When should mothers take a career break?


Everyone thinks the first few years are the hardest, but could we need a second maternity leave once our children become teenagers?

“Babies are easy, anyone can look after them, it’s when they get to teenagers things really start to get difficult, I took two years off work when my daughters were 13 and 15 as that was when they really needed me.”

This was a conversation I had a few years ago not long after my middle child was born. I had taken redundancy from my job and was thinking what to do next, whether to take more time off, whether to find another 9-5 job or whether to work from home. I got chatting to another mum who opened up a whole new world to me – the world of the teenager, and it stuck with me ever since.

Now, once again I’m about to leave my permanent job and start freelancing. After three children I’ve had a varied few years work wise – I’ve taken a year’s maternity leave and gone back to my employer part time, I’ve taken a couple of years off but freelanced and then after my third I went back full time, dropping to four days after a year. We all know the challenges, whether we stay at home or go to work, and everyone has to choose what’s right for them.

For me, not working was never an option. I simply wanted to go back to work, and as a couple we wanted to share the financial burden and the childcare if that was at all possible. Of course with most men earning more than women, many men can’t afford to go part time and as such the question they will never have to answer is “When should I stay at home, and when should I work?”

Do you need to work?

Of course if you don’t need or want to work (these often go together!) then there’s no issue if everyone is happy. You have to do whatever works for you and don’t listen to anyone who judges you (it’s their insecurities not yours). But if you do have to work or you really want to, then are there any times that, for whatever reason, you might want to as Sheryl Sandberg would say lean in, and any times that as mothers we might want to ease out and be around more?

The only reason I mention this is that after two years of us pretty much working full time, things were beginning to crack. Part of this is having two people working full time, the endless debates about who does drop off and pick up, who is going to miss an important work event, who knew what on earth was going on at school, and part of it is the children getting older and the feeling that they are needing us that little bit more. It didn’t feel like this the first time I went back, but then I only had one child then, and he was only one…

The main reason I decided to go freelance this time is because I want to keep working (and being able to scale up once the three of them are all in school full time) but also because it feels that if I can be more flexible then we might all be happier. But until I do it I have no idea whether it will work.

Do teenagers need more support?

The whole thing got me thinking about that conversation I had with the lady about her teenagers. We were at an event, it was her birthday, her daughters wanted to take her out but she wanted to do something for herself. We drank some wine and got talking. I was fascinated about how she had changed her career three times but also to hear about the unknown teenage years.

Now I don’t believe children are damaged by having two working parents, far from it. But what I am interested in is mothers who have changed their working patterns and their careers as their children have got older whether that’s scaling up or scaling down, and why. For me, I’m keen to maintain a career that’s challenging and interesting but also that is still moving in the right direction. But also I want to be able to scale up and down depending on what feels right at the time. Of course, many jobs are simply 9-5, or shift work and there’s no choice. But if there is, what works?

I’d love to hear what you think – especially if you have changed your working life as your children have got older or you’re already at the teenager years! Mine are only 6, 4 and 3. Is there a second maternity leave coming up? Please do share your thoughts and stories...



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *