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The challenges of balancing careers and families

Career and Babies – can we have MORE even if we can’t have it ALL? 6 weeks into motherhood, 5 weeks into working motherhood, I wanted to share how it's been and pose a system of ‘radical flexibility’ to transform maternity leave.

My husband and I run a business, which we only started a year ago, so real parental leave for either of us has been out of the question. Here's how I've found it so far:

1. Regardless of how hard you try ‘equal’ parenting, I’ve found the burden of care in the early weeks has had to fall to me. Partly due to breastfeeding and partly the motherhood instinct and hormones, which I didn’t want to ignore. Getting clear space to work has been harder for me.

2. It wouldn't be possible with F2F work. I’m working from home, with what I need for baby to hand, breastfeeding on Teams calls when needs must. It also wouldn’t be possible if we didn't have understanding clients.

3. Some days I feel a huge sense of guilt–and stress–as I rush things with an unhappy baby so I can make a client meeting or meet a deadline. I’m so conscious that these weeks are precious and I won’t ever get a chance to go back and ‘re-sit’ them. Achieving the emotional balance is, I think, harder than the physical.

4. But other days I feel like I (almost) have it all. I can still focus on building the business / career I love, at the same time getting to look after a new human, with all the responsibility and joy that brings. I can balance the two simultaneously rather than having all of one and none of the other which is only possible because of radical flexibility on the work side.

Could this level of flexibility ever be possible at a larger scale? While there are many incredible business-owners-and-mothers out there, we're a minority vs. the wider working population. In our case, flexibility can be claimed rather than having to be requested (although only to an extent in a client-facing business like mine). And there is never a question of our motivation / dedication - our business is our livelihood. However, I wonder whether the risk of occasionally granting radical flexibility to an employee who abuses it is worth taking to reap the greater benefits of keeping more women in work and on steep career paths. Some mothers may want to take paid maternity leave and step away from work completely, others may not.

What about maternity leeway rather than maternity leave? I’m working at c.40% of my usual time spent. Most of that time I’m at 100% of usual effectiveness. A tiny amount of that I’m at 90% - the train of thought can be interrupted at times during breastfeeding!

35% of someone at 100% and 5% at 90% is far better than 0% at 0%. As long as the work allows for it. Many jobs have some elements that lend themselves to this sort of flexibility – we need to say ‘yes, let’s figure out how’ rather than ‘no, it's too complicated’. If it could work for maternity then there are many other circumstances it could work for too.

What do others think?

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