An open letter to Senator Mary White about her maternity leave bill Mind The Baby Blog

An open letter to Senator Mary White about her shared maternity leave bill

Dear Senator White

I’ve sat on writing this letter for a week since I first read about your “Parental Leave Bill 2013” because I needed to chew it over.

Well, that’s not necessarily true.

As soon as I read this article on, I immediately tweeted

An open letter to Senator Mary White about her maternity leave bill Mind The Baby Blog

But then I thought I’d let it sit with me and evaluate its merits, after all I am 100% supportive of paid paternity leave for the benefit of families and Irish society as a whole.

Here’s the thing though. Your press release managed to successfully talk me out of supporting your bill.

This is what did it for me:

“The greatest challenge facing the country is to create employment to offer hope and a potential living to the 300,000 unemployed and the young people in our schools and colleges. The only way we can create jobs is to encourage new enterprise”

followed swiftly by:

“The biggest untapped source of enterprise is 50% of the population which are Irish Women who face multiple barriers in becoming entrepreneurs and developing business”

and then this corker, which to be honest, really pushed me over the edge:

“This flexibility in the maternal leave scheme would allow women entrepreneurs to devote more time to their enterprises.”

Are we noticing a theme here, Senator White? Jobs, enterprise, business, entrepreneurship. I thought we were talking about maternity leave – the time a mother takes out of the workforce to give birth to and nurture her tiny newborn. But reading your comments, I actually realise we’re talking about “the economy“.

Can we get real about your bill here for a minute please? Becoming a mother – be it for the first or tenth time – is a physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually challenging time. It is exhausting and all-consuming. Most new mothers may find that it takes months – not weeks – to adapt to their new role and I’m fairly willing to bet that unless they’re a participant in The Apprentice, getting all entrepreneurial and starting a business is probably the last thing on their mind. There’s two exceptions to this – 1. the woman who already runs her own business and you can be well sure she’s not taking 26 weeks maternity leave in the first place and 2. the woman who realises that, for her, life isn’t all about working for someone else Monday to Friday, 9-5 (or 6 or 7) once her baby comes along and she looks for a new working solution that will keep her at home with her family. The latter lady most likely only swings into action with this when the end of her maternity leave is fast approaching and the idea of having to go back into the workforce is a frightening and unappealing prospect.

You say women face multiple barriers to coming entrepreneurs. You’re right, they absolutely do, but one of them is not because their pesky maternity leave is just too long and getting in their way. Could I ask you to point out to me the women who are celebrating your proposal and shouting from the rooftops

“well thank God for Senator White. Finally I’ll have a bit of flexibility with my maternity leave so I can devote more time to getting back to work.”

If we’re all so desperate to get started on setting up a business, why do so many women lie about their due date so that they can work as late as possible into their pregnancy to secure those precious extra weeks with their baby at the other end? Why do so many families scrimp and save so that new mothers can take as much of their unpaid leave as they can possibly afford once their maternity leave ends?

Although I admire your efforts, your bill will actually impact negatively on new mothers and babies. What mother in the country is going to deny her partner the opportunity to take some paid paternity leave when their little one arrives if it’s something he really wants to do? How could we? After spending decades calling for paid paternity leave for our partners,  how could we turn around now and say

“oh no sorry, you can’t have any of mine!”?

Women will be forced to cut their maternity leave short to accommodate their partners equal right to spend time at home with their child.

What impact do you think this is going to have on our already paltry breastfeeding rates? Once your bill is in, the pressure to wean babies to formula will be even stronger than it is now and many mothers will feel obliged to give up breastfeeding before they return to work even if they’d prefer not to. Breastfeeding support in this country is so bad at the moment that most women don’t know how to access the expertise to help them keep breastfeeding and return to work.

You call your bill “innovative” but you know, really it’s just sneaky. You’ve dressed it up as a modern, progressive, egalitarian proposal when it’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul and the State won’t have to invest a penny.

Here’s something really innovative. Why not take the brave step of suggesting that paid parental leave is extended to 12 months – or if we’re paying heed to the extensive, international research – 18 months and insist that fathers must take a minimum of three months of that? Our Scandanavian cousins have had huge success with this model. Look at Iceland, paternity leave is now a normalised part of society.

“But we couldn’t possibly afford it!”,

they’ll cry. That’s what they said when the European Union insisted we lift the marriage ban in the 70s. That’s what they said when the concept of maternity leave was introduced in the first place. Yet look at us now. All thanks to the outside influence of our European counterparts.

12 – 18 months of paid parental leave will mean children under the age of one will be nurtured by their primary caregiver in their own home, something that research has proven time and again is best for babies. It will mean that babies are more likely to be breastfed for longer. Just read this report from UNICEF UK to get even the slightest inkling of how much the Government would save on a reduced health bill if our breastfeeding rates increased just marginally. It would mean that society would accept that fathers have a place in the home caring for their children. If they all have to take time off work, then of course it’s the most normal thing in the work. If mothers have happy, healthy babies and they’re not worrying, worrying, worrying, I’d say the chances of them turning their head to setting up that new business are suddenly all the more realistic.

Senator White, please, please, can I ask you to take the summer months, give your bill some serious thought and change it before the Autumn session begins. Change it for the better. Do something good for Ireland’s babies, for its mammies and its daddies, for society and the economy as a whole. Take the long view. Look to the future and see the consequences of your suggestion and then mine.

