Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mothers Returning to Work Series: Lindsey and Coco

I've dreamed of being a stay-at-home-mom since I was about five or so. As an adult, I always figured I would have to go back to work after becoming a mother. But I wound up getting my wish in a way that was far from what I would have expected! Click on "Read more" below to hear how I didn't go back to work and became a stay-at-home-mom. 

What is your nationality or national identity?
American.

Where do you live? 
Zurich, Switzerland.

What is your child's name? When was he or she born? Were you happy with your birth experience? 
Our daughter’s name is Courtney Julia, but we call her Coco - mostly because it’s really cute, but also because no one in Switzerland can pronounce Courtney! Coco was born September 29, 2011 here in Zurich. Our birth experience was amazing and we couldn’t have been happier with how the midwives handled everything. I wrote an essay for Momfilter about the beauty of giving birth in the Swiss health care system. You can read that here.

What type of parenting philosophy do you follow, if any? 
Being a Montessori teacher, I have a lot of knowledge of child development and needs, but mostly from three- to six-years-old. I did a lot of reading of both Montessori and mainstream books. In the end, a lot of the ideas in Attachment Parenting appealed to me, but only to a point. That Attachment philosophy gets taken too far sometimes. I never felt badly about putting Coco in her pram, for example, but some attachment mothers only wear their children in a wrap or sling and never use a pram at all! I read so many books and found things I liked and didn’t like in each of them. With everything I took in and with everything I’ve done with Coco, I’ve always tried to keep in mind that every step along the way I’m working to make her a good member of society and independent adult. Keeping that long term view in mind has been really helpful. And understanding child development in those first three years, I felt empowered to have a profound effect on how she “turned out.” ;)

Tell me about your maternity leave: How long? Paid or unpaid? Etc?
In Switzerland you get 14 weeks paid at 80%. It’s possible to coordinate longer with your employer.

Did you have plans to return to work in place before giving birth?
Yes. I planned to return to work after six months at 40 or 60% and to have Coco in the infant Montessori environment at the school where I was working. The plan was to take the 14 weeks paid (at 80%) and then the remaining time unpaid.

How comfortable were you with your return-to-work plan before the baby was born? Did your feelings change after birth? Did you stick to the same plan?
Before Coco came along, six months sounded like a really long time to me and I was sure I’d be ready to work two or three days per week by then. But in the end, my employer decided that they didn’t have a part time position for me, so I didn’t end up going back to work. I found out around the time Coco was 8 weeks old and I was pretty upset because I had been banking on returning to work. My job was protected by law, but I knew I couldn’t go back full-time after another six weeks from that point (when my maternity leave officially ended) so that’s when I became a stay-at-home-mom unexpectedly. From there, I was looking for work and going to monthly meetings at the unemployment office and it was frustrating. When the six month mark rolled around, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to go back to work the way I had expected to be. The pressure was mounting to find a job and I was agonizing over it all. By late spring, I had a really good offer from a Montessori school near Zurich, but it killed me to enter negotiations because I still didn’t feel ready to be away from Coco, even with her in the same building. It was eating me up. In the end, J wound up getting a raise and I turned down the offer. I was so happy! I was not ready to be away from her and I am so grateful for how things turned out and that I got to continue staying home with her.

Do you breastfeed? Did you? Did your return to work interfere? Did you fear it will?
I breastfed Coco exclusively for about 8 months because she wasn’t the least bit interested in solid food. Had I returned to work according to plan, I would have been able to continue breastfeeding as she would have been in the same building. Swiss law mandates that time spent nursing or pumping on-site be considered working time, which is amazing.

What type of childcare will/do you use?
I would have used the infant Montessori room in the school I worked at, but in the end, even that went against my deepest inner feelings. I didn’t even like the idea of Coco having her diaper changed by someone other than myself or J. I was surprised at how strongly I felt against not being with her. A couple of months ago, when she turned 18 months, something shifted and I think she would love being in a Montessori toddler environment now. If it were necessary, it wouldn’t be hard for me to go back to work and leave her at this point. But, that is very new and it would have been pretty impossible before then. I’m so glad that I get to continue staying home with her until she’s three. Unless I get a really good offer for the fall, I’m really happy to be home with her and having such a great impact on her development. If I do go back to work, it will only be if Coco can attend a Montessori program. Regular daycares don’t appeal to me at all.

Do you feel protected as a mother/working mother by state and/or federal laws where you live?
While I was pregnant and learning about the laws regarding women and work during pregnancy and postpartum, the laws seemed really amazing. Once it got the actual function of the laws, they were pretty worthless. My job was protected while I was pregnant and if I had wanted to go back full-time, my job was protected that way, too. But there are ways that employers can get around it. Employers in Switzerland typically don’t like to have employees with babies or young children because children get sick and mothers have to miss work. Plus, babies are breastfed on working time which takes away from duties. In order to make sure I handed in my notice, my employer told me that if I decided to come back full-time they wouldn’t have a place for Coco in the infant room. Because Zurich is a place where parents get their baby on waiting lists for daycare as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, it would have been impossible for me to return to work even if I had wanted to. Given the ability to avoid the law through loopholes, I didn’t feel very protected at all.

Why are you going back to work? 
I had planned on going back to work to contribute to our family income. When that was no longer necessary, I was delighted to stay home and be the number one influence in Coco’s day to day life.

How do you feel in general about returning to work? 
I know it’s different for everyone, but it would have been heartbreaking for me to go back to work. I didn’t want to miss one moment with Coco and I am so happy that I get to be there all along as she grows and changes. If I had had to go back to work, I would have agonized over her being in daycare and worried about whether she was getting one on one attention, developing a bond with someone there, etc. I know there are positives to having children in daycare, but I’ve always felt pretty strongly that, given my background and training, the best place for my baby would be at home with me if we could make it work. 

Please add anything else you feel is relevant.
It seems really unfair that women lose their footing in their career if they decide to step out for six months, a year, or two years to be with their baby. I love being a stay-at-home-mom and to me it is a real luxury to get to be home with Coco; I don’t miss working. But I do wish that it were viewed for what it is: hard work, worthy of genuine respect, that benefits everyone in society. 

***
So there you have it. That is my story. When I set out to write this series, I was trying to come to terms with going back to work because I was not happy about it. I wondered how other women felt about working. Did they want to work, or would they rather be home? And in countries where maternity leave is longer and there are more benefits, did it make a difference for mothers and make them happier? In the end, I learned that a lot of women do, in fact, want to work, which I’ll admit, blew my mind! ;) And as far as extended leave and benefits, there is no one-size-fits-all. A year sounds like an eternity, but for women who don’t want to go back, it isn’t. And for women who are itching to get back to work, it is awful. Not surprisingly, the choices wind up being personal. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be able to have things they way we want them. Other times, we have to suck it up and go against our ideal. 

The rest of the series, in case you missed them:
Mothers Returning to Work Series
Maria and Ferdinand
Jessica and Miles
Tanya and Josh
Kate and Hattie


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