I usually read the i newspaper as it gives a concise account of the news and I can follow up on news I want to know in depth. Until today I didn’t realise that it featured an ‘agony aunt’; the agony aunt in question is Virginia Ironside who has been around for a while with a successful career as a columnist, commentator and is the author of several books.
Before my current role as a specialist in women’s personal development, I used to be a child care social worker, have 2 children, and have been trained in child development, although I will willingly own up to the fact that I’m not up to date on the latest theory as I moved into management and have been out of it for some time. I didn’t have the option of returning to work as the times were different and so stayed home until my children were 10 months old. My sister in law in Norway, however, was very easily able to return to work and she has two lovely, well adjusted children, as do my working Mum friends.
So it was in jaw-gaping awe and not some little disbelief that I read Virginia’s column today; in fact, I thought she was joking and at some point would say ‘But what I really think is…’.
This is the question she was asked:
Dear Virginia,I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make a decision.
Now I read this letter and it never crossed my mind that my immediate advice to her would be that she should refuse the job. My advice would be listen to your instincts, talk to your partner, plan out how this can work. Obviously the care of the baby is of foremost importance but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the mother’s career. I’d also add in some advice from Avivah Wittenberg- Cox who says women need to plan for babies well before they want them as nothing derails a woman’s career more than unplanned time out. If your workplace wants you you may be in a good position to negotiate some good working arrangements which will benefit you and all parents who follow. I think workplaces should be making life easier for parents, either gender, as the world needs babies and we all need babies to receive good parenting. But then I don’t equate working with bad parenting, particularly so when one parent is prepared to stay at home. I do think a baby needs its mother during this first vital months and a mother needs her baby. But I don’t think this woman was suggesting she give birth and go back to work the next day!
This was Virginia’s response:
It would be madness to accept this job. At birth, your baby will have been living inside you for nine months and will be incredibly upset and disturbed to leave the comfort of your cosy womb to be delivered into a bewildering outside world. The least you can do is be around for six months, with all your familiar smell, sound, body temperature and everything, gradually to ease him or her into a brand new life. The father? Though it might have heard his voice, your baby’s never even met him, let alone lived inside his body. Remember that research has shown that at birth, a mother usually says: “Hello!” to the baby, while a father introduces himself with the words: “Hello! I’m your dad!”
Anyway, having a baby is a job. You’ve already been headhunted – by your child.
You clearly have no idea about what a huge responsibility it is to bring a baby into the world. These first months are vitally important, and if you can make your child feel secure and loved during the first few years, what happens later won’t upset it nearly so much. And though I always get irritated with people who say, “Oh you’ve never been through it, you know nothing of it,” childbirth really is something different. It’s like taking drugs. A mother changes chemically after giving birth. You simply can’t predict how you’ll feel.
A house-husband recently spoke of his experiences with his baby daughter. What he found, to his distress, was that the child was incredibly backward in her speech as she grew older. That was because fathers don’t automatically spout the kind of maternal drivel that is so important in a child’s learning development. “Oh, how are you, what lovely little toes you have, look at this picture there’s a cow, moo moo, you can say moo too, moo moo, yes, aren’t you a clever one, yes aren’t you a clever one, you are, you are” – on an on ad infinitum. Men are a lot more reticent.
There’s no reason, of course, that once the baby’s old enough to feel just as secure with its dad as with you, you shouldn’t then go back to work – that is, if you can bear to do so. Most mums feel a real tug to stay with their children for longer than a year. Indeed, many can’t bear to give up the job until they’re made redundant when the child actually leaves home.
But whatever you feel, you’re clearly an incredibly talented person and would find no problem in getting a good – or at least goodish – job, even if you opted out of the market for a few years.
It may be that I am biased because when pregnant with my first child I received some very patronising advice from two male interviewers who told me I probably wouldn’t cope with a baby and a post graduate course. But that was 32 years ago when the options were limited and equalities legislation was in its infancy; I thought we’d moved on.
What would your advice be?
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Photo courtesy of A Victorian passage
Posted on August 20th, 2013 by Jane