Category Archives: Thoughts

GUEST POST: 10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

0A9D254A-3031-4C07-9CD2-31D29C7A8D3AHolly and I have been social media friends for a while, and just as I’ve talked lot about the difficulties of returning to work, so has she on her blog, Pitter Patter Pither. She’s also in PR (which I didn’t know before but is nice to learn!) and is a new mum to little Amelia.

I’m happy to share a post from her on tips for negotiating a flexible return to work in the hope that it helps what can be a stressful and difficult time for parents.

10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

If you don’t know much about me then let me introduce myself. I’m a Holly Pither, I’m a mummy blogger, new mum to baby Amelia, wife to James and a fitness fanatic. I’m also perhaps what you might call ‘a career gal’ through and through (for all the negative and positive connotations that brings!)

I’m also not ashamed to admit that I simply love my job as a PR director… so much so, that as I neared the end of my pregnancy I dreaded going off on maternity leave. I was terrified of letting go and putting my career on pause, if only for a short while. Most of all I was terrified that it was my career that defined me. However that story, and everything I have learnt on that journey, will have to wait for another day (or feel free to read about it here) because today I’m talking about flexible working.

I’ve recently returned to work after 11 months of maternity leave and whilst it hasn’t been without its issues (for example I’ve struggled with leaving my baby and having to take time off work due to her being unwell), my discussions with my boss about returning to work were relatively smooth. However, like many parents, something had to give, and as such I needed to negotiate some degree of flexibility in my role. Without this I don’t think I would have been able to cope or reach any form of work/ life balance.

So if you’re in a similar position, and perhaps looking to return to work soon after maternity leave, then here are my top ten tips on how best to negotiate a flexible return to work.  

1.       Make a plan in advance: We will all want to enjoy every moment of our maternity leave, but I promise you getting a plan in place early will allow you to relax into motherhood. Going back to work is stressful enough without having a decision like this hanging over you. 

2.       Document everything: Whether you end up speaking to your boss in person or not, whatever you do make sure you write it all down and save your correspondence. This is a very important decision that will no doubt affect your future employment contract, so it’s best to get a written record of everything, even conversations over email that may seem irrelevant to the negotiations. This is especially important in case things go pear-shaped, let’s hope they don’t of course, but you can never be too careful.

3.       Think about what you offer: Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to your employer. If you’ve been away from the workplace for some time, identify what new skills you may have acquired during your maternity leave. Pull out your recent appraisal forms and highlight your strengths, as well as what you have brought to the business during your time there. It’s time to showcase why you’re so great and how having you back on your terms is significantly better than not having you back at all. Do not let that dreaded imposter syndrome get the better of you.

4.       This isn’t just about you: I know you are negotiating ‘your’ flexible working hours, but spend some time considering the potential impact of your working arrangement on your work colleagues and your boss too. If you can show your boss you are doing what’s right for the business too, you will have a much easier conversation. Try to consider all parties in this arrangement as much as possible.

5.       Be open and honest: There is no point in saying what you think they want you to say and then later regretting it. Be honest and explain to your boss what you think you need for a good work/ life balance. Likewise if you feel your employer is being unfair tell them. This is no time to be a wall-flower. 

6.       Don’t just expect they will just give you what you ask for: They don’t call it negotiating for nothing! Make it clear that whilst you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. Find a suitable middle ground and don’t be worried if there is a lot of back and forth, this is a big decision. 

7.       Speak to your colleagues: Find out what they agreed and what was declined when they returned to work. Chances are your workplace will want to be as balanced as possible, so you might find that if something wasn’t allowed for someone else, you may struggle to push it through. Likewise though, if something was agreed for a colleague, you should find that, in the interests of fairness, you can make a real case for it.

8.       Don’t take anything personally: This is certainly easier said than done, but try to remember that if your line manager declines your offer or sends you rather formal responses, it’s only because they are trying to do what’s right (most of the time) for the business. This can be especially tricky if you have a strong relationship with your boss or line manager or if you are used to a fairly informal conversation. Negotiations like this are likely to become quite formal and detailed, so if you feel yourself getting emotional, take a step back and remember it’s nothing personal. Don’t forget your emotions may be running extra high and you may need to step away and consider if you are looking at this objectively.

9.       Go back for a KIT Day/ Days: Keeping in Touch (KIT days) are so important in my opinion as they can really help you to feel what its’s like being a working parent in real-time. They can also reassure you that you will be able to get back into the swing of things easily when you return properly. I found them a great way to ease myself in and remind myself that I can still do my job just as well as before baby.

