A flexible schedule and the ability to work from home helped Melanie Thomas cope with the “crazy, but wonderful” demands of combining motherhood with a career in sales and marketing.
Thomas is originally from Canada, where maternity leave ranges from a year to 18 months, so the 12-week allowance in the Cayman Islands came as something of a culture shock. After a complicated birth, including her daughter Avery being flown off island for medical treatment she felt as if she had barely recovered when she was back at work.
Without family nearby to help out, she and her husband had to shoulder the burden alone.
“It was a crazy new normal that is for sure. Before we blinked, it was back to work for me and day care for Avery,” she said.
“It’s such a formative time in a child’s life, so this was extremely unnerving at first but now that my daughter is almost 6 months old, it seems like it’s going OK and she’s thriving so we’re happy.”
An understanding employer, who is also a mother, made all the difference.
Thomas works two days a week from home, fitting in intense periods of answering emails and getting work done around nap time and breastfeeding. Important meetings are scheduled for the three days a week when Avery goes to day care.
The schedule means a longer working day that often runs into the evening and weekends, but the flexibility allows her to be there for her child when she needs her most.
She is also happy to avoid the horror stories of fellow working mums who have recounted having to breast pump in cupboards during office break times.
She believes Cayman would benefit from extending maternity leave to at least six months as well as adding paternity leave to allow fathers to play a bigger role and for the family to bond, but she recognises this is a tough ask for businesses.
“I understand the logistics of the additional time would be complicated and a compromise would be necessary. I don’t think there is an easy answer.”
Even with an understanding employer, she recognises work-life balance is not always easy to achieve.
“Some days when I’m working and Avery is at day care, I feel like I should go get her and have to remind myself that I need to work and she’s in good hands. Then when she’s home and an email comes through that needs my attention, I feel guilty about not getting back to it right away, but Avery needs me. Mom-guilt is real and we struggle with this balance every day.”