flexible working

An unresolved look at working and motherhood

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Please follow @emilycoxhead!

"According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of working mothers in England has gone up by more than a million in the past two decades, which means there’s a lot of us who grew up without a roadmap for how to do this" says Hadley Freeman, which explains why a business like We Got This (Sometimes!) exists, and why, when women just stop, they wonder is this the "right" way?!

I figured I may as well be honest...I've drafted three or four posts throughout our first school summer holidays ranting, pondering, deliberating about how to manage work and motherhood. It is an 11 week period of abnormal routine, as my daughter started summer super early and doesn't start full time school until the 20th, it has probably been the longest time I've felt not in control of my time. We've been lucky with friends to swap time, which has helped. Each time I stopped myself publishing a post as I don't want to appear ungrateful for anything, but I am right - the system is broken, how can we move it into a space where it works?! Millions of parents accept the juggle of working and school holidays, a friend takes two weeks off, her husband takes two weeks off, her own mum takes two weeks off to create an affordable summer. That's not do-able for everyone.

I've gone from thoughts of retraining as a teacher to be able to have stressless summer holidays, panicking about how to freelance with no after school care and trying to reassure myself that I could fit it into three days in school hours (I wouldn't be able to), to giving up work (we couldn't afford that), to economising, to appreciating the little guys much more than ever, to actually working for a corporate team from home for a ten day project (that's a whole other post) to decluttering wardrobes and my office to feel 'ready for a new term'. We had a week where our youngest was poorly, so that week we were still paying for nursery which we couldn't use, and I couldn't work to pay for it as I was looking after him. I understand the commercials for nursery but it doesn't feel fair. In the end, surrendered, gave in, and worked minimally for a few weeks. Which was the right decision but feeling very behind. I've also realised it wasn't just having two children that made me pursue a different road, school life is as big a puzzle to juggle. 

My daughter has left pre-school and just started primary school which threw up so many emotions and thoughts - she was fine, her school is great and her teacher is lovely. There is a sketch I saw recently which exactly illustrates what happened in my head with this:

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It has been a busy summer, when you're with your kids you don't REALLY talk, even with friends - maybe that's why my googling has gone wild! 

SO. Here is my reading list so far. My intention is to create a conference type event next year with a gang of like-minded women, for businesses in this area to open the conversation around actively bringing women back into the workspace, for example job sharing senior positions seems to be non existent from what I can see. I've contacted London job sharing agencies to request extending to Norwich but not heard back. There is a team brewing, I've ideas about key speakers and feel it is IMPORTANT. Manchester is all over this in a big way. We have had one Mother Pukka event, which was crucial and brilliant - but as we realised, the 120 women in the audience KNEW. 

The answer categorically is NOT 'just give up working'. For many reasons it is not an option, and also why train, study and build a career for it to slip away *if you don't want it to*.


What I've been reading:

Incredibly honest from the writer of one of my favourite shows, The Affair: The truth about being a working mother - Red Magazine

"And after they’re both dressed and fed and their bottoms are wiped and their teeth are brushed, I get to actually leave my house and go to work. Where I get to make up stories about characters I love. With other people I love. Which is something I have done since I was a child for fun – but now they’re paying me to do it. So, I obviously don’t have an answer to the paradox of working motherhood. And I’m sure I never will.
But I have learned a few things along the way that I didn’t know when I began. Firstly, this is hard. Even for very tough people, it is very hard.
Secondly, reach out to your friends. That’s why you let them puke in your car back at university and you didn’t make them get out and walk home. Because one day, they’ll pay you back by sleeping over at your house when the power goes out and you have two small children and you’re afraid to be alone.
Thirdly, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like someone you really care about. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re sad, cry (that’s what showers are for). And finally, don’t be afraid of your own story."


Why working mums are being sold an impossible dream about work/life balance — and how to set the record straight - The Times (you can sign up for one free article a week)

"Longer term, though, we have to decide what kind of a society we want to live in and what value we really put on family life. If it’s anything close to the glowing words most politicians use to express the high regard they have for “hard-working families”, then we really do have a lot of work to do — in business, in education and in policy.

