‘Meghan is right. Working mothers do have to choose between being present or being paid
Not everyone was happy about the Duchess of Sussex getting involved in US politics. But her letter on behalf of herself, Archie, Lili and Harry pointed out something that's often lost in the working parent conversation.
“Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities,” Meghan Markle wrote in a letter sent to Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at the US Senate and House of Representatives advocating for paid leave for parents.
“At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time. The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost.”
She was criticised for meddling in politics, and jumping on the paid leave bandwagon as it practically rolls into town. Some even accused the former Suits actress of overstepping, especially with the “exploitation” of her royal title.
We don’t talk about this enough – this sacrifice thousands of parents make (mums or dads, but let’s be honest, mainly mum) for their children. We do it to pay for education, a warm house, piano lessons, healthy food, to keep our careers, to be positive role models.
However, her words are a stark reminder of the sacrifices parents have to make when it comes to juggling work and childcare.
“For many, this sacrifice goes back further than the past 20 months; it’s 20 or 30 years, even longer—decades of giving time, body, and endless energy not just in the pursuit of the American dream, but simply the dream of stability.”
Many working mothers don’t have a choice. Expensive housing and the high cost of living means that often it takes two working parents to run a household.
That means not always being available for all the miscellaneous and too-vast-to-list tasks that parents perform every day. Outsourcing these activities and chores is expensive and not always effective.
We don’t talk about this enough – this sacrifice millions of parents make (mums or dads, but let’s be honest, mainly mums) for their children. We do it to pay for education, a warm house, piano lessons, healthy food, to keep our careers, to be positive role models…
Covid lockdown allowed the lines to blur between working and home life.
As hard as that was, (and it was really hard) it also helped many working mothers to realise just how much we’d been been sacrificing by commuting, attending in-person meetings, travelling, sitting in an office all day, restrained by clocks and deadlines – the 9 to 5 mold.
WFH didn’t suit everyone of course, but what it did provide was time to reflect on a work situation that has slowly evolved that sees many parents out of the homes they kill themselves to pay for, from 8am to 6pm every single day, Monday to Friday.
WFH opened up the doors for increased flexibility when it comes to working five days a week in an office. This was something many mothers I know had fought tooth and nail to get – scoffed at by some employers for daring to suggest a three of four day week, frightened it meant career suicide by even bringing it up.
Those same employers afraid that by acquiescing, they would ‘set a precedent’ or create unfairness among teams should note the increased productivity levels across the board as reported by the Pew Research Center.
It reported forty percent of workers reported they were more productive at home during the pandemic than they had been when in the office, and only 15 percent said the opposite was true.
Better remote-working technology, no commute and fewer hours worked more productively is a no-brainer. The hybrid work life also saw people sleeping better, having more quality time, not spending as much during the day.
But regardless of research in the long-run of productivity, many workers are already demanding flexibility in their schedules.
When my children were younger, these was no middle ground. Part-time, flexible work was rare. It was the holy grail of being a mother who had the audacity to want a career, a salary and to be present for her children.
When my children were younger, you either worked or you stayed at home with them. There was no middle ground. Part-time, flexible work was rare, quickly snapped up, whispered about. It was the holy grail of being a mother who had the audacity to want a career, a salary and to be present for her children.
The parameters have always been pitted against working parents. Until now.
Why did it take a pandemic for us to reevaluate the stark choice working mothers face? All those sports days or 10am choir performances or early pick ups, or creche plays that we stressed about or felt guilty about missing or tiptoed around, to pretend to those we work for, that our family lives didn’t matter as much their client or deadline.
We finally found a pathway to make it all work. Although imperfect, that needs to continue to allow those who choose to work and have children the support to do both well.
Guilt has defined my life as a working parent. The past few years, to retain my career and pay for things, have involved rushing, stressing, failing – an imbalance that saw my own needs last on the list.
But the introduction of this forced flexibility, a balance of sorts has emerged. It’s a pity it took a global lockdown to get to this point. Let’s not squander the chance to tweak and improve, to find that sweet spot between work obligations and family responsibilities that has been missing for so long.
We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our families.