necessity feel more confident about it and consider the bright side
1- It makes coming back to work easier
This is for 3 reasons :
- You get your job back : By law, if you take less than 6 months, your employer has to give you your exact job back. I know very few mothers who have gotten their exact job back after taking a year long maternity leave.
- You have not been “out of the game” for too long so your knowledge is not out of date. And by knowledge, I mean of course knowledge of your field, but also your network and the business priorities. If you take a year off, your boss might have left and the new one does not know you and may not prioritise you in his / her early plans.
- Your self-confidence probably has not dipped as much (although you may be more tired than if you went back later)
2- It helps gender equality in the home
This study shows an interesting fact : out of the entire British population, mothers on maternity leave are the ones that do the most unpaid work.
It makes sense and relates with my own experience : when I was on mat leave and past the initial first weeks of recovery, I have tended to pick up more of the household duties. I cooked dinner more often than my husband, did all the medical appointments for the kids, most of the laundry etc.
But if you are off for 9 months or a year, those patterns can become ingrained. How can you re-establish balance and ensure you does not become the expert in all things baby and your partner merely an assistant ?
As I went back to work after 4 months, we pretty much had no routine in the home yet so it was easy to go back to an equalitarian split of duties
3- It promotes diversity in choices
This is good for 2 reasons :
- It encourages mothers to make different choices themselves if they want to and to not judge the mamas that are making different choices
- It makes behaviours when it comes to Maternity leave less predictable, hereby reducing prejudices against young women as a whole.
Above all, we all need to remind ourselves time and time again that being a parent is tough and every family needs to find what works out best for them. The day when parents will stop judging one another is the day where kindness and equality in the workplace will take a HUGE step forward.