Before I had kids I was a career woman – OK I didn’t rock the shoulder pads and kiss ass attitude but I moved around the country to further my journalism and PR career with little thought for anyone but me.
Obviously that all changed when the little ones came along and I took the decision to cut my hours. It wasn’t an easy decision and I’ve struggled with it practically every day since.
I’ve watched my peers progressing careers I would have killed for and had to turn my back on some amazing opportunities because, despite what people say, true flexible working is pretty much a myth and if you want to be there to watch your baby’s first steps or do the school run you have to put your career on hold.
I have battled with jealousy, anger and tons of guilt –I have two amazing children and many people would kill for that, but there’s just something in me that wants to do well for myself. So now the youngest is setting off for school you’d think I’d be dusting down my CV and starting the slow climb back up the career ladder but, much to my amazement, something has changed.
Despite loving my job and having a wealth of ideas to grow my own PR company, I have discovered I don’t want to be at my desk five days a week. I see the joy on my daughter’s face on the days I can pick her up from school and despite moaning about being a taxi service I love taking both kids to their various evening activities and being on hand to host play dates. Working 9-5 (or even 8.30-4.30) every day means I would miss out on too many little things that mean more to me than I first realised.
I want to be able to make a fool of myself in the mothers’ race on sports day and fight for the front seat at the nativity play, and so I am letting go of my entrenched view that I will be heading back to full time work in September. I still have my part time hours (which I love) and with the extra time I will have when both kids are at school I can start really selling my PR consultancy and doing more of this blogging stuff!
I am already finding myself networking at playgroups (chatting over a cup of coffee and play dough can be just as productive as a formal meeting) and looking for opportunities in unusual places rather than relying on my old career path.
As an aside, one thing chatting with other mums has shown me is that businesses across all sectors are really missing out by not being truly flexible. There’s an army of professional women (and men) out there who have some exceptional skills but because they can’t fit into a ‘normal’ work structure they have had to turn their backs on their careers. Many of these parents could do more in five hours a day (when their kids are at school) than most do in an eight hour day but because, in the main, our business culture is based on time and not productivity they don’t get the chance to shine.
In this day and age we shouldn’t be travelling hundreds of miles for meetings (which automatically rule parents out who can’t organise childcare), everything should be done remotely and to suit everyone taking part. Is it that unreasonable to suggest that as long as the work gets done and the business doesn’t suffer people should be treated like adults to come and go as they need to? I understand the need for flexibility on both sides but you won’t find a more flexible army of people than working parents. Daily they juggle 100 things without taking their eyes off the main prize, but so often they are just not given the chance to prove themselves and are seen as a burden or even worse ‘taking the pi**’ if they don’t fit the traditional workers’ model. Job adverts should be more creative – the terms full time and part time should be made obsolete – the main question should be ‘can you get the job done?’
Like many parents the route my career is about to take is not what I would imagine ever happening and is not what I would have chosen but the last seven years of mummyhood have taught me that you can’t plan life and the most surprising of decisions can have some fantastically unexpected results. So here goes….
How have you found the return to work? I’d love to hear your stories and please do give a shout out to any truly flexible companies out there who are understanding our worth.