Number 1 on the list of things I never realised would be so hard about being an adult…managing to find a job that works around family life, my 3 kids, whilst also;
- paying enough to cover the sometimes extortionate cost of childcare
- coming with enough holidays that you can just about cover the 13 weeks (!!) the kids have off school each year between you, your partner, friends, family and holiday clubs
- being with an employer who understands the need for (and benefits of) flexible working
- being fulfilling in some way, however small
- not being too stressful, in order that any benefit you gain by working is immediately negated by the impact on your health and family life
That’s the dream, right?
I’m on an unplanned extended maternity leave at the moment, but don’t actually have a job to return to. I resigned from my most recent job almost 2 years ago to move to Chicago, as my partner was seconded there by his employer. We returned to the UK a year later, unexpectedly pregnant with baby number 3, so I didn’t feel able to look for another job and have been a stay at home Mum ever since.
Now the baby is a year old, and I would normally have been back at work following maternity leave, I regularly tie myself up in knots thinking about what I’m going to do about work and the kids. Am I destined to be a stay at home mum for the next 5+ years until the baby is in school? Will having such a long break from work on my CV mean that I’ll no longer be employable? Surely there’s got to be a way to incorporate some work into my day?
I occasionally start browsing job pages at the universities in the city, having worked at both of them previously, and see roles which I’d enjoy and I’m sure I could make a success of. Then I remember that I have three children, a partner is very rarely around for any drop offs or pick ups, and regularly works away (essentially, I need to see myself as a single parent in terms of managing any job I may do alongside the kids), and that the school day is only 8.50am to 3.10pm. So basically I can only work 9.15am to 2.45pm unless the older two are in breakfast and after school clubs, and the baby in nursery. And how would I cover the school holidays if we were both working?!
I remember the pre-kids me used to say, ‘I’d love to not work’, imagining it to be all lunch dates with my friends and faffing around all day. But it’s not like that AT ALL. I do have the occasional lunch date and faff every now and then, but always have at least one small boy with me. Plus, we are still dealing with daytime naps, and doing school and nursery runs for the older two, so my days are restricted, and I spend a lot of time in the house knee deep in laundry. The glamour!
All of my friends work, at least 3 days per week. On the whole their children are older so in school, and their partners work locally, meaning they can share drop offs and pick ups between them. They all have lift shares going on to enable them to squeeze as many hours as possible into their working days, and rely on friends, family and after school/holiday clubs too. When I returned to work after my first two maternity leaves I reduced my working hours and stretched my office time on a couple of days, to enable me to work 4 days a week, plus my partner was based in the same city so did his share of pick ups. We used after school club and lift shared with friends and just about scraped through the school holidays by buying additional annual leave from our employers and calling in grandparents to plug the gaps! It felt manageable with two children, one at school and one at nursery; tiring but manageable. Baby number 3, gorgeous as he is, is definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
When we were both working and one of the boys was sick or there was something going on at school, it was always me who flexed my hours rather than my partner. I was lucky in that my employer was very family friendly, and my boss was a woman who had two grown up sons herself, so totally understood the challenges I faced. I contrast that to my partner’s corporate employer where, it seems, few allowances are made for employees who have families, and few women are in senior positions, let alone women with children. But that’s a whole other debate for another day! Suffice to say, I know that I’m lucky to have worked for employers who recognised the benefits of flexible working.
I know my challenges are common to parents up and down the country who are tackling them every day. I know how stressful it is to try and juggle all the balls with kids and work. It’s just the not having a job to return to thing which means I’m starting from scratch. No negotiating my hours, as is the right of all mums returning from maternity leave (whether their requests are granted or not), as there’s no employer to negotiate with. And yes, I know that I voluntarily resigned from my previous job to support my partner’s career, and that a Californian road trip resulted in baby number 3, so some may say I’ve only got myself to blame for my predicament. But there can’t only be me in this situation. There’s got to be lots of other parents who have not been working whilst raising their children who now wish to re-enter the workforce but have barriers in their way.
So, what’s the solution?
More affordable childcare? – A quick survey of friends revealed that most day nurseries used by my friendship group in Sheffield cost between £40 and £55 per day. I know the figure is much higher in London and some other parts of the country however. Breakfast and after school clubs are about £10 to £20 per day. So, in order for me to work a full day during term time, my childcare would cost at least £60. Holiday clubs are a whole other ball game however. Depending on the activities, a day’s holiday club typically costs between £30 and £40, with early starts and late finishes (which most working parents need) attracting an extra charge. So childcare for 3 children in the school holidays could easily end up costing £120 per day. As a rough guide, a gross salary of just over £30,000 equates to a take home pay of £120 per day. So you’d need to be earning at least that simply to cover the cost of childcare for 3 children in the school holidays. Sobering thought!
In the UK we lag far behind other European countries in our attitude to free or subsidised childcare. This article compares the UK with Sweden, where childcare is heavily subsidised by the state, and capped at £113 per month per child (imagine that!), and this article compares the UK to various other countries, where we score pretty badly too. One of the key Labour party election pledges in the 2017 General Election was that all 2-4 year olds would receive 30 hours of free childcare per week. We all know what happened in the election (oh, so close!), but just consider how such a policy would transform the capabilities of parents, such as me, to be able to work again, to contribute to society, and to be even more positive role models for our kids.
More flexible working patterns? – Why is the 9-5 working pattern, sat in an office, still the accepted working day for so many employers? What about the hour here and there that I have in the day whilst the baby naps, then from 7pm onwards when the kids are asleep, and one morning a week when grandparents can provide childcare, for example? Can’t I be productive during those hours too? I follow an inspirational Mum on Instagram, Mother Pukka, who is campaigning to raise awareness of the need for flexible working and the benefits it offers to employers, such as;
- saving rent on premises by not having everyone in the office at any one time
- attracting talent who want to work for a company that promotes flexible working
- retaining talent because negotiating hours to suit a change in circumstances (such as *shock* having a baby) is viewed positively
- increasing productivity as employees feel more valued
There are benefits to the wider economy too in terms of increased tax revenues being generated by more people working, and the skills, experience and knowledge that disappear when parents leave the workforce being brought back into play. I know that for lots of roles the employee needs to physically be in the office/shop/school/hospital/call centre at certain key times, but for lots of other roles, why can’t that work be carried out from your kitchen table, and at hours that don’t fit into the 9-5 mould? It takes a leap of faith from the employer to trust that the work will be carried out, granted, but it would become obvious fairly quickly if work wasn’t being done, and this could be dealt with accordingly. Employers with a rigid way of working are failing to capitalise on all the talent that parents and others, who don’t fit into their outdated working models could bring to the table. And everyone loses.
I know it’s a complex issue to solve and I genuinely don’t know what the best solution is, but its a crying shame that those who want to work and have lots to offer, are all too often forced out of the labour market when their children are young unless they can afford to pay for childcare, or have grandparents who can do the job for free! According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, nearly half a million mothers have left their jobs because the costs of childcare were too great. All that untapped potential going to waste. So I’m throwing my support behind campaigns such as Mother Pukka’s Flex Appeal to try and bring about a change in attitudes towards flexible working in this country, particularly for parents. Hopefully there’s a better way to do this work thing, which will benefit all of us. Things have got to change, because work ‘aint working for people like me.
What do you think – do you agree with me, or am I missing the point completely? Comment below with your experiences of working when you’ve got kids. How have you managed to incorporate both into your life? Or haven’t you? Let’s keep the conversation going!