UVenus Responds: "Badass Working Parents"

UVenus Writers on What Really Helps When We Go Back To Work

April 17, 2018

UVenus Associate Editor Gwendolyn Beetham recently started back to work after her too- short-because-we-live-in-the-U.S. parental leave. When she read the recent Maclean’s article “The Problem With the Badass-Working-Parent Meme” it resonated. The basic premise of the article is this: attempts to portray “parent friendliness” - for example those memes that we see of women at work in Parliament with their babies - actually encourage practices that are harmful to women, such as a “women can do it all” ethos that doesn't exist in the real world (or if it does, leads to serious burn-out).

And so we asked other UVenus contributors: what was it like when you went back to work after parental leave? What kinds of policies and practices helped/what did not? If you are a supervisor, how have you sought to help others who are transitioning back to work as new parents? Here are their responses - we invite you to share yours in comments.

Meg Palladino, New Haven, CT

Three weeks after I had my son, my mother died.  I had a 6-week maternity leave, and could tack on an additional three days for bereavement, so 6.5 weeks after I gave birth, I returned to work.  I felt like a mess, both physically and emotionally, but I couldn’t afford to take a reduced salary and stay out of work longer. Luckily, my very kind boss was understanding and flexible with me.  I went home every day for lunch, and worked from home on Fridays. I had an office door that I could close while I pumped breast milk and cried. Things got better, but I still show up at work with my son at times – juggling is hard!  I think some flexibility in my schedule is the most helpful thing. I saw a quote on Facebook from Annabel Crabb that said, “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”  This sums up my experience. Although my work environment is fairly family friendly, I often feel like I am not quite doing my best at it all.

Rachel Ellett, Beloit, WI

I gave birth in November, then I taught one course, two days a week, in the Spring. This was hard physically, but good for me emotionally to get out the house. I then, by sheer luck, had a one year sabbatical. I would rather have extended maternity leave and use my sabbatical for research and writing. But given the sad state of affairs in the US, I consider myself lucky. It was financially difficult at half-pay. But somehow it worked out. I went back to full-time teaching and work when my daughter was 20 months. Juggling parenthood and an academic job seems impossible during the semester. But then the summer arrives and I feel grateful once again for the flexibility and autonomy my job offers.

Janni Aragon, Victoria, BC

I had my first daughter when I was a graduate student. When I started teaching again, I taught a class at night or on Saturday and this made it easy for my partner to be with her. I did not have any maternity leave, but I also did not have the ticking tenure clock. I had to learn to change my expectations. I focused on the week and not the day and this helped. Overall, my advice to new parents is to be kind to yourselves. The first month back is the hardest, but it does get easier. The other thing is to seek out other parents for support.

Anna S. CohenMiller, Astana, Kazakhstan

I became pregnant with my first child when I was a doctoral student in the U.S. I had understood I had access to some type of maternity leave through the school or as I had been told, that at a minimum, I would be able to apply for FMLA. However I learned that neither applied for graduate students. My only choice if I wanted official time off was to resign from the fellowship I was receiving, which was a major source of our family income. Therefore I couldn’t take any time off. Fortunately, I had incredibly supportive faculty members who were willing to be flexible, such as allowing me to attend via Skype when I was too sick to drive, or to do a research assistantship with a baby in tow. There was also one faculty member who shared openly about being a mother, and while this gave me a bit of a sense of having to “do it all,” it also provided an example of the possibilities. Like the meme’s showing the “badass-working-parent,” there is a fine line between the detriment of insisting there is only one way one of existing--that the workplace and/or child would naturally coexist--and the potential benefit of showing an example of how it is possible to bring the two worlds together. Hopefully we will continue to see more images of parents in the workplace with children, all types of jobs, all types of children, and the idea of there being one ideal will cease to exist and instead inclusive policies and a culture of supporting work-life balance for everyone will prevail.

Bonnie Stewart, Charlottetown, Canada

I was working as contract staff at my university - and teaching in an adjunct capacity - during my early years as a parent. My experience differed from many of the narratives here on a couple of fronts: I live in Canada and thus am incredibly privileged in terms of national parental leave norms, but my precarity and the challenges I had in carrying my children to term created employment barriers nonetheless. When my kids were born a decade or so ago, new parents in Canada taking leave from employment got almost a full year of Employment Insurance support - they’re now eligible for up to 18 months of leave - but I was airlifted to another province and hospitalized on bedrest for months. For a contractor, this obviously limits employment capacity, and while during one pregnancy I’d worked enough hours to receive parental leave support, during another I had not. Finding myself unemployed with no income amplified a medical crisis into a family crisis: even where national policies are far more family-friendly, it’s important to recognize that academia’s pervasive precarity can exclude people from parental leave policies. Nonetheless, in the instances where the policies did include me, I was grateful. Had I been in the US with preemies like mine, having to return to work mere weeks after birth would have left me even more profoundly overwhelmed both professionally and parentally, and I likely would not have found a way to continue in academia at all. If, as societies, we value the next generation, we need to find ways to make room for parents in all professions to be actively engaged in the early development of their children without professional penalty.


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