Shamubeel Eaqub on working mothers
Becoming a parent for the first time – or again, as in our case – is an exciting and daunting experience. News of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy will no doubt pave the way for discussion on a number of fronts, from parental leave to the role of gender in parenting.
Being a father of two sons under three gives me some perspective on the pressures, choices and issues many parents face.
I can’t pretend to know the time and other pressures the Prime Minister will face, but I will give some unsolicited advice anyway.
Delegate as much work responsibility as you can, ask for help, accept help, rest and spend as much time with your child and partner as you can.
Parental leave is a hotly debated topic. The first weeks of parenting are exhausting and daunting.
It is also an incredibly important time for parental bonding. The evidence on parental bonding in the first weeks is overwhelmingly positive.
The International Labour Organisation recommends at least 18 weeks of paid leave. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for at least six months and recommends 26 weeks of parental leave.
Many workplaces do not have adequate breastfeeding facilities and make it hard to new mothers to continue breastfeeding.
Many parents decide to go back to work because they cannot afford a drop in income, or do not want too much discontinuity in their career, or earn too much money to stay away from work.
It is particularly a big issue in cities where the cost of living, particularly housing is high.
Unless there is unpaid family help, the return to work can be costly.
For a typical woman, it can mean much of the income is spent on childcare.
For high income women, it makes financial sense to work and pay for childcare – the opportunity cost of not working is too high.
With our fertility rate trending lower, we will need to seriously think about more family-friendly parental leave policies and workplaces.
I believe workplaces, faced with growing skill shortages, will prioritise being more welcoming to mothers – who are currently massively under-utilised.
When our first son, Haydn, was born, I realised the difficulty of juggling full time work and parenting and supporting my wife.
Even with some leave available, I judged it wasn’t enough for the kind of father and husband I wanted to be.
Quitting work, because we had the luxury of savings and good prospects for flexible contracting work, gave us the choice to both be stay-at-home parents.
Spending so much uninterrupted family time together has been a blessing, although it has come at the cost of lost income, and possibly career progression.
Yet most parents will know how much you grow as a parent. The need to be patient, to be able to explain things simply, to be able to teach things, or just to enjoy a moment of delight that only children seem to manage.
These are valuable skills that grow and shape a person, which must help them in their career.
With our second son, Hugo, I am trying to balance longer working hours and the constant demands of a toddler, who has become a limpet-attachment to daddy since arrival.
The value of unpaid work has become stark. The hours spent cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and groceries are a little more obvious and, to be honest, hard work.
Typically, many of these unpaid and unappreciated duties will fall on the woman.
Not only do we not count these activities in measures of economic value, there is little recognition in the family of each person’s economic contribution, with much greater weight given to cash income.
International studies have suggested that the value of unpaid work in the home is equivalent to nearly $100,000 in New Zealand – more than the average income earned by a man.
But the overriding objective of new parents is to do everything in their power to improve the wellbeing of their family and the child. Good luck to all the current and prospective parents out there, including our Prime Minister.