10.   If all fails, why not try something new: If I have learnt anything whilst being on maternity leave, it is that maternity leave is a time to think. It is also a time to reevaluateRemember you’re under no obligation to stick with the organisation you left (obviously be aware of the rules around leaving and having to pay back your maternity pay). If your current role doesn’t end up working, perhaps it’s time to take the plunge and move on

Thumb sucking for dummies: how to stop the habit

Thumb suckingWe have two new additions to the house. Well, actually four. Scrip has finally stopped sucking her thumb at six and a half and her present was two fish – one for her, one for D. A week or so afterwards we spotted a baby fish in the tank (Mini) and this week another one (Mini two).

I’m slightly worried that we’ll soon be overrun with Minis and the tank will have to be upgraded, but at the same time it’s lovely seeing these tiny tadpole-like fry darting around and the last thing I want is either to be eaten by their parents, which apparently does happen…

Cannibal fish habits aside, we’ve learnt quite a bit about thumb sucking recently, and as I have a keen finger sucker in D, hopefully I can remember these things for next time:

  • Thumb sucking has been a godsend in the past and has helped so much with self-soothing, so try not to lose sight of how useful it can be in your hurry to stop it. We first spotted Scrip sucking her thumb in a scan picture, so it really was an in-built thing!
  • Start early by talking to your child about it so they’re aware. We talk to D now (age three) and did the same with Scrip. Don’t make them feel bad about it but do encourage them to understand when they’re doing it as it’s often a subconscious habit.
  • Start by confining the thumb sucking to sleep times – first naps and then night times. We now encourage D to keep his finger sucking to night time only, so he doesn’t do it too much during the day. He’s recently stopped doing it when we’re reading to him. By the time Scrip went to school she wasn’t sucking her thumb during the day, which helped her to stop eventually.
  • We also stopped her sucking it in the car as we knew she’d probably fall asleep anyway on long journeys. This was really good as she was worried she couldn’t fall asleep without sucking her thumb – this convinced her she actually could.
  • Get the dentist involved! With Scrip we looked at stories online about thumb sucking abd how it affects your teeth, and then we asked the dentist to talk to her about what would happen if she didn’t stop – she really listened to him!
  • Follow advice. The dentist also told us that she should ideally stop before her baby teeth came out but definitely when the new ones started growing through – around six or seven – which gave her something to aim for.
  • That nail paint helps. She was really determined she would stop but she needed a lot of support. We painted the bitter nail biting liquid Mavala on her thumb which I tasted too (and was pretty sour). But she was happy to try it and I knew it would help her not to keep putting her thumb in by mistake.
  • Have a reward they’d really like in mind. Scrip chose a present that she could get after a week without thumb sucking (the burgeoning fish population!)
  • Help occupy their hands. She chose a toy she could cuddle so she had something to do with her hands (a skinny one was good to wrap her hands around).
  • Be prepared to help with sleeping. We also said we’d stand with her and stroke her hair for a few minutes to reassure her that she could get to sleep without her thumb. Like sleep training when she was little, we tried to leave when she was about to drop off but not when she was soundly sleeping.
  • Give a lot of praise. It probably goes without saying but we really are proud of her determination and bravery with something that’s been a part of her life and routine for over six years.

So far, so good. And they both love the fish (all four of them). Good luck if you’re trying to help a little one stop.

 

The new you: seven things that become the norm after kids

Norm after kidsAs I was devouring my sandwich at 12.01pm, it struck me that my standard lunchtime is now at least an hour earlier than it used to be. I didn’t even have my children with me at the time so had no excuse. They’ve just left an indelible imprint on my routine in so many ways. And it’s not only premature lunches, the new me is all about:

  1. The supermarket sweep – I’m not blessed with time (who is?) but even when it’s just me and my Morrison’s shopping basket, I still seem to find myself rushing around the aisles, grabbing packets like a big timer’s about to go off. I’m just not able to browse anymore.
  2. Same with clothes shopping. Once a procrastinator, now I enter, scan the shop floor and leave in 60 seconds flat. What happened to the days of leisurely trying on armfuls of clothes?
  3. The yawn and stretch at 9pm – you could set my FitBit by it. Somehow the bedtime of my childhood (remember the bongs of the 9 o’clock news?) has come back to haunt me and I definitely see 9pm as some kind of watershed. It’s a firm reminder that sleep is near.
  4. The tissue stuffing – I can’t leave the house without tucking a couple of tissues into my pockets, my handbag or my coat. Even if I’m going to a business meeting.
  5. Taking my own water everywhere – it’s not as if it’s not readily available, but I can’t cross the threshold here without clutching a Highland Spring bottle hastily refilled from the tap. It’s obviously much more eco-friendly to re-use and not buy a new one but I also think the kids’ obsession with their colourful water bottles has rubbed off on me.
  6. The National Trust car sticker – once the preserve of those at least a few decades older, suddenly it’s an indispensable accessory and I’m not alone. People my age seem to out number pensioners by 20 to 1 at any given property, come rain or shine.
  7. And how much more preferable is a day in a country park ticking off 50 things before you’re 11 3/4 than a simple night out? When did a drink down the pub start to feel like a military operation rather than an enjoyable way to pass the time?

