Mothers Returning to Work: Tanya and Josh

Tanya Foley moved from Vancouver, B.C. to Switzerland in early 2011 as the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's Program Manager. A few weeks later, she discovered that at her 'advanced age' in her late 30's (she only looks 20! ;) she would be having her adorable son Josh just 8 months later! The following is her adventure of becoming a mother completely by surprise in a foreign country. 

What is your nationality or national identity? 

Where do you live?
Richterswil, Switzerland (20 minutes from downtown Zurich)

What is your child's name? When was he or she born? Were you happy with your birth experience?

Joshua Clinton Foley – September 13, 2011 – I was definitely happy to meet the little guy but would have preferred a bit shorter time of “knocking on the door”

What type of parenting philosophy do you follow, if any?
Honestly haven’t subscribed to any specific philosophy, have kind of avoided on purpose all those books. Right now our belief is around creating an environment that is stimulating for his developing mind while letting him actually try to figure things out for himself while being there to give little helping hands. He is already showing a strong independent side by doing things like crawling off to his room to play without us, and we want to encourage him by letting him try things on his own – and he's surprised us a few times already!  We want to expose him to as many options as possible and encourage him to try to do everything, and not only celebrate with him when he is successful, but also to remind him that skills take time to develop, so enjoy every little step forward and not just when you finally reach the top of the challenge. Of course we also believe in about a thousand kisses a day is the minimum. ;)

One thing that I have always been a strong believer in is that it is the parent´s responsibility to learn about the areas of interest their children develop. I read a story once about a mom who was asked by a neighbour about the different topics of books in her bookshelf – everything from car mechanics to biographies of baseball players to history books. Her response was simply to say that her son had gone through different phases in his life of what captured his interest and she wanted to be able to share the experience with him as much as possible. She wanted to make an effort to stay current in his life and although she would never be able to have the same amount of knowledge, she could at least have a starting point for conversations every day with him. I want to make sure I do the same for Josh – to not only say I will always be there but to put in the effort that shows I mean it.

Tell me about your maternity leave: How long? Paid or unpaid? Etc?
In Switzerland, the standard is 14 weeks paid at 80% and up to a certain amount. I was fortunate that my employer turned a blind eye to the fact I had been with them for 2 weeks less than their rule so it meant I had an extra two weeks and it was my full salary. Being on one income in Switzerland is challenging to begin with, but if it had been cut to even 80% it would have been interesting! And those extra two weeks meant that I was off from September until after Christmas and we could go home to Canada for the holidays.

Did you have plans to return to work in place before giving birth?
Had no choice on the matter as we are here on a work permit for me, and in my husband´s profession, even if he could speak fluent German which he can´t, he would have to beat out all the EU folks as well, which would not happen. So, he is at home with the little guy and I head off to work every morning.

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?
I had always thought that I would stay home if I had a baby. I had always wanted to stay at home if that happened, and then it didn´t happen. After 18 years of being married, no babies, so why not move overseas? Six weeks later and that little plus sign changed everything, including what I had always planned. Should have seen it coming, really, as nothing we ever plan for really ends up happening!  We learned long ago just to go with what comes and this was no different. So while I still wish I could stay home every morning, I have managed to work it out with my supervisor that I go into work early and come home early so I get to spend at least 4 or 5 hours with Josh every day before he goes to bed.

Do you breastfeed? Did you? Did your return to work interfere?
I breastfed for the first 3 months exclusively, including pumping so my husband could share in the feeding so I could get a bit more sleep, but as soon as I went back to work, it started to diminish so we started supplementing one or two bottles of formula each day but breast milk still made up the majority of his intake. But in February, I had a work trip to Los Angeles that I had to make, and so my husband and Josh were coming with me. At the airport, I went to go pump before we got onto the plane, and nothing came out! And I mean nothing! Not a drop! We were ok on board the plane as I had packed the first couple days worth of formula in case our bags didn´t make it but still…nothing before, during and about 10 mls for the next three attempts once we got to LA. It was done. Just like that. So much for my plan of giving him at least one bottle of breast milk each day until he was a year.

What type of childcare will/do you use?
As my husband couldn't get a job, it fell to him to save us the thousands we would have to pay in child care here. I think it is safe to say he wasn't excited about it while I was pregnant, although I give him a ton of credit that he never said anything negative. And then, Josh came, and I was at home for four months. It was a great four months and one of my favorite periods of my life to be at home with my three boys and little girl (have to include the two dogs in the family too!). Now, Clint LOVES being at home with Josh, and Josh is a very lucky little boy to have daddy be with him – he treats him like a little boy and challenges him in ways I don’t think would be a mother's instinct and he laughs and laughs. We always used to joke that if we ever had a baby, it would be so much better adjusted if daddy stayed home – I hate to say it but I think we were right! Not that I would have done a bad job, but I think Josh is such a happy little guy because Clint has soooo much more energy than I do and is completely laid back – and Josh is showing a lot of being a mini-daddy in personality so it's a perfect match.

Do you feel protected as a mother/working mother by state and/or federal laws where you live? 
There are a lot of things that protect moms in Switzerland, from not being able to fire a pregnant woman (you can be asked not to come into work but they have to pay you all the way through your pregnancy and then for the 14 week maternity leave) to having guidelines for breast feeding moms to be able to pump at work. After that, like everywhere, it comes down to the type of job you have and your HR department and your supervisor. What I don't understand in most areas of Switzerland is the two hour school lunches where there is no child care option other than a parent coming to get them or finding another parent who will do it for them. Another reason to be back in North America before we have to worry about it!

Why are you going back to work?

I have no choice unless we want to live out of a cardboard box in Zurich – which I am pretty sure isn't allowed! Until we can find the right opportunity to go back to North America, we will be here. I work for an international sport federation and the thought is that we will stay until after the Sochi Olympics, then go back. I think as long as we are back before he starts to go to school, that would be the best plan…but then again, our plans never work out so who knows what will happen! 

How do you feel in general about returning to work?
I think my answer has to be premised with the disclaimer that it has been a very frustrating few months at work since returning from maternity leave, and not just because it was tough to leave the little guy, so it may have been a bit different otherwise. My usual routine is that in the morning as I walk out the door at about 6 am, all I want to do is quit my job so I can stay home! But then I remember how much fun Josh has with Clint, and that gets me out the door. Then around 9:30, I get a Skype call from my boys and that gets me through the rest of the day. My favorite time of the day is when I come home and it is soooo fun now that Josh knows what is happening, and when he sees me he gets so excited and comes crawling as fast as his little legs and arms can move!

If anything were possible, what would your dream motherhood and work situation look like?
If anything were possible hey…hmmm…
If I could set up the perfect mix of work and being a mom and the financial side of things could work, I would likely set it up for me to work mornings and have the afternoons and evenings with the little man. Even better would be if my husband could be on the same schedule and then Josh would get the exposure to other kids, languages, activities etc that a daycare could give in the morning, and we could have awesome family time the rest of the day. As well, that would allow both the adults the chance to take some time off separately to do the things we each love to do. 


Thank you, Tanya! Since responding to the questionnaire I sent her, Tanya and her family have moved back to Vancouver, where she and her husband are both working full-time. Josh started attending a Montessori toddler program in early April and loves it. Congrats, Tanya and Josh! Glad you're back on Canadian soil and everyone's happy. xo