Working mums: a rant

The reason I began writing this blog was because I thought it was important to show what the day-to-day struggle is of being a working mum, battling regular sicknesses, nits, impetigo [had never heard of it before children], more nits, etc, etc. And that is even with a fantastic mother living nearby and keen to help and flexible working which, I realise, many people don’t have. I was fed up with hearing about so many of my friends having a bad time in the office even though they got their jobs done very professionally and to a very high standard. I knew they did because I have worked with a lot of them.

All my jobs, for all their faults, are flexible. In fact, part of the reason I have so many is that I can balance all of their needs at any given time against my own so some weeks I will have to work late to make up for, for instance, when I have to look after sick children. I do not feel beholden to any particular boss, but I am utterly dedicated to doing a good job for every single one of them. I think most of them get a very good deal out of it and I would say that I probably do more hours and go further for each and every one of them than if I was just working in the office on one job.

Anyway, this week I got another dose of reality from my friends and from some employers who I hope never to have the misfortune to ever work for. It was one of those occasions where you feel that for all your many years of experience, you are being dumped in the category of airbrain because you are a mother. All you can possibly think about all day is what is the best remedy for bedwetting and how to patch up poor Johnny’s sore knee. The thing is I do think about these things. In fact, they are very important, but I also think about the state of the world, the nitty gritty of my several jobs, organising a timetable of meetings/trips to the swimming pool/childcare cover, coming up with new ways of approaching work problems, doing presentations, business ideas, etc, etc. But because I would like to work some of the time at home, which this particular employer clearly thought was laughable, I and the many, many people in my position who also want to work this way because it is the way that functions best around children if you don’t have the odd 10 grand to throw at nannies, are still made by some to feel somehow second rate and some sort of burden on their employer.

As I have stated, my experience is that the employer gets a very, very good deal out of this arrangement and we are both happy. I have come to the end of my patience really with this kind of thinking. It is essentially lacking in intelligence. Okay, there’s a recession coming or here and employers will be laying people off rather than taking them on, but forward-thinking employers won’t just fire the flexible workers first. They will look to see what works best for them. Does it make any sense to fire someone with years of experience who can do the job in much less time and much more effectively than a novice just because they want to work four days instead of five [thus saving a day’s pay]? I don’t think so.

A friend of mine had her company taken over by a big corporation. She was working flexible hours. They called everyone in for an “informal” chat before they were interviewed for the positions they had previously held. She was asked all about her family, etc, questions she could not legally be asked at interview. After the interview, she was told that she would only be employed one day a week as a consultant because it was felt the job would not fit in with her “family commitments”. This was a job she had been doing for several years while juggling said family commitments. However, a few weeks later they had to hire her for two full weeks to give training to the staff they had employed because they didn’t know the basics of the job.

Another friend is also being restructured, in fact she seems to be an endless restructuring loop. She’s a single mum of two and works for a local authority. In theory, the local authority promotes flexible working, but she worked one day from home last week and her manager emailed her at 9.45 and then again, surprise, at 5.45 to ask her to ring the office. She laughingly said she was not checking up on my friend, but it was clear she was. What is the point of allowing people flexible working if you indulge in such pointless management techniques? This woman clearly needs some management training!

In fact, my eight year old seems to be a lot wiser than most of these managers. Surely, she says, it is about getting the job done, mummy. Indeed. Anyway, on a lighter note big girl daughter spent much of Sunday afternoon with the plunger in the sink while I was having a bath and attempting to de-nit. Unfortunately, her ongoing and seemingly endless fascination with particular parts of my anatomy got the better of her and she proceeded to try and plunge the “milkies”. Then bonkers daughter came in, concerned about the air bag in the car and the fact that it did not guarantee total protection. She looked troubled and then brightened and said: “It’s okay. There is someone who can protect us in everything we do.” Phew, I thought. Is it the AA? No, it turns out to be God, Jesus and Santa. She paused for a second. “Who’s the other one?” she asked. “Oh yes, the Easter bunny.” I’m so glad we’re in safe hands in these troubled times.

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