the work conversation

Mothers: what is the solution? With working outside the home I mean, and the attempts to balance. I have never met a mother with whom I haven’t had this conversation – the one about work.

All of the below conversations took place over a two week period, just a typical fortnight of interactions:

“So you work outside the home? How many days? Oh full-time?”

“Yes full-time, it’s hard; full-time when the kids are small is very hard.”

“A four day week with parental leave? That’s brilliant. My company will only give parental leave in blocks. I’d love to take one day a week but they won’t let me. I’m going to try to use annual leave.”

“I just feel bad having the kids in créche for five very long days.”

“One extra day at home would really take the pressure off.”

“I’d have a day with the kids and get some housework done.”

“I have a three day week.”
“Wow that’s amazing, I’d love a three day week.”
“Yes it’s really the holy-grail for so many working mums. I know I’m lucky. Though I feel like I do five days work in three days so it’s hard. But worth it”
“No hope of getting it in my place. Nobody works part-time. It’s seen as losing interest in your career if you ask for it.”

“I work from home two days week.”
“I’d love that.”
“Yes it’s fantastic – no commuting, so I start work at 7.30am and get loads done, then finish at 5 and see the kids straight away. I can have lunch with them too.”

“We’re not allowed to work from home – my boss just doesn’t believe in it. There are mostly men in my office and nobody has ever asked for this. They gave me a lap top but it’s so I can get extra work done at night, not to work from home.”

“I work two days a week – to be honest it barely covers the cost of childcare – but I don’t want to completely drop out of the workforce. I know how hard it would be to get back in when the kids are all older”

“I am at home with my children right now. I love that I am at home while they’re young but it’s not easy. I’d love to work even a few mornings a week, maybe when they start school. But it’s so hard to find part-time work.”
“I would love to work five mornings. I could get loads of work done, then collect the kids from school and have the afternoon with them. The perfect balance.
In a million years my company won’t allow it though.
Even though they’ll get huge value from it – they’ll only have to pay me 50% of my salary and I’ll get  loads done because I’ll want to prove to them that it’s working. But they said no part-time allowed.”

“I just feel guilty. I feel guilty that I’m not there for the kids. I feel stressed trying to balance everything. I wish I could reduce my hours. Financially I have to work. And I like my job. I would like to continue working to some extent. But not this. Not five long days a week. Worrying about my kids and feeling I’m not giving 100% to anyone. But my boss said no.”

“My boss says no”

“I feel guilty”

“All the time”

“I worry about my kids”

“My boss says no”

“I feel guilty”

All of these conversations within two weeks – just a normal, average two weeks, nothing special. Chats at the school gate; on a night out with neighbours; at a brunch with my husbands’ friends and their wives; with two mothers at my daughter’s gymnastics class; with my own friends every time we meet for coffee.

Every one of my friends, many of my work colleagues and all of my new school-run-mum network have children.

Most of them work outside the home, some in jobs that they love, some with heavy hearts and heavy mortgages.

And every single one of them is either already working reduced hours, or is striving relentlessly to achieve reduced hours against huge obstacles from their employers.

I would guess that the vast majority of mothers in paid employment would like to work something other than five full days a week in the office. Some flexi-time, some working-from-home, a shorter day or two, or a shorter week.
That’s not based on any report or study – it’s just based on conversations in real life and online. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to meet a mother with small children who is truly happy to work full time outside the home.

Every encounter, every conversation ends up on this topic. Because it’s to the forefront of our minds.

How can we find a way to spend more time with our children – how can we convince our employers to give us some flexibility?

If we could just be given the opportunity to try it, to show how much can be achieved in a shorter space of time – we will make it work.

A mother who is trying to maintain flexible working conditions is a very productive employee – she will not jeopardise her arrangement by slowing down. She will give everything she has and then some.

We are looking for this because we want to give the best we can to our children – to spend a little more than just a short weekend or a busy, cranky evening time with them.

To help them to feel secure and confident, to be there to watch them grow.

We’re not looking for time-off to get our nails done or go for a boozy lunch.

And we’re not looking for paid time off.

We’re possibly not even going to enjoy it – a Friday spent clearing away endless meals and spills, breaking up sibling squabbles and wiping away tears isn’t quite a “holiday”.

We’re just trying to do the right thing for our families.

And still we have to beg, manipulate, bargain or leave.

There’s something very, very wrong with this.

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11 thoughts on “the work conversation”

  1. I’ve just started 2 weeks unpaid leave to get me over Christmas before going back to work fulltime for the 3rd and probably last time. I’d love to know why / if this question is unique to Mums, do Dads have it constantly in the back of their mind. My ideal..four day week for all who wanted it for what it’s worth.Loving the blog btw!!!

    1. I think if asked, many dads would want a shorter working week and more time with their kids – I’d guess most would, if they could manage financially and not be viewed as lacking ambition at work (which is sadly so often the case). But I think the big difference is that dads don’t spend time feeling guilty – they don’t have this conversation with their fellow dad friends every time they meet them. I’d guess they never have this conversation. They just don’t agonise over not being with their kids the way we do. Thanks Anna and I agree, a four day week is wonderful. Fulltime is very hard.

  2. I agree that these feelings are a constant with all mothers. Guilt should you work and guilt for leaving work early. I have to be the devils advocate though and put forward the fact that although a three day week is ideal for a working mum, I can understand why it isn’t embraced with open arms by many work places. No matter how much more we work to prove we can keep all balls in the air, not being available all through the working week can be a pain in the arse for some employers and fellow colleagues.

    1. I think that there are definitely lots of jobs which would not work well if employees were only there three days a week – particularly many operational roles. But some of those would suit job shares or flexible start times and end times. Many jobs are perfectly suited to shorter working weeks – jobs in which it’s the quality and output that matters more than the time that is spent in the office – some employers can see this and some can’t. I think when an employer refuses someoene the option to work from home one day a week but gives her a lap top so that she can log in at night to get extra work done, it’s a sad reflection on flexibility and attitude. But that’s the extreme end of the scale – there are many employers who do try to faciliate a better work life balance for parents.

      1. It’s funny, coincidentally HR sent an email today offering an incentivised year or months leave and 9and 8 day fortnights. Companies, I think really are trying to accommodate more flexible working hours. Ideally I think everyone should be able to opt for flexible hours not just parents. It would be great if people were allowed enjoy their lives, proving they can be as productive whilst not being tied to a desk. However I recognise that my need for a very fixed leaving time opposed to someone who can work all hours, should the occassion arise, does not make me the most sought after candidate. I don’t really blame the employer either. Until it is the norm for everyone to work shorter/more flexible hours this attitude probably won’t change.
        I could count on one hand the amount of people in my work who work part time however, hopefully this is all about to change.

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