Until then, if you’re drowning in work and family and think you are alone, at least know you are not. There are lots and lots of us out here. And there are some answers, however imperfect, to be gleaned from the experiences of those who have gone before. You just have to look harder for them than you might realise.

WORKING PARENTS

  • 72% of families in England have both parents in employment (ONS 2017)
  • 30%, the average wage gap between mums and dads by the time their child is 20 years old (IFS 2018)
  • 21% of mothers say they feel guilty most or all of the time — 87% feel guilty at some point (NUK 2016)"

Small business spotlight on: Don’t Buy Her Flowers - Marketing Vision

"Work out what success is for you and write it down. It’ll be different for everyone. As well as financial and growth objectives, if success includes being able to take your kids to school, or having holidays, or a daily run for your sanity, remember that. It’s your success." Steph Douglas


How to have children and a career and stay sane(ish) - Management Today

"And sometimes women who really enjoy their first maternity leave, perhaps thinking that motherhood comes pretty naturally to them, hate their second maternity leave if it follows within a few years. Unlike the first, which enables full attention on one baby, the second makes them feel ripped apart by the different demands of a baby and a toddler. This can trigger a personal crisis along the lines of ‘I thought I was a career person but had a baby and realised I should be an at-home mum but now I find that I’m not good at that either.’


'I couldn't have it all' – choosing between my child and my career - The Guardian

"I peered at the other women on the train. Their makeup and hair was perfect, they were on conference calls and it wasn't even 8am. I felt as if society were telling me I had to try to be the perfect worker Monday to Friday, the perfect mother every weekend, and toned, healthy woman all year round. Oh, and, of course, wife, friend, sibling and daughter."


Spot the working mother: happy, busy, and still treated as the caretaker - The Guardian

"So here’s my wish for the next International Women’s Day: as well as exhibitions about working mothers, there will be ones depicting fathers doing the school run; male bosses will write articles about the long-term benefits of accommodating women so devoted to their jobs they return to them after giving birth; and no one will take it as a given that it’s the mother who goes part-time after having kids. Because I love the photo of me with my boys, I really do. But if we’re talking about working mothers without looking at the role men have to play, we’re seeing only half the picture."


My current position is much better than it was this time last week, when I thought I had no after school options...the school club was full from the start, the childminders are full and I guess the next path would have been looking for a babysitter. It has been resolved - our council have thankfully funded some more spaces in the after school club. If you're happy to blog about how you make work and motherhood work for you (with school children, as day nurseries are SO EASY compared to school!), I would love to publish it.

Flexible working progress

After Anna Whitehouse visited Norwich in April, I received lots of stories from women whose husbands worked for flexible employers, which is brilliant. I met a lawyer friend who has started working for a forward thinking firm in London, who is conscious of the 'missing women' in law. Did you know Theresa May said at some point that it is her vision that every business will offer flexible work without it being a thing?

In the meantime, in the words of Hollie de Cruz: "Whatever you want to do – go back to work, be a full-time mum, volunteer, make stuff, write, sing, wonder – that’s what you should do, and the only way you’ll know is by letting it come to you when the time is right, and by getting in touch with what you feel...Resist the temptation of comparing yourself to the woman next to you. Stop the glorification of busy. Remember you are doing a great job and you are exactly what your child needs."

GUEST POST: When Norwich met Mother Pukka by Sally White

Video by Dack Attack

Sally White, teacher, writer and blogger at Wife of a Wig Wearer writes up Norwich: Meet Mother Pukka with Anna Whitehouse

"This week, Anna - perhaps better known as Mother Pukka - came to Norwich to talk about parenthood and flexible working. She is an Instagram joy, a political force and someone we all want to be in our corner in our fight for work that suits family life. 