It goes without saying that I wouldn’t change a thing (apart from maybe embracing the odd night out a bit more readily).

How to get back on track when it all becomes a struggle

Toddler on wallOn Friday D and I had a leisurely walk back from dropping off Scrip at school. We stopped to notice frogspawn in the pond on the way. He sat on the wall and looked at the black and white pigs as they snored gently in their trailer home and we talked about the daffodils emerging which are his favourite colour, ‘lellow’.

It was a nice moment. I’ve talked about the little moments with children before and the importance of enjoying them. That’s what having a family often boils down to for me – having lovely moments in the day or the week.

It was really important because I’ve been finding things a struggle recently. Having flu set me back by days – particularly with my work. I had to stay in bed and I could hardly do anything. And I seem to be running my life at capacity at the moment – trying to fit everything in, rushing from one thing to another. I know I’m not alone in that. So when something sets you back it feels like everything starts to dissolve.

I love my work and I find it really rewarding. I’m ambitious and I’m pleased with the fact I’ve started to grow with my first hire. But I’m also trying to protect the two days off a week I have with D and ringfence them so that work doesn’t intrude. But I know that’s not always possible. All I can do is try my best with it and if I have to do bits and pieces in the evenings and weekends, so be it.

For me getting back on track was about tipping the balance in favour of work for a while and then setting aside some specific time to spend with the children. So we went into town to buy some clothes for the Scarecrow we’re doing for the PTA and then had a pizza together. I barely checked my phone and I really enjoyed the time we took.

Likewise, on Friday I tried to do very little work. D watched some TV because that’s actually OK. But he also helped me with some things around the house, we played together and we read together. And then we got his sister and they did some playing, too.

And work will adapt. I’m only human and the main pressure I’m feeling is coming from me, myself. The nature of what I do in PR means I can work from home – brilliant – and do much of it myself. But it also means there are lots of things that are actually out of my control and even if I work flat out, things still might not come off. I work hard and I’m experienced and get results. I need to remind myself of that a bit more.

It’s OK to have low points and it’s OK to change your daily routine to adapt. Sometimes the scales tip one way and sometimes they tip another, but I know the best thing for my family is that I’m OK and I can cope with what comes along. And if I have to make some adjustments to do that, I know I will.

If I behaved like my children when I went to friends’ houses

If I behaved like my childrenMy husband and I have a giggle sometimes about ways not to behave in certain situations (especially good to do at stressful times when we need a bit of light relief). So, what we should never do when staying with the in-laws, at a work meeting or at a dinner party. I only hope I won’t have a moment of madness and behave like that one day.

Something we were amusing ourselves with the other day is the thought of us behaving like our children when they go for playdates when we went to see our friends. If we did, we’d be:

  • Hiding behind each other when we went in, avoiding eye contact and giving monosyllabic answers to questions.
  • Shyly following my friends into the kitchen, asking for a drink in a small voice and drinking it quietly in the corner.
  • Within ten minutes, bouncing around jumping on their sofas, pulling out everything I could play with.
  • Going to the toilet with the door wide open and forgetting to flush.
  • Raiding their wardrobe, dressing up in their clothes, putting strange, mis-matched outfits together using old swimming costumes and summer sandals.
  • Pulling all their pens out and drawing lots of family portraits, leaving pens lidless.
  • And sobbing and being generally inconsolable when it was time to go – even if they promise to invite me again soon.

😉

My 2017 alternative parenting achievements

2017 alternative parentingIt’s Christmas Eve-Eve and in between picking up toys, pine needles and toys covered in pine needles I’ve been trying to think about what 2017’s brought. Not just the big milestones like toddler potty training (tick) or first school project completed and in on time (tick) but the smaller parenting wins, which are just as satisfying. Here are my picks of 2017:

  • We got through an entire year with a tub of Play Doh remaining unopened and so unmixed. Even better, it’s the white one.
  • We can get through two hair washes weekly without any tears (most of the time).
  • Both children can now get around on four wheels, one with a little bit of help from me but the end of the pushchair’s in sight.
  • D is still a napper and there’s no sign of that wonderous hour or so being dropped.
  • And he still loves his cot.
  • My colour coordinated shelves are still in order.
  • I’ve learnt how to cut curly hair courtesy of D.
  • And I’ve stopped saving the curls, finally.
  • I’ve managed to convince everyone that a trip to Ikea is actually something to relish.
  • And we built our first snowman together. Complete with crab apple eyes.

Here’s to an even better, and more fruitful, 2018.

Helping someone through baby loss – what to say and do

It’s #BabyLossAwarenessWeek which culminates in a wave of light on 15th October to mark all the lives lost far too early.

