Like so many things around parenthood, the way we organize our work and family life has been something we just really figured out once our son was born. Becoming a happy working mom was a process during which ideas I had for years changed. I started to tell about that journey in this first post and this is the second part.
My first post stopped at the point where I, after staying home for almost half a year with Henrik, felt more than ready to get back to work. So Henrik went to daycare for two days a week, because looking for vacancies and applying for jobs is time-consuming and I wanted to do it well. Luckily, husband completely agreed with my decision. Even though he said the choice was mine, he couldn’t really picture me as a stay-at-home mom and feared that staying home fulltime wouldn’t make me happy in the long run. It took me two months to find and get the job I have now. That might not sound as a very long time, but it sometimes felt like an eternity to me. My confidence went from super high (after an interview that went great) to super low (when I got a rejection after a very time- and energy-consuming application procedure) all the time. The good thing about my longer time at home and the process that led to my decision to go ahead with my ambitions for a career was that I felt like the luckiest person in the world when I got a job that really met my criteria for a dream job. There was not one second to doubt if it was the right thing to do and I also didn’t feel guilty anymore that Henrik would go to daycare for four days a week (despite many deprecative comments I received about that). Because I just knew I’d be the best mom if I was a happy, in my case working mom.
And while I was so eager to get back to work at that point that I would have been willing to work fulltime, my new employer agreed straight away with me working four days. And I am so glad I took the position, because everything turned out even better than I could have imagined. Because what I didn’t know before I started the job was that my team (amongst others) consisted of more young parents and parents to be, and the whole company is actually quite family-minded. There’s a hard working mentality combined with understanding the need of a private and family life. It’s one of the things I appreciate the most about my employer, and even though I know it’s not self-evident that there’s flexibility and opportunities for ambitious working moms, I think a company can only benefit from that mentality. Because getting the chance to seek a career, being trusted with challenging projects and getting things done my own way (most of the time ;-))while being able to combine it with motherhood without feeling rushed or stressed all the time only makes me work harder, thankful for the trust and ready to take all the opportunities at reach.
But getting back to the length of maternity leave: Being a Swiss expat in Holland, I have friends from different countries, so I got to hear opinions from other cultures often. I know that how many weeks of (paid) leave you get differs a lot by country. In the Netherlands, we get 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. You can choose to take up to six weeks before your due date, but have to stop working four weeks before in any case. After those 16 weeks, you can get unpaid parent leave for up to six extra months. I think it’s due to do the Dutch pragmatism and working mentality that working mothers here hardly ever stay home for longer than a total of six months (many of them just take the paid 16 weeks off), even though they could stay home for up to nine months. And it has of course also to do with the standard that women around you have set. In Switzerland, you get 14 weeks of maternity leave, starting with the birth of your baby. During those weeks, you get 80% of your former salary. Nevertheless, most women I know back home stay home between six months and 1,5 years. Meaning they need to either have a partner that can pay for that or have saved enough money to cover quite a long period.
While I’m surrounded by women who work four days a week at my job, I always get astonished reactions in Switzerland: ‘Wow, four days, that’s a lot!’. It’s common there to reduce your employment contract to 40% or 50% of full time once you’re a mother. The same discrepancy of reactions goes for the length of my maternity leave: I will stay at home for almost six months in total, one month pre-baby. This is above the average for working moms in Holland, so I often get reactions like ‘oh, that’s a long time, nice you can do that!’ But I’ve also had ‘and they’re taking you back after six months?’ Whereas for Swiss people, the period that I’ll be home full time with the baby is shorter than the minimum that moms choose there and reactions often are the opposite: ‘oh that’s a short time, is maternity leave that short in the Netherlands?’ The answer is no, fully paid maternity leave is actually longer in Holland than in Switzerland. But this example shows how standards are set per country and by what people choose to do in the end with the flexibility they get. I think any way to go is okay, as long as you have freedom to choose what’s best in your and your baby’s case and don’t get exposed to judgemental reactions. Because finding your way, balancing and making choices for not only yourself but for your child’s future can be hard enough without people telling you you’re not meeting whatever their ideal is.