I’m entitled to stay off work until May, but they will stop paying me at the end of Janaury – so technically, I need to make my decision and either go back in February, or resign.
I like my job. The people are nice, it’s a friendly company, and being yelled at on the phone occasionally is more than made up for by the large amount of sweets and cakes usually available. I’m fairly sure they would allow me to cut my hours, change what days I work, whatever, in order to facilitate my return to work. It’s a big company with a lot of mothers already working there and my boss is something of a legend (I can say that because he doesn’t do reading or the internet, so he’ll never know I said it). Whether I like the job is not the issue, though.
I have so many friends who have had babies and had to go back to work before they felt ready. I’m sure lots of them would have liked to quit their job and stay home to look after their child for longer, but they couldn’t afford to do that. In fact, I think that’s most of my friends.
This is where being a single mother actually has advantages. If I stay off work, I will receive Housing Benefit and Income Support, and probably various other things that I’ve not really looked into but maybe should have by now. If I go back to work, I am led to believe that my Working Tax Credits will increase enough to more or less pay for child care, but I will be earning less money and may or may not qualify for Housing Benefit. Either way, it’s doubtful that I would be well-off. In fact, I’m likely to be decidedly skint in both scenarios. This gives me a choice most mothers don’t have: be skint at home, or be skint at work.
For most of my childhood, my mum didn’t have a job. She was there if I ever had to come home sick from school, and we spent our school holidays at home with her. As far as I was aware that was the norm. Now that I am a mother, I feel very strongly that if I decide I don’t want to go back to work until S is a little older, I should be able to make that choice. I have paid my taxes up to this point for that very reason. I believe every mother should have that choice, and the task of looking after a child or children should be seen as a job. After all, we are producing the next generation, and I’m sure everyone would rather they got the best possible start in life so as to not be a burden on the state later on. Not that I’m saying children who go to nursery or other forms of childcare will turn out to be delinquents; just that if a mother would rather look after the child herself, why shouldn’t she be able to?
I am well aware that if I opt to stay home with S for the next couple of years and live on benefits, I will be seen as one of those mothers: the leech on the state, living in a council flat and bleeding the government for all she can get. I am told I look younger than my years too (when I’m wearing make up to cover the bags under my eyes, obviously), so that doesn’t help with the prejudice. I remember last year S’s father pointing out to me how many of his neighbours had children who were around four years apart in age; inference being that they had gone and got pregnant again specifically to avoid having to go out to work. And actually, yes, a lot of the children in that area did have brothers and sisters exactly four years older and/or younger than them. I was aghast. I had no idea that people could be so cynical and calculating with something as important as creating another life. Do people really do that? Incidentally, I’m told that these days the government don’t make you come off benefits and get a job until the child is seven, so that should please a few of these women if they do in fact exist.
People do play the system, of course they do. And ultimately, it’s the mothers who are forced to go back to work earlier than they would like who pay the price for that abuse. I know there isn’t exactly spare money in the economy to fling at these things, but wouldn’t it be nice if the attitude was, Ok, go and have a baby, look after it, take your time, have enough money to live on comfortably, go back to work when you’re ready. Obviously that sort of system would have to be monitored to ensure people weren’t having a child and then leaving it with a relative while they got drunk all day and night on their benefits. I would have no problem with someone coming round to ensure I’m putting a lot of effort into bringing my daughter up well, if it meant I could have enough money to live more comfortably. As I said before, treat it like a job – because ultimately that’s what you’re doing, and you do it for longer than 8 hours a day.
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