A few years ago, I was introduced to the Research Summaries on the website of What About the Children? As a Science graduate and mother of two children, I was interested in the brain development of the under-threes and how my hours of work might have affected the children. My conclusion was that being made redundant was in fact a good thing for me and my family.
My plan for returning to work after my first baby was to ask for a return to a 50% job, but this was declined. I had looked at a place at a large local day-nursery, but didn’t take it up. My employer, at that time part of Unilever, instead offered me a 5-year career break, plus enhanced maternity pay, a return to a full time post after 5 years and to keep in touch via the Unilever women’s network. The continuity was kept by 150 hours of work per calendar year. After my Maternity leave of 9 months, I went back to work with Unilever for just one day per week. My daughter was looked after by her Dad or grandparents and later at a small nursery (where three childminders looked after up to 8 children in the home of one of them). When I was about to return after my second child, two years later in 1999, the company had been sold to Monsanto and I was told, “Monsanto is a US company and we don’t do Career Breaks”. I was made redundant. It was a shock and I was disappointed, but I had no choice because I was not prepared to return to full-time work at that stage in my children’s lives.
I then looked for part-time work teaching and worked one afternoon/evening a week for a while. After that, I studied book-keeping at home, got a qualification and entered the clerical market. At the beginning, I managed to get some office experience for a couple of months, offering to work for nothing, and luckily this turned into a steady paid job for 18 months. I eventually found a 6-month maternity break cover in an accounts office, where I learnt the job of payroll. I managed to prove my worth and was made permanent. This provided me with employment from 9.30 am to 3.00 pm whilst my children were both at primary school. I worked 4 days a week, switching to 2 days a week in the school summer holidays. At that time, my husband and I had a baby-sitter on a Thursday evening, so that we could go out once a week, and she, or sometimes he, took care of the children for 2 days a week during the summer holidays, entertaining them in our home or out and about. I really appreciated my then line-manager who encouraged me to work the job around my needs.
My second child, a boy, has not been as emotionally confident as my older daughter, and I wondered why, as I thought I had brought them up the same. However, with further reading on attachment, I can see that they were brought up differently. As I look back and try to remember my first job of 15 hours a week as a clerk, my daughter was a confident 4 ½ year old, just starting primary school. Each day, her brother and I dropped her off and collected her after school.
At this time, the two children’s lives were beginning to diverge. My daughter was the centre of attention, getting school uniform and starting school with her friends from playschool. In contrast, my son was losing his playmate, no longer with his big sister all day. In the past, she had always been with him when I had left him with either a baby-sitter, grandmother, the small nursery or at the village playschool. Now he was either on his own at the nursery, or at playschool and collected by one of several childminders who were new to him. Life was a little bit more frightening than it had been.
His big sister had always been “Mummy number 2”. Aged 2 ½, my son was under stress. It was hard for me to get everyone ready so that I could get to work on time, so I was stressed too. My son doesn’t remember the time when he was 2 ½ to 4 ½, but his brain does. He is less resilient to stress now and has been ever since his adolescence. Anxiety has hindered his progress. He gets there, but slowly. What else should I have done ? If I had known back then, what you can now read on the research pages of What About The Children?’s website, that boys’ brains are slower to develop and are more sensitive to stress, particularly in the three periods of testosterone surges (All our Sons by Allan N. Schore, 2017), I would have waited just a little longer before I changed my son’s daily pattern of life. I would have begged, scrimped and saved, so that I could remain at home for another year.