Switching off

Mobile phone, flexible working


It’s the end of a long week full of exams for some and late night work marathons for others. Daughter three is finished her SATs and has gone straight into Bake-off overdrive in anticipation of her birthday weekend. She is making cookies for her entire class, a cake for her family tonight and a rainbow cake for her sleepover tomorrow. Will the kitchen survive? She has banned only son from the sleepover party and he is not happy. She said it was on the grounds that he would insist on putting on Just Dance 2014 when her friends were watching a film. There is some semblance of truth in this. Only son cannot quite comprehend why anyone would choose a film over Just Dance 2014. I told him he could stay upstairs with me and do Just Dance on the computer. He has greeted this idea with a bit more enthusiasm than I anticipated and has been labelling all the rooms upstairs. On his parents’ bedroom door he has put “Mandy and only son’s party”. He is also drawing up menus.

Daughter one is now officially on study leave, but is finding it hard to focus. She has “prom” today which sounds like something big, but seems to basically involve eating sandwiches in a posh dress in a village hall. The details I have been able to extract about the venue and timings have been predictably vague. Why do teenagers never know what time things are starting or ending at? Apparently no-one knows and yet they spend all their lives “communicating”. Daughter one has been worrying what to wear to said sandwich-fest for days. It’s like no-school uniform day on acid. Daughter two and daughter one fear no school uniform day. “It’s a lot of pressure, mum”, says daughter two, while dipping her eyelashes in olive oil. “I have a style reputation.” “Don’t you worry that putting olive oil on your eyelashes might create future eyelash baldness?” I ask in passing. She looks at me pityingly as if I am from another planet, a planet where no-one reads Youtuber style vlogs.

Daughter one has also been worrying about what subjects to take next year. Every day there is a different permutation because she can’t take the combination she really wants to take. She is also researching university courses. So one night she wants to talk about philosophical theories and the next about studying Classics. It’s hard to keep up. Meanwhile, she is supposed to be studying the history of Iraq.

Because of the various things happening children-wise this week – which include exam timetable pick-ups and drop-offs, birthday preparations and a sponsored run – I have been working late, bending my working day so I can take time out to eg run a mile with only son. It is a challenge, but it works. If Britain were to pass the mooted legislation in France which could make larger employers create a good conduct charter banning work emails after a certain hour I would be doomed. Often the busiest time of the day is around 8-10pm because mums tend to email in the evenings.

I do fear email deluge, but I think that is about restricting irrelevant emails and controlling workloads rather than the hours I do my work. Workloads can be a hard thing to control, though, if you are not working on a fixed project. The important thing is to have regular breaks from work. It may not be quite so possible to have regular breaks from the life part. Sleep is never guaranteed when you have kids and don’t even think you can slob out when you’re sick. You still have to be up for the school run and, if you’re up, why not work? A study the other week gave a thumbs up to work life integration. Work life balance is old school. If you’re knackered anyway, does it matter whether you are knackered on work time or “life” time?

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk. Take part in our poll on the bottom of our home page on the French proposals to curb out of hours work emails.

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