Career vs Children: Do Parents Get a Choice?

Right now, the government has created proposals to alter the current maternity and paternity leave system. Dads could get more leave, taking over a proportion of the mother’s leave if she chooses to go back to work after 20 weeks. And small firms employing 10 staff or less could get an exemption from offering some maternity and paternity rights.  From my point of view, the first proposal has lots to recommend it, while the second is scary and could drive mums back to work before they and their baby are ready.

Currently, parents have the right to request flexible work too: you can ask to work part time, from home, or change the hours you work. Employers don’t have to accept your request so any parent making such a proposal should look at how it could benefit the business as well as themselves and their family, so they can make a strong case to the boss.

Flexible working sounds good, but many parents are finding that their requests are turned down or they can’t get enough flexibility to meet the needs of their family. In a time of economic uncertainty, parents are taking control and starting their own businesses. Some do this alongside another job as a back up while plenty of mums use maternity leave as a time to explore a business idea. In a survey for and , parents prioritised flexibility and time with the family over salary, job security and career progression. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that self employment is an increasingly popular option for new parents.

On the downside, the vast majority of (mainly female) parents who responded to the survey see their incomes decrease after having children. And two thirds of respondents struggle financially, with many struggling ‘more often than not’ and a minority admitting to ‘serious debt problems’.

So, what can we do to give parents a real choice? Parents want flexibility and time with the family: is this incompatible with generating a good income? I feel that employers need to wise up to the benefits of employing a flexible workforce, giving them staff who work at busy times without the need for overstaffing at quiet times. There needs to be a campaign to help employers and parents learn about good examples of flexible work and get assistance to implement these in their own workplaces.

Beyond employment, there needs to be more support for parents starting out in business as they face the challenges of a growing family and growing business. Mums in particular need to value what they offer as all too often they under charge for their professional skills and services. At a time when enterprise agencies are facing cuts, the Government needs to recognise the support entrepreneurial parents need. Right now there is a growing movement of mums getting into business: support them to grow strong businesses and you’ll see children being lifted out of poverty and families getting the flexible working hours and time together that they want.

Antonia Chitty runs the Family Friendly Working blog,, where she shares news and advice for working parents. Antonia is committed to seeing mums succeed in business and, together with her business partner Erica Douglas has created a free eCourse to help mums start earning from home.

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