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Are part-time jobs only for ‘Deeltijdprinses’? Young mothers in Netherlands have their reasons

Female emancipation and the need to strengthen the economy are the arguments for the Dutch government to scale back the traditional workplace flexibility. Two Christian women explain why it might not be a good idea.

AUTOR 7/Joel_Forster AMSTERDAM 11 DE MAYO DE 2023 11:55 h
People in Amsterdam on bycicles on a workday. / Photo: [link]Noraly Naila[/link], CC0.

Few countries in Europe have such a flexible labour system as the Netherlands, where the option of working 2 or 3 days a week is chosen by many.

While in other places the saying “take the 40-hour job or leave it” is the general rule, most businesses in the Netherlands offer flexible working schedules that are especially helpful for mothers raising young children. A large part reduce the rhythm of their professional career for some years and gradually resume paid work when their kids get older.

Marieke Middel (34 years old) is one of these women optsig for that way of balancing work and family. She lives in Kampen with her husband and three children, and works 12 hours a week as an orthopedagogue in an elementary school. Barbera de Mol-de Graaf (35), in Veenendaal, is another such case. Married with three children, she has a paid job of 24 hours in the area of marketing.

[photo_footer] Marieke Middel and Barbera de Mol-de Graaf.[/photo_footer] 

They are among the 70% of Dutch women who do not work in full-time jobs. And they both believe the freedom to choose how to balance work at home and outside should not disappear.


Pausing work during the first 4 years of the child

“Many of the long term mental and behavioral difficulties youth experience may be tied to a lack of a secure base in the infant years”, says Marieke Middel, whose paid job includes advising teachers on how to support pupils with learning issues.

“I think women should be able to stay at home with their babies during the first year of their life to form a secure attachment bond (and breastfeed if they wish to do so), before resuming their careers”, she says. Right now mothers in the Netherlands get a 16 week maternity leave. For Marieke, there should be more flexibility, to make sure “higher educated women can combine their professional career and their calling as a mother, developing their own talents as well as providing a stable basis at home”.

She is not alone in her approach to motherhood and work. Over 80% of the Dutch agree that mothers with children up to 4 years old should not work or at most 28 hours a week, found a recent survey of the national news agency ANP.

“There is a lot of work to do in society besides paid work”, says Barbera Mol-de Graaf. “There are tasks in the family, help for an elderly relative, work in the church, help at school, social assistance or volunteering at a sports club”. Barbera works with a publishing company three days a week, and uses her two days off mainly to look after the children (all under the age of 10) and serve in a missionary community centre. “My husband works 32 hours a week in a paid job, he is also home one weekday to volunteer, study and do family tasks”.



In the Netherlands, only 30% of women work full time, a reality that sharply contrasts with the rest of the European Union, where around 8 out of 10 women have full-time jobs.

The Dutch government now wants to close the gap. After supportive policies to give flexibility to women in the 80s, the wind has changed. A new campaign in the media with the slogan: 'Work more hours, let it be noticed' is targeting mothers. Their work is needed, the video spots say, to help the economy. Arguments of female emancipation and equal leadership in business and society are also mentioned.

[destacate]“Work should never become such a burden that I can no longer function well in my family and have no time for others”[/destacate]The Minister of Social Affairs Karien van Gennip, has said: “Especially in care and education, it would be very nice if people step forward and work a few hours more”.

She fell short of using the term ‘Deeltijdprinses’ (part-time princesses), a pejorative name often heard on the street to refer to women who opt for jobs with less working hours.

The gear change by the government does not convince Barbera. “They now focus very much on women’s participation. To get more jobs filled. But also to make women financially independent. They say financial dependence causes problems when couples divorce”. But with that approach, “the government is losing focus on the family. That is a wrong starting point”.

She continues: “When they speak of ‘part-time princess’, they only speak about paid work”, which is a clear way of making unpaid work look less valuable. “In days when I don’t do paid work, other may think I am free. But 'no, I work at home for my family’, I tell people”.

 “Personally, I enjoy challenges at work”. But “that should never become such a burden that I can no longer function well in my family and have no time for others”, she says. Of course, she adds, “that balance might be different for everyone and also vary by stage of life”.


How to decide the best family model?

After graduating, women are more likely to work in sectors where part-time jobs are common, the official statistics show.  

Marieke’s children are aged 8, 4 and 2, and she has authored a book based on her professional and personal experience in raising highly sensitive children.

“The government seems to think that a paid career should be the main focus in life and the most important aspect of one’s life. I don’t agree with that”, she starts. “We all have the responsibility to develop our talents and search for a balance in self-development”, but “not at the cost of leaving young children in fulltime daycare”. Her position regarding kindergartens is shared by two thirds of the Dutch.

[photo_footer] More often, fathers are taking one day off a week to work at home. / Photo: Dana Marin, CCo. [/photo_footer] 

But would it not be better for the economy to have more women working? “Long term I think the economy will flourish when women achieve a good work-life balance. I think the government should support families to stay close together with financial incentives”, not by asking women to work more outside.

Barbera agrees that every family should analyse their own case and take their decisions. “The consideration of whether a mother will do paid work should lie with her and her husband”, she says. “They should look together at what is good for their family, their relationship, themselves and their other duties in church and society. Earning money is never an end in itself, but part of taking good care of your family, people around you and serving God”.


God in the equation

Is faith a key factor in these family decisions? “As a Christian, our most important job is in the family”, thinks Barbera. “To raise and teach your children in God’s way. If, as parents, you spend little time with your children, you cannot impart to them what is important. Professional childcare never replaces parental attention and a Christian education”.

“I think a Christian marriage should be about complementing each other, forming a team for the long run, taking the responsibilities for family and economic wellbeing together”, adds Marieke. “This involves co-dependency. A threefold cord with a view to a life-long commitment to each other and each other’s wellbeing, which involves both family care and economic wellbeing. In my opinion, children are a gift from God and a very important responsibility”.  


What other Christian families do

Of course, there is a variety of approaches to the issue of motherhood and work in the Netherlands. Marieke says: “Based on their individual character, work satisfaction, co-operation with their husband etc. I also see Christian women around me making different choices”.

“Many do continue to work, but part time”, observes Barbera. “Or they are at home for a short period, when the children are not yet at school, and then start working part time again. It is also increasingly common for fathers to start working less in order to take on more family duties as well”.

[destacate]The government continues to look for “urgent” formulas such as a ‘full-time bonus’ in the salary[/destacate]Non-Christian mothers are “less likely to leave paid work”. “Maybe they also work more hours more often. But that difference is narrowing”, the marketing expert concludes.

Meanwhile, the government continues to look for “urgent” formulas to persuade women into full-time jobs. One of the options on the table is to offer a ‘full-time bonus’. What is not clear yet is who would pay for the salary increase: the employers or the state.





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