Don’t rob us of our precious maternity leave to win brownie points in the name of equality.

You’re going in the wrong direction.

Yours sincerely,

Mind the Baby

Mother of 1, Full time employee and budding entrepreneur.


19 thoughts on “An open letter to Senator Mary White about her shared maternity leave bill”

  1. This is everything I couldn’t articulate. I sputtered and stammered at the radio when I heard about it. What? Self employed women fly back to work as soon as they have to, their entitlements are crappy and they do what they have to do. This bill makes so little sense. And you’re right. It’s all about the economy. It’s not about mothers, it’s not about fathers, it’s not about balance. And it’s really, really certainly not about breastfeeding.

    1. The bit that I don’t understand is that it seemed to be warmly welcomed when she proposed it last week. A warm and fuzzy response from Govt – the opposition. They’re so out of touch with the realities of Irish family life, it’s unreal.

  2. Love this! I haven’t seen the bill but I totally agree that it is a waste of time introducing shared leave without extending the duration of maternity leave first. I’m already worrying about how I’m going to manage breastfeeding if I have to return to work at seven months, which is looking likely. I would never manage it if I had to go back even sooner so that my husband could avail of his leave, and on the other hand I’d feel guilty if I took all the leave and denied him time with his children.

    1. That’s the nub, isn’t Lisa? We actually couldn’t deny it our our partners. My husband would love the opportunity. But the problem there is – and it’s uncomfortable that there is a problem when we all want so desperately to have some semblance of equality and fairness here – breastfeeding will be affected. Not good for babies 🙁

  3. Really well said, although there are lots of mums who DO set up in business well before their maternity leave ends, they tend to plan for that while they are pregnant or very shortly after their baby is born.

    1. I’d disagree slightly there Mairead. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor published just last month reported that just 4% of women in the adult population of Ireland were early stage entrepreneurs, a slight decrease on the previous year. Even if all of those women set their business up during pregnancy or post partum, that’s still not many women.

  4. Well put as always. Maternity leave isn’t about being enterprising, it’s not a business. It is about investment though. Investing in the child’s future, in the family’s future etc, etc. More investment in maternity leave will reap better dividends. Perhaps she should think of it that way!

  5. So very well said. Articulate, well thought out, and basically you just make so much sense!! we did everything you mentioned – scrimped, saved and borrowed (to our detriment) so I could take unpaid leave, I worked part time as long as I could. My husband is a really hands on Dad, and would absolutely love to take leave with the kids, but we just can’t afford it. My sister, married to a Dane and living in Denmark, had a whole year of paid maternity leave, her husband was obliged to take a month when their daughter was born, and took a further 3 months (on full pay) later in the year. He was such a wonderful support for her, and I can only imagine how important that time with his daughter was for him. And it’s the norm over there. It’s absolutely criminal that men don’t get the opportunity to take paid paternity leave here, both for the importance of that time to bond with their baby, and the support they could give to the mother – never mind receive themselves!! men are so neglected in parenting rights in this country.
    I could keep going, I’ll stop. Suffice to say, longer maternity leave and paid paternity leave has so many obvious benefits it shouldn’t even need explaining. Thanks so much for taking a stand and saying what needs to be said.

    1. Dads really are second class citizens in this country Fiona. I think it’s a hangover from when men “worked” and women “kept the house”. Men couldn’t possibly be interested in raising their children! But our society is changing. Men want more and they deserve it. But it won’t be until employers are legally obliged to give paternity leave – paid or not – that we will see this concept normalised.

      1. Agreed. But can you imagine what a difference it would make?? For men, for kids, for mothers……….nothing but good could come of it. I wonder will we see it happen in our lifetime?

  6. Well said indeed! More government induced stress for mothers and babies and more pressure for daddies too. What about all those dads (I’m guessing 99%) who do NOT want to be caring for a small baby full time; not because they don’t to do their part in caring for their child and supporting their partner but because they are wise enough to realise that the biological needs of a human baby in the early months of life are for mothering and breastfeeding.

  7. Already exhausted mothers could soon find themselves with an extra job of pumping and storing breastmilk. Either that or the extra job of making more frequent visits to the doctor and nursing their ‘sicker-more-often’ formula fed baby. This is so typical of an Irish patriarchal government, where the female is viewed as a chattel to be controlled and used rather than being supported and honoured for the real value of what she does which can never be quantified or framed in economic terms.

    1. You make an excellent point about the pumping Carmel. Look at our US counterparts and the pumping culture they have out of necessity. It’s too much. The sickness element is also a huge factor. Not just because of the distressed babies but the loss of man hours for employers when parents have to miss work to tend to sick babies.

  8. So very very well said. Agree 100 per cent with what you’ve said. I’d also add that extending maternity leave would also help those mothers suffering from post natal depression to get themselves well, or closer to well, before they had to go back to work. I’m a SAHM who suffered from PND. There is no way, at all, I was ready or mentally fit to work when my baby was six months old. He is now 22 months old and just yesterday I went to the doctor about coming off my meds, because NOW I feel I am ready, only NOW do I feel fully mentally well. This just smacks of ‘get those lazy wimmin sitting on their arses back to work to make money cos money is all that counts’. In Ireland today, stay at home mothers/fathers are not valued one little bit, we literally don’t count to the Government as we don’t contribute financially to the economy. Which is, apparently, the only thing that matters. This bill just compounds that. Lazy, shortsighted, insulting and above all else disappointing.

What do you think?