#mumboss #mamamerchandise #parentingtheshitoutoflife. These are the kinds of terms that are becoming increasingly familiar to new mums. Some parents on Instagram seem to be making a living out of blogging, blagging and bossing their maternity leave. While many struggle to make the bed in the morning and keep clothes clean, others use the time to improve their career prospects. “We are expected to do shit,” says Harriet Jones, a 33-year-old mother of one who has recently returned to work. "There is this pressure to use your maternity leave as a way to enhance yourself or do something purposeful. It’s become about improving your career, coming up with a business plan or going to constant classes – it's such a middle-class thing,” she says. Being able to do it all – keep a clean house, look after your kids and use your maternity leave to learn something new – often requires help with childcare, which currently costs many families more than their mortgage. Others agree. “A lot of people don’t believe that it’s hard work just looking after kids. People think you do nothing all day,” says Emily Simmons, a 33-year-old mother of two, who thinks that unless you’ve got a nanny, you can’t really do much. “These people doing this must have help because there’s actually no way you could go to these meetings and things without it. You never see that online though.” The reality is that many women feel the need to be a #mumboss because taking a long period out of work can set you back in your career. While many companies have good policies in place to protect people on maternity and paternity leave, some find themselves virtually demoted on their return and most struggle to balance work life with childcare responsibilities. One way to pre-empt this is to use the time to improve your career prospects. Caroline Gatrell, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, thinks that maternity leave is often a time of pressure for women who are trying to maintain careers as well as transitioning to motherhood. She says that, while in policy terms maternity leave can appear quite generous (some women take a full year), parents may in practice feel the need to keep up with what is happening in the office so they don’t lose their place. “They may even relinquish maternity entitlements, working at home or returning to work earlier than they need to in order to maintain their position,” she says. With people increasingly working in freelance and insecure jobs, maternity leave is more precarious than ever. “Not all women are entitled to maternity leave. While those in permanent jobs in big companies might be able to exercise their full entitlement, the picture is very different for mothers who are self-employed freelance or working zero hours contracts,” says Gatrell. For these women, keeping on with paid work does not feel like a choice. “They often have to maintain continuous employment without a break, whether or not this might be their preference, as they cannot afford to take time away from work following the birth,” she says. Gatrell thinks that balancing work and maternity leave can be particularly problematic for new mums, as those who already have one or more children often know more about what to expect when a new baby comes along. “For some women, however, most especially first-time mothers, the sense that they are expected to juggle paid work and new motherhood can feel very pressured,” she says.
While working on maternity leave is often a necessity, those that do it sometimes feel guilty about the time spent away from their baby. According to Katherine Twamley from UCL's Department of Social Sciences, on the whole, women do want to use their maternity leave to focus on their children (and possibly to be seen to focus on their children). Her research on first-time parents has found that most women are keen to keep their work separate from their maternity leave, although some do use the time to change career or to study. "The prevailing ideology was that once on leave, women should devote it entirely to their child, with many of them concerned about ‘development’ milestones, exposing their children to different kinds of ‘play’ to encourage development and so on,” she says. “Research suggests that women feel ‘guilty’ when they spend time away from their children and that parenting norms now demand much more of women’s time in nurturing their children." Twamley thinks that pressure to maximise parental leave is increased for men. Her research showed that “almost all" of the men who took part in the study hoped to achieve something during their leave, such as learning to play an instrument or repainting the house. Many found this difficult in reality. “Few achieved much and most achieved far less than they had hoped (this was around expectations that they would have a lot more free time than they actually had). Some men also reported that their managers and parents suggested that they do some ‘extra work’ while on leave so as not to fall behind,” she says. Being a social media mum who does it all is something most struggle to achieve, especially without the help of nannies or other expensive childcare. It's also yet another societal pressure on women that can make them feel bad or inadequate. “Obviously, some of it is a good thing,” says Jones. “But sometimes I just think it should be about getting through the day or meeting a friend and talking about how you're feeling or meeting someone with a baby the same age.”