I’ve been working with the incredible Caz Taylor from present concierge service Taylor’d Bundles for a few months and baby loss is a subject particularly close to her heart. In fact, it was a present she received as she was going through her darkest days that was the inspiration for her to start her own business.

She’s just published a piece on Huff Post with some ideas on what helps and doesn’t help when you’re going through such a terrible time. I’ve certainly learnt a lot from this piece and hopefully it will help others too.

She’s also giving away a lovely ‘I’ve got your back’ angel wings top through her Instagram, which is a beautifully curated account.

Sending love to all those who need it most.

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Five inventions the world is definitely missing

InventionsIt’s 8.14pm. I’m lying on the bed gently overheating in my new furry slippers, laptop optimistically open and my work emails up but I’m actually starting to daydream because I’m tired. A day in London does that now – packing in five meetings, a snatched lunch and a rush to and from the station. But I enjoy it, punctuating my month with a slice of the capital.

Now late September, school is officially underway and half term discos, books at bedtime and Trick or Treating are already hovering on the horizon. I’m not quite sure where the last few weeks have gone but they’ve hopped, skipped and jumped past me, leaving behind only vague memories of Facebooked school uniform photos and the name tag ironing frenzy.

My work emails are still open (it’s 8.22pm now) and instead of following up with my meeting notes I’m thinking about inventions that would help improve my life. Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • Non-colour-mixing playdoh – no more inevitable green, sludgy mess – playdoh yellow is always bright and fresh and the special edition pink sparkle version stays forever pink and sparkly
  • A wearable hair dryer – so I can wander around upstairs hands-free in the morning supervising the children as they hide and refuse to get dressed
  • The school uniform folder-upper and hanger-upper (because Scrip clearly doesn’t understand the concept) which doubles as a clean clothes sorter and distributor (there’s a theme here)
  • Never-ending cereal – to avoid the endless squabbles over the last three Shreddies
  • The shoe auto-organiser (why is there always one child’s shoe missing?)

It’s 8.32pm and I think my curfew might be 9pm tonight. I’ll be dreaming of hairdryers, cereal and playdoh.

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Wednesday wisdom: why writing with a pen is better for learning

I thought this was interesting – apparently writing is better for your brain than typing. I suppose I thought that might be the case, and I know how important it is for Scrip to master her loopy whoosh-in, whoosh-outs, but now it’s been proven. I write blogs, emails (obviously) and documents straight onto my computer, but if I need to plan something out I always reach for a big blank sheet and a biro. Here’s why it’s better:

  • Research has shown a positive correlation between better handwriting skills and increased performance in reading and writing. In a report, having good fine motor skills like those you use writing often helped a child outperform their classmates in both English and Maths.
  • More parts of the brain are stimulated when we put pen to paper than using a keyboard. It is a mindful activity that helps focus attention and hones the fine motor skills. MRI scans of 5 year-olds have shown a reading circuit being created in a child’s mind during letter perception only after handwriting.
  • Then there were university students who took part in a study to see if there was a difference between those taking notes longhand and those using keyboard related devices. The findings demonstrated that note taking with a pen has a clear effect on a student’s learning. Note takers edit the information when they write it down where as those who took notes on a laptop typed verbatim. When it came to recalling information from the lecture and answering conceptual questions, the writers had a better recall and understanding.

So next time the windows steam-up in yet another traffic jam on route to Cornwall, write words on the windows and get the kids to trace letters with their fingers. Passing time and growing the brain, traffic can sometimes be good for your health…

The pen is not just mightier than the sword, but mightier than the keyboard. And here’s an infographic from National Pen with more (just a shame it’s not hand-written).

handwriting_infographic

I wasn’t sent anything in return for this – it just caught my eye.

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Building from the bottom up: extending

Building an extensionI feel like life here has been like the weather – sunny and bright one minute, dark, grey and raining hard the next. We’ve had good news and terrible news in quick succession and although we’ve still got a lot to be grateful for, it’s been a difficult time.

It’s good to have something mundane to look forward to, and in our case that’s our building work finishing. Even if it has taken a while.

I’ve actually had lovely builders which is particularly important when you work from home and have small children running around half-naked, tripping over breeze blocks. In fact, D thinks (hopes) that our two main builders, Lionel and Nick, are moving into our house with us. Namely into the new office space. Well, we are planning to put a daybed in there so it’s not totally out of the question.

We’ve had delays and some unexpected costs, discontinued blocks, screed breaching (it’s a new thing), and a lot of dust everywhere that settles just as quickly as we can hoover, but I’m not losing sight of the fact that at the end of it we’ll have more space, an area for children’s toys (hooray!), a guest room and a dedicated office. My kitchen table working will be no more.

We’re very lucky to be able to do this and we’re thankful for that. Sometimes you need something solid to focus on and this is it. Cheers to bricks and mortar.

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