Seven years ago, on 8th March 2011, while I was busy giving birth to my second child, thousands of women marched the sun strewn streets of London to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.
As I peered out of the 6th floor windows of the St Thomas’s Hospital birth suite at the sea of purposeful female bodies and placards crossing Westminster Bridge below me, I never imagined that day would leave its mark on me as any kind of feminist or campaigner. Between greedy gasps of glorious gas and air, I had no idea that the little boy I was about to give birth to would open my eyes to a world where women are so often vastly disadvantaged.
I didn’t know my little boy would have a disability. I didn’t know I was about to become not just a parent but also a carer. I didn’t know that would put me in a position where continuing to follow my career path in the conventional way would become impossible.
The juggling that today’s working parents face in keeping it all together at home and at work is a constant headline hitter. When caring responsibilities are thrown into the mix, for all too many parents they soon find the option to juggle just isn’t there at all. The balls are not in their hands, or even in their court.
For many parents, they soon discover that there is no workable equilibrium between the demands of employment and the demands of caring for a child with special needs or disabilities. Whether through exhaustion from managing night-time care, or through finding themselves buried under a constant avalanche of malco-ordinated health and social care appointments, the window for productive work shrinks rapidly.
Even for the lucky few, whose child sleeps without need for medication, feeds or nighttime settling, and whose appointment load is reduced to just a few a month through ruthless navigation of the system, the chance of finding employment flexible enough to allow for the inevitable emergencies, equipment deliveries and paediatric or education reviews is slim.
But talk to just a few parents of children with disabilities who have managed to find work that works, and they will tell you that work can be not just a financial necessity but a sanity saver too.
Right now, employers are just beginning to switch on to the benefits of flexible working. There are the enlightened few, who have been doing it for years, and reaping the productivity and loyalty rewards as a result, but for the mainstream it is still early days.
While we are on this path to flexible working becoming the norm for the majority of office based jobs (because it can and absolutely should), please let’s not forget the carers amongst us.
Most often, it’s the women who are the parent carers.
Most often, they aren’t returning to the workforce. I am one of just 16% who has, compared to 74% of mothers of non-disabled children.
We need to raise up the 16%.
This post was written for International Women’s Day 2018, as part of #whenibecameamother being hosted on Instagram by @steph_dontbuyherflowers