I’m losing count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question.
At best, it’s when my adorable toddler is running around being cute.
At worst, it was during a job interview – something which I think it is actually illegal to ask me.
But every time I wonder what exactly I’m supposed to answer.
Generally it’s a well-meaning question.
But actually it risks being quite personal and intrusive.
Think about it in the context of work.
Now I’ve had some months to think it over, I think the correct answer would have been: “would you be asking that if it was my husband sitting here in this interview and not me?”
If it’s a question that an employer might want an answer to from a thirty-something woman, then there’s a whole load of assumptions that go behind that.
It correctly assumes that I would have to take time out of the office to have a baby and deal with the immediate issues with breastfeeding a newborn and postnatal maternal health – that’s one thing a father can’t do instead.
But I suspect it goes rather further than that, assuming that I would be taking the parental leave for any future child all by myself. While for a couple, you may think of yourselves as a unit, at the moment your employer almost certainly doesn’t.
It’ll be interesting to see, if our law changes in 2011 to a system of shared parental leave, whether the assumption shifts from being that one parent will take all the leave to an assumption that each will take half.
And what did I actually say when I was asked? Well, it was suffixed by, “I hope you don’t mind me asking…” and I think I said, “no it’s fine, and not at the moment“.
But it was sufficient for me to feel negative about the idea of working in that team. What would’ve happened if I had joined and then got pregnant? A sense that I’d gone against what I’d said before joining the team and therefore betrayal and untrustworthiness?
But it’s not just parental leave that figures in that sort of thinking.
What if my toddler or newborn was ill and I needed to take time off to be with them? The rough truth is that childcare doesn’t do child illness.
You hear about “pink medicine babies” – the guilty reality that if the child is just a little under the weather most parents will shove a spoonful of calpol down their throats and deliver them to the childcare provider anyway. They then spend the day dreading the call to say that their little bundle has a temperature and needs picking up NOW. It’s not ideal from an employer’s perspective. It’s not ideal from a parent’s perspective. It’s certainly not ideal from the child’s perspective.
But – particularly in a recession, where it’s a financial imperative that people are in work- it happens. All because people are afraid to take time off work to be there when their child is ill in case their work decides it can do without them, permanently.
Is it any wonder that the lesser-earning parent is often the one that takes the time out? But again it is not always a matter of choice. I keep hearing about employers who don’t exactly say to fathers that they can’t take time with their children but imply that they are letting themselves and the team down. But wouldn’t it be better if that didn’t automatically mean Mummy had to let hers down?
So are you going to have another one?
Is the question any better in your personal life?
It happened to me yesterday.
I was just getting my hair cut, and my toddler was pushing one of the chairs around the salon. I’m sure she only meant it in a he’s-cute-wouldn’t-it-be-lovely-to-have-more way.
But it’s a risky question.
What happens if the answer is “Good God, no! Awful little blighters, don’t know why we had the first one!” Not the case for us, thank God, but how would the questioner feel if that was the answer they got?
Who knows what circumstances the family are experiencing? May be they are sandwich generation, with adult caring responsibilities as well as a small child? Not having a second one might be a matter of necessity rather than choice.
Who knows if the person they’re asking has tried and failed for months? Miscarriages are not exactly a bundle of laughs and not usually the thing to share in smalltalk situations.
The thing is, unless you are already pregnant with the next one, which I am not, it is impossible to answer that question without sounding defensive.
And you get all kinds of advice offered to you as if to compensate for the embarrassment caused. Sometimes it just digs the hole deeper.
But ultimately the old platitude is the best: “it’ll happen when it happens“.
I don’t think you can really go wrong with that, as when it happens may be never…