mother pukka

Flexible Working and why it means so much to me, by Lydia Rogers in Twickenham

Image credit:  youthedaddy.co.uk

Image credit: youthedaddy.co.uk

I am super excited about speaking with Mother Pukka and her #flexappeal campaign when she comes to Twickenham next week. I first saw Anna in one of her posts when she created a ‘flashmob’ ‘Lets Talk about Flex Baby’, in the centre of London.

Since becoming a Mum I’ve spoken to many local Mums about their experiences of work and parenting, and how the two things combine. There are very few parents who are able to continue with exactly the same jobs after having children; some change or flexibility is required to allow us to spend time with the children and make it back to the nursery/childminder/family member/nanny on time.  I have lost count of the times which I have literally sprinted through a busy street to make the train on time, so that I’m not late for pick up!

Personally I have tried out many different working arrangements. After taking a years maternity leave with each of my children, I’ve worked tried working four days, full-time and then ended up burning out and taking six months out to concentrate on being a Mum. I now have the perfect balance of a three day a week role. I have a job share partner (or job pairing as Mother Pukka likes to call it). I know that everybody has different demands and wants different things from work/life/parenting, but personally it took me nearly FIVE YEARS of parenting to find this opportunity and create some balance.

There are also many who have been inspired by the ‘ juggle struggle’ to seize on an idea and create their own businesses. We wouldn’t be here, without Emma @wegotthissometimes who started this after the birth of her second child, when she realised that she would not be able to return to her previous job. The ‘insta-famous’ bloggers who have attended our events @hurrahforgin @unmumsymum and @manvsbaby all started blogging after having children.

However nearly everybody I speak to has or knows somebody who has experienced pregnancy, maternity and paternity discrimination; some have been asked to leave their jobs when pregnant, been refused a return to their previous role, ‘offered’ a demotion on their return to work or refused any type of flexible working. This shouldn’t all be about the Mum’s either, Dads and partners also need flexible working so that they can play a full part in sharing the load, being able to help with homework or take the children to dancing/art club/scouts/karate. That is where ‘Papa Pukka’ comes into play.

Surely we have to demand that work places offer more flexible opportunities and move away from the 9-5 bums on seats mentality. Mother Pukka is keen to point out that this is not just about parents, it is about everybody in the work-force who wants the opportunity to work flexibly, there are those who are care for older/sick relatives or have other interests they want to pursue.

We haven’t even started on the ideas around affordable childcare. I think that has to be a post for a whole other day……. But in the meantime a big shout out to all the Grandparents and family childcarers who make it possible for others to work. Also thinking of those who have sadly lost their parents, are without family support or simply live too far away xxxx

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. 

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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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