‘The mummy hat and the woman in business hat. Two hats, one head. Sometimes I opt for one over the other, not always making the right choice, and sometimes I try to wear both and one falls off, usually whilst I’m trying to speak to work on the phone whilst also helping and negotiating with a 2 year old on the potty and a 5 year old who again can’t accept that she cannot go to school as Elsa! Juggle, juggle, juggle. The working mums lot. It’s probably what makes us so good at business; multi-tasking is a key skill whichever hat you have on! By 9.15am I already feel like I have achieved so much.
The way of a working parent can feel like a tightrope walk. As we achieve a sense of equilibrium, another factor is added to our ever-changing list of items to juggle. The idea is peddled that the challenge is to achieve this without “failing” our families or our employers or ourselves. In such a way we can have it all! This must be a myth, not only because this fear of failure induces guilt (which drains our ability to be the best we can be). Who wants it ‘all’ anyway –that’s just asking for a constant feeling of under-achievement.
I knew the day I went on maternity leave I would not be going back to the long hours, relentless targets and feeling like I should be networking 4 nights a week within my recruitment career. Like many women I had my ‘idea’ of what to expect when I became a mum and then the reality hit me in the face with a soiled nappy. Despite feeling a love like no other for my daughter, I struggled with the lack of sleep, loneliness of not having any of my close friends in the same situation, the change in my marriage and I missed ‘me’. Finally after my second daughter was born two years later I allowed myself to admit I actually missed work and my financial independence, then immediately felt guilty for doing so. Guilt – probably the most common, annoying and pointless emotion amongst working parents!
I looked into part time and work from home options but was faced with either a big step back in the level of role and therefore salary or lots of suspect ‘sales’ roles and pyramid selling type business promising to make me a millionaire in 3 weeks. It was soul destroying and incredibly frustrating. I had time available to work and a passion and desire to do so and do a dam good job – just not in the traditional office culture that we have here. Had I worked so hard all these years to just walk away and do a role that I had been doing 12 years ago? No
Having looked into my own situation in more detail it soon became apparent I wasn’t the only woman feeling like this. The female brain drain is scandalous and the resignations that can seem the most disheartening are anticipatory; there seems to be a lot along the lines of “I can’t be a hands-on parent and still make that promotion so I might as well quit now.
You only have to open the paper, watch the news to see how much of an issue this waste of talent is within the U.K. Women often feel they have to make a choice – mum or career or try and juggle both and constantly feel you are failing whichever one you are not focused on at that time. Just because I didn’t want to work full-time does that mean I should have to sacrifice all that I have achieved and worked hard for so far? It took me a while to build my confidence back up after having 3 years out of work combined with most people I met thinking the only thing I wanted to talk about or had any knowledge on was to do with babies! I reached my breaking point and it was from finding myself in this situation that I decided to set up a business with two others, called Availexe, to tackle this issue head on and provide a solution.
So here I am having started a new business which is all about those 3 special words ‘work-life balance’ and right now, at this stage in our business, I myself have none! Ironic really, but I wouldn’t change it as it is my choice to feel I am fulfilling both my family’s needs and my own. I believe there is so much more opportunity for people to work flexibly, be more productive and there for their family at the same time. Of course sacrifices have to be made along the way – I’ve kicked my EastEnders habit and as a rule don’t sit in front of the TV all week as I make my hours up in the evening on work. In return flexible working enables me to experience the daily joy of the school run, the lost books, breakfast thrown all over our school uniform. I get to pick my daughters up from school and nursery most days and have those precious, and sometimes dam right painful, few hours with them before bedtime where my negotiation tactics come into a level of their own.
There are always days when you can no longer juggle everything and simply want to chuck every ball up in the air and hope they don’t come back, but who doesn’t have those? It is unlikely ever to be “perfect”, (managing 80% is achievable) but it is interesting. Families, supportive networks, good friendships and good employers all help to achieve more within the framework.