So, way back in November of 2013 I promised you guys that I’d try to get some clarification on what exactly is going on with maternity benefit taxation because, in all honesty, it’s a clear as mud. Continue reading A kinda sorta maybe clarification on how maternity benefit taxation works
I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one, I’m just going to tell it as I see it. Other mammies reading this, please don’t take offense. I’m talking about me and only me here…
When I went back to work after maternity leave – 16 long months ago now – I thought I was going to fuck up my kid.
I was going back full time and he was going to creche. He was 11 months old and very, very attached to me.
Everything worthwhile that I had read about parenting said that children under two were better off in the full time care of their mothers or a primary care giver. They also said that a shared childcare option with children of the same age was the least desirable. That made me feel pretty crappy. But theory is all well and good when reality is beating your door down with a ball wrecker. Anecdotally, I noticed that daughters of friends seemed to adjust better to childcare than their sons. The little boys found it much harder to settle. As did we.
I wondered if my working full time was going to affect his development and our relationship. I wondered if I was interfering with the person he was meant to be by not meeting his needs on a full time basis. We had bouts of separation anxiety where I couldn’t be out of his sight for a minute or he’d want to be up in my arms all the time. And the little voice said “this wouldn’t be happening if you were at home full time…”
Then during the summer the three of us had three weeks off together and I remember wondering – stupidly – “is it a good idea to take such a long holiday? Will it make it harder for him to settle back into creche?”. A fleeting thought and a stupid, stupid, stupid one. This is what the constant gnawing of mammy guilt does to you. Essentially, my eejit brain was suggesting that I spend less time with my son so that when I’m not around anyway he won’t feel so bad. WTF? That sounds like some kind of Gina Ford shit to me.
Instead, two whole new revelations were uncovered. The three weeks off together as a family was just brilliant but even though Pip had access to me literally 24/7, he still wanted me all of the time. Only I could carry him around. I had a companion for every trip to the loo. Many suggestions from Daddy were answered with “no, mammy do it”. So in many ways, this was a relief because it was obvious to me that even if I was at home full time, he would be just as demanding of my time, my attention and my touch as he is anyway.
That helped to alleviate the mammy guilt. I have no issue at all with my son wanting to be with me all the time, in fact I cherish it. It gives me comfort to know now that it’s not specifically because I work and he goes to creche. It is just the type of person that he is.
The second revelation was that my concerns about our “too long holiday” were completely unfounded. He toddled into creche the following Monday we were back with a cheerful wave and a spring in his step. Nobody saw that coming, let me tell you!
To come full circle, a couple of weeks ago Mr Mind the Baby was away for work over a weekend and it was just myself and Pip together. We had a really great weekend. There was nothing particularly special about it but it just felt like a lovely old time. Monday rolled around, and he was like a sticking plaster come creche drop off. Ah hello mammy guilt, I wondered where you’d been hiding.
I think there is no win to this feeling of guilt for me. There is no “right” solution, just different decisions. I can’t guarantee that if I was at home full time with the full concentration of a toddler down on top of me that I wouldn’t be resentful, no matter how much I think some days I’d love to be a stay at home mother. I do know without a doubt that I’d need a “something” just for myself, for a couple of hours at least everyday.
I think I’ll probably struggle with the greener grass of motherhood on some level for the rest of my life.
Am I alone?
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 Journal.ie, I immediately tweeted
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.
Mind the Baby
Mother of 1, Full time employee and budding entrepreneur.
When the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group organised a blog march last October to object to Government cuts to children’s allowance, I brought a controversial proposal to the table. Instead of cutting a universal payment to all children which would affect every family, I suggested that a tax on maternity benefit would generate some of the savings that needed to made and would create an equity amongst working mothers on maternity leave, where some women had previously been benefiting from a tax anomly. Everyone would keep their children’s allowance and no one would earn more on maternity leave than when they were at work. You can read the original post here.
Children’s allowance got cut anyway.
I like to think that maybe one of the powers-that-be must have been reading this blog because at the same time they announced the children’s allowance cut, they also announced the tax on maternity benefit. From July of this year, maternity benefit will be treated as taxable income and will be deducted at whatever tax rate a recipient is currently on.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media in recent days about the introduction of this tax. I must admit, a small part of me is sorry that the tax has been introduced because if I had another baby it would affect me directly and I would have less money than I had on my last maternity leave and I would have to look at my options in terms of the amount of time I could take off.
But I have to say, I stick resolutely by my proposal to tax maternity benefit. No matter how you twist it, the old system benefited some women but not all. In reality, it was the most vulnerable women who needed it most who didn’t benefit from the tax loophole – the low wage earning mothers and the stay at home mothers, who don’t even have maternity benefit in the first place. It’s the same principle that applies to Ireland’s children: they are all equal and deserve the same children’s allowance. All mothers should be equal.
Climbing down off my high horse, the consequences of taxing maternity benefit do have a dark side with very real, negative societal impacts. The truth is women who benefited from the tax break used to use it to finance their unpaid leave so that they could stay at home with their babies for as long as possible.
Of course they did.
Many of us do everything in our power to stay at home with our children at this precious time in their lives.
From July, a whole swathe of new mothers will be cutting short their time at home due to financial commitments and it’s very, very sad. Heartbreaking for mothers, for their babies and for society who thinks children are better off in paid childcare than being nurtured by their parents.
I’m sure you’ve observed that we’re still paying the same rate of PRSI though, even though we’ll be receiving less. Given that the average age of mothers giving birth in Ireland is now 32, these women have been in the workforce a long time prior to their pregnancy and have made significant PRSI contributions, which they will continue to make if they return to paid employment.
Given Ireland’s recent renegotiated debt deal, there’s certainly a question mark over how important the saving on maternity benefit is. So here’s my new proposal:
Take the €40 million annual saving that the Government will make by taxing maternity benefit, divide it by the amount of women on maternity leave each year and calculate how many additional weeks of maternity benefit this would pay for. Then spread it evenly between all recipients.
Doing a rough calculation on CSO figures from last year, I estimate that this would give each woman on maternity leave an extra 8 paid weeks. That would be approximately 34 weeks of maternity benefit per pregnancy.
Imagine the positive impact that this would have on families and on society as a whole.
We’ve taken away the inequity in the maternity benefit system, painful as it may be. Now let’s turn the negatives of this correction into something that would be of exponential benefit to all working mothers and by default their families.
Powers-that-be, if you’re still listening, it’s time to do something good.