A conversation I had this week summed up so many I’ve had since I’ve been back at work. Them: ‘But don’t you just want a job now that means you can leave on time? And if your baby’s sick don’t you want to be able to take a day off at short notice?’ Me: ‘Yes, and yes.’ Them: ‘So that’s surely your priority now? So maybe it’s time to settle for something which will allow flexibility in hours, first and foremost?’ Me: ‘Er…’
Of course, having a baby focuses your mind on the important role family plays in your life, and how your job’s ultimately there to provide money to support you and said family. That’s unequivocal. But I refuse to subscribe to the equation which seems to boil down to ‘no children = enjoy work OR children = don’t enjoy work’.
Work is different when you have a child – especially one you’re responsible for picking up and dropping off at exact times. No longer can I faff at the end of the day and stay a bit longer – if I’m not gone by 5.40 on my ‘early’ leaving days, I won’t make it back in time. And an after work drink with a client or colleague is more of a long-lead operation than a casual email the day before. Add to that the seed of parental anxiety that’s now ever-present in the back of my mind, and probably always will be.
But I don’t see why I should expect less from a job now I’m a mother. I certainly put just as much into each working day – if not more. And I’m more diligent about checking and replying to emails outside my standard work hours. I may have to take a day off if my baby is sick, but *newsflash* even people without children get ill, and they, too, have to take the odd day off. I’ve been back for two months now and I’ve worked at home in the evening on a number of occasions. And I work four days a week but I always ensure everything’s completely covered for my day off. I simply won’t let anything slide.
Having worked for more than a decade, I’m experienced enough to know when I’m doing a good job, and although we all joke about ‘baby brain’, I’m pleased to report that I don’t seem to have lost any of my grey matter over the last nine months.
So why should I have to compromise with my job, or actively try find a new one that firstly suits my changed situation and secondly suits my work needs? Do the other almost 70% of British mothers who work have to compromise their jobs, too? And how long will it last – until my daughter’s 18?
Isn’t there a middle ground, where your hard work for a company is rewarded by a little flexibility on both sides? Not every job is like mine, I know, but in my experience there are very few professions that can’t allow a few adjustments to ways of working. We just need to take a grown up approach – and to realise that working mothers are entitled to a dose of job satisfaction, too.
I certainly don’t aspire to have it all – my life has changed and I accept that. I’m in every night after work, we rarely use a baby sitter and I don’t see friends as much as I used to. We have less money so we spend less across all aspects of our lives (except childcare). Our baby is certainly our number one priority. But, I still have 10 hours each day, for four days of each week, that I want to dedicate to giving my all in a work capacity. I’m ready and willing to use my brain and to do a fantastic job. Is that really too much to ask?
I hope these conversations won’t continue with such frequency, but if they do, rather than smiling and nodding, I might just start putting my brain to better use with an honest reply.