Anna Whitehouse in the play area demo by  Play Date with my Crew

Anna Whitehouse in the play area demo by Play Date with my Crew

One of the few things I remember from A-level sociology is a that cult leaders are ‘usually attractive, charismatic, intelligent and engaging’. This occurred to me as I sat, entranced, during a talk by Anna Whitehouse. Her wise words and funny anecdotes and ability to be a balm to the neurosis and fear of parenthood had an audience of over a hundred of us nodding and smiling like devoted followers. 

Anna's fans in Norwich

Anna's fans in Norwich

And if Anna is our leader then flexible working is her religion. Her mission is to get employers to do the unthinkable and dismantle the traditional 9-5 working day. She aims to preach the word of working from home, shunning the shame of creeping in to work at 9.05 and singing the praises of working hours that suit everyone. 

I hadn’t ever given much thought to the arbitrary nature of 9-5. From what I can gather, the roots of those working hours are in Industrial Britain. But so is child labour, inhumane working conditions and slums so perhaps Anna’s vision for a flexible working day isn’t actually progressive, just massively overdue. 

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Giddy with excitement at having our favourite Insta star in Norwich and tipsy on the delicious free wine provided by Naked Wines, we sat enraptured. And for the first half hour or so Anna regaled hilarious stories. Many relatable - top lip panic sweats, wet wipe crises, marital niggles - and a few not so relatable but utterly hilarious tales - an ‘incident’ on a bus with the Noravirus for instance. 

But soon enough, the chat turned to being a working parent and our laughter turned to anger. So many of us have stories of unforgiving attitudes to time-keeping and working for mangers who value hours worked more than efficient output. 

Anna’s advice is ‘don’t ask, don’t get’. Employers assume 9-5 and we assume that it’s necessary. But it isn’t. Not really. 

Signs You May Benefit from Flex

  • you start most days bellowing at your children and manically measuring time (WE NEED TO BE OUT THE DOOR IN TWO MINUTES PEOPLE!’)
  • you’ve offered up a life of devotion for a run of green lights and a foot in the nursery door in the nick of time
  • you’ve had to commando crawl out of a 4pm meeting uttering ‘sososorrygottogosendmetheminutessorrysorry’
  • you’ve received over a dozen passive aggressive time-keeping comments in the last week alone 

Signs You Might Be Able to Work Flexibly

  • you have a desk job
  • a lot of your work is done via email or telephone 
  • you could do your work from home just as easily as you could do it in an office

Rights to Request

  • you have a right to ask for flexible working if you have been working for your employer for six months or more 
  • your employer can refuse but you can ask again in a year’s time

Ways to Ask

  • Anna advises planning a water-tight case for working flexibly. Prepare answers for the questions you anticipate. Have it ready before you ask for a meeting to discuss it because you don’t want to be caught off guard if they suggest meeting immediately 
  • If they refuse or are wavering, suggest a trial period
  • I always think phrasing things as a statement rather than a question can help: ‘I would like to work from home for three mornings a week. (Brief description of how this would work). Please let me know if you anticipate this being a problem. Thank you’. 

Things to Remember

  • Flexible means bending both ways- you may need to give as well as take
  • Job sharing (or job pairing) is a great way of applying for full-time positions so stay in touch with colleagues and consider applying for jobs together

Anna’s practical advice made flexible working seem like such an obvious and credible solution to the most stressful parts of parenting: childcare, nursery drop off and pick up and time-keeping. 

We just need to ask for it. No. We need to demand it. We need to demand hours that suit us and not Victorian mill owners. And we need employers to see how a job pairing brings two great, fresh, talented minds to businesses. How letting us work from home means we can devote time to tasks rather than texting the childminder. How starting at 7.30 and leaving at 3.30 can mean they can keep a trained employee rather than have to recruit again. 

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And trust me when I say, Anna’s words have released some seriously empowered and informed people out in to Norwich’s workforce. Invite us in to your offices and listen to our requests because 9-5 is going to be consigned to the history books and Dolly’s Best of album. 

Reading List:

Author of this article - Sally White - please follow her at  wifeofawigwearer.com  

Author of this article - Sally White - please follow her at wifeofawigwearer.com 

All photos are © Emily Gray Photography

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