Today I was chatting to a friend who is a mum of two small children and works a three day week. She job-shares, but the person with whom she shares is leaving her role. My friend’s company are not hiring anyone to replace this position, and she has been told to take on all the current work of her soon-to-be-ex-colleague.
My friend has been asked by her boss if she would move to a five day week but has said she can’t. So she will take on a six-day a week job, and try to do it in three days. She will do her best to get the work done and try to show she can manage in three days, rather than explaining that it’s patently ridiculous to take on a double-workload with no additional resources. She will do so because she doesn’t want to rock the boat, and risk have her three day week taken away from her.
She’s not alone; anecdotally, many women working part-time hours in order to look after their children feel lucky to have those working conditions and strive to “make it work” to maintain those working conditions. In many cases this works just fine, but for my friend and many others like her, this will cause huge stress due to her impossible workload.
We feel that our employers are doing us a favour by facilitating reduced hours (they are! says my inner voice, making sure not to tempt fate by taking my own four-day week for granted) and that we should be grateful (I am, I promise).
But we’re not taking one or two days off a week to go to a spa or lie by a pool or stay in bed all day – it’s usually spent rushing to do school runs, setting out and clearing away endless partly eaten meals, and cleaning weetabix off highchairs or porridge off walls. Glamorous like.
My boss (who is lovely!) doesn’t have children, so when she has a week off work, it’s usually to go skiing or to drive to a vineyard in France. When I return from a week off, she always asks “how was your holiday?” in a manner that suggests she assumes I do something similar – she is probably wondering why I come back looking half-exhausted, half-relieved.
Time off is time on when you’re a working parent, and that’s fine, we’re not complaining, just trying to find that elusive balance, to reduce the ever-present guilt and to do our best for our children, which means spending time with them. And having a laugh along the way – nature was smart when she made those little beings funny.
That’s possibly what keeps us from begging our bosses for a five day week after all.