Thursday, November 29, 2018

The cost of care

Maternity leave: "a magical, idyllic time to spend with your new baby"? Not for every mother, and indeed not all the time for any mother. The BBC's Emma Barnett is right to argue that "there should be no guilt in saying you find maternity leave hard" and that the full reality - with its lows as well as its undeniable highs - should be more widely and openly discussed. A culture in which those lows go unacknowledged creates a stigma and makes those who are struggling reluctant to seek help - which can have damaging consequences for mental health.

Although men obviously don't have to contend with post-natal hormones and women bear the brunt of the tough early weeks, when it's often all about simply surviving until the end of the day, the same is true to a certain extent of parental leave more generally. Don't get me wrong: having cared for my son from six months of age until he reached primary school, I wouldn't swap my experience for anything. But even though I was well supported and had a good community of fellow parents around me, there were moments when I felt a little isolated, when my self-esteem sank and when - to use Barnett's expression - I found myself mourning for aspects of my old life. How much harder it must be when you don't have any of that scaffolding.

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