If you have a job where you work for someone else outside your home, the typical leave of absence for childbirth will be six to eight weeks. This is not necessarily a paid leave. What you are given is the opportunity to return to your job after a certain period of time. If your employer's business is too small to be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) you may not even have that guarantee. Basically, in that case you cannot expect much of anything unless it is given to you out of the goodness of your employer's heart.
Maternity leave is a job benefit that allows new moms to take several weeks (usually about six) away from the job without jeopardizing their position or seniority.
Six to eight weeks may seem like a lot of time when your baby is not due for several months. You may plan to work until delivery and then spend your maternity leave with baby until you are ready to go back to work. However, your leave also includes any time you might need before you give birth. If you have a difficult pregnancy you may need to use up some of your leave before you even have your baby.
All you can do is try to plan ahead as best as possible, so you are not caught off guard, no matter what happens. As soon as you can after you discover you are pregnant, find out what your employer's policy is on maternity or pregnancy leave. The more information you have, the better you will be able to plan. If your employer does not offer maternity leave, you might want to save up your sick days and vacation time to use instead.
When you're deciding whether you'll stay home with your baby, you need to assess your financial situation. If you choose not to return to work right away after your baby is born, and you know where you stand financially, you can devise all kinds of creative solutions to suit your financial needs. All it takes is simplifying your lifestyle to fit a single income. Here are some likely places to cut costs:
Your partner might feel resentful about having the entire economic responsibility for the family land on his shoulders. Make sure you talk your options through together so he doesn't feel ambushed into the situation. Otherwise, you may be facing a lot of avoidable tension when the baby arrives.
Try to solve the issue of finances and childcare as a team. Keep the discussion focused so it does not bleed into unrelated feelings and issues.
Most middle-class families today rely on two incomes to meet their financial needs. And, as women, we have been socialized to expect to work. Don't be surprised to find that you feel guilty if you choose not to contribute financially to the household. Finances are a very touchy subject, especially when the cause of financial belt-tightening is your desire to stay home with the baby. You may find that your partner feels a little conflicted about your choice. His income alone may not be enough to maintain the household in its accustomed style, and he's also got his own cultural conditioning to deal with: He thinks he should be able to support his wife when she stays home to raise the children. It's a definite ego thing.
As you would in discussions of sex or anything else that touches on a man's sense of self, you want to be sensitive in approaching this subject. If it turns out that you just can't make do on a single income, make sure that your partner doesn't feel he has somehow let you down. Work together to come up with a sensible childcare plan. Or consider changing work shifts so that there's always one parent at home. Or look into alternative work situations—perhaps something that can be done from the home, so that even while you're working you're able to be there for the baby, too.
Forty years ago, when women were expected to stay home and raise children, many women felt oppressed. Women fought very hard for the freedom to choose between a career and staying home to raise children. But now the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way: Many women are discovering that, in spite of today's expectations that they hold down a job outside the home, they want the privilege of staying home with their babies, and they feel torn into little pieces over having to leave their newborn in someone else's care.
This societal shift has set up a real conflict for the new mom. Because we know how hard women had to fight to expand our opportunities, we can end up feeling guilty for deciding to devote ourselves to homemaking and child rearing when our children are young. It's easy to feel as if we're turning our backs on progress.
Professional women have a similar conflict. If they decide to drop out of their career for a while to care for their babies, they run the risk of losing their place in line for advancement. Not only will this professional woman not move up the proverbial corporate ladder, she may lose valuable years of the on-the-job training her male counterparts are receiving.
When I was in law school, my female classmates all expected to have children somewhere between taking the bar exam and saving the world, but no one expected to get off the career track to raise them. Each of us handled her choices in different ways, but I do not know one woman lawyer who did not feel torn by having to choose between the professional and domestic aspects of her personality.
The question of whether to work outside the home or not is significant enough to deserve a lot of attention. Aside from economic realities, a woman's choice to stay at home or go back to her job will have a major impact on her self-concept—more so than most other decisions she faces as a new mom. Those of us born after 1950 have been profoundly influenced by the changing role of women brought about by the woman's movement. Even though no one can clearly define a consensus among women about most issues, we all know there is subtle pressure on all of us to make a life separate from our children.
The important thing is to honestly consider what you want for your life. Try to isolate yourself from the “shoulds,” and ignore other people's judgments. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to work full-time while raising children, if that's the right choice for you. And juggling motherhood and career is not impossible: Many women succeed at it, whether they're doing it by choice or out of necessity. It is just very difficult, and requires a great deal of strength and organization if you want to avoid killing yourself in the process.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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