IN MARCH 2012 I found myself sitting on the floor of a living room in a suburb forty minutes’ drive from the centre of Melbourne. I was surrounded by a tight-knit circle of women in their late thirties. Most of the women – who were long standing friends and neighbours – were on maternity leave with their ‘last baby’. A couple of newborns gurgled on the rug next to me. Older children, two, three and four-year-olds, ran around the backyard with a collection of dogs. The women drank tea and ate chocolate biscuits, interrupted in their energetic dialogue from time to time by a request for a drink, a breastfeed, a knocked knee.
I was there in their midst to listen to them talk about their lives as part of Ipsos’s twice yearly Mind & Mood study into Australian sentiment. We conduct our research a little differently than the average market research company running focus groups. We venture into people’s living rooms, kitchens and favourite meeting places to hear friendship groups talk candidly and in an undirected fashion about their lives, relaxed among their peers they eagerly share stories of their daily pleasures and regular anxieties (mostly the latter). On this particular day the six friends assembled spent a lot of time – as women at their life stage often do – discussing life after maternity leave. Should I return to my old job or profession? Will they take me back? Will I need to retrain? What are the viable work options if I don’t return?
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