The world always looks a bit bleak when you are ill, but when you get better things seem remarkably more positive. So this week I’m not even going to mention the day that my eldest daughter skidded on cat poo and my mum, who was in charge as I was at work, had to shoo everyone upstairs to avoid all the other small people thinking this was another fun activity my mum had planned [if I had been at home, this would be precisely the moment my boss would have chosen to call].
I want to focus more on what I am working towards than where I am now – the kind of flexibility which would mean I felt more in control of my life. Most days I feel I am getting nearer that goal. In my ideal world, I would be working from home every day, being paid enough so that I didn’t have to work all hours and generally having my cake and eating it. I have progressed from working full-time in one job to doing several jobs part-time. This means I do get to see the girls more than I used to and seeing their faces when they charge out of school is reward enough for working round the clock. I also get to go to most of the school events, unless they are on Thursdays and Fridays when I work long days. I did manage to get to most of these before, though, by making up the hours on other days. Maybe I was very lucky, but I had to fight all the way on flexibility and in the end the whole thing became so unpleasant that I left.
Now one of the jobs I do is mainly staffed by working mothers, all of whom are very well qualified but very keen to work near where they live in order to see their children more. They have had to take big pay cuts to do this. The holidays are less than at a bigger company too. I can, however, take time off over school holidays so there is a lot of flexibility, but I don’t get paid for it so I can’t really afford to. On the major plus side, I can bring my children into work on inset days [although perhaps not bonkers daughter…]. It would be a great job if I just needed pin money because I had a rich partner. Unfortunately, I have always been the main earner in our family. So I have made some strides forward in getting to see my children more, but there is still a way to go. The experiences I have had of flexible working up to now have put others in charge of my life. It is hard to complain about bad treatment at work, for instance, if you feel as if your company has done you a favour by granting flexible working and could take it away at any given moment. That doesn’t mean I am not extremely positive and passionate about flexible working. I think it is hugely important for working mothers. I cannot see any other way around the economic problem of both partners needing to work and the human problem of children needing parents who are not cracking up and have more than half an hour to talk to them on a weekday.
In my fantasy life, which I am trying to make a reality, I would take the children to school [walking rather than the usual rush in the car], come home and be ready to work at 9.15 instead of 9.45 after a relatively short commute. I would get totally submerged in my work and get most of it done by 3pm in order to pick up the children, spend some time dancing, painting, cooking and generally hanging around with the girls, get them to bed and have time for my partner [instead of giving him a cursory glance and trying to get on with all the reading I have to do for work] and maybe spend an hour or so more every other night on work. I would be patience and virtue incarnate.
I would do bonkers things with bonkers daughter. I would do jigsaws and chat to third daughter [I’m not a baby, I’m a toddler, mummy] and I would most of all have time to talk to my seven year old who has got all sorts of important stuff going on in her head and who never gets the time she needs due to me multi-tasking and her sisters’ more immediate demands. Some of these things would always be hard, even if I wasn’t working at all, but I really don’t see why everyone is not standing on the rooftops encouraging flexible working. It makes sense for working parents, it makes sense for their children, it makes sense for the environment and it surely, surely makes sense for companies who don’t want to lose experienced staff. I know lots of companies are doing great things on flexible working and maybe those that aren’t just need a bit more encouragement and advice on how to manage the whole thing because it does need good management. But the rewards of getting it right, of having motivated, happy staff rather than stressed out wrecks, must be worth it.