Earlier this month my eldest son turned 10. The obvious thing this signified was a decade of parenting done which made me feel both invincible, and wistful at the passing of time, all at once! It also represented a decade as a marketing manager working part-time / flexibly / reduced hours whatever label you want to put on it that basically says ‘whilst I work every week day, I am not physically in the office 9am to 5.30pm’.
It’s taken time, finding supportive managers and an evolving routine to make it work. Much of that time has gone by in a blur, with so much crammed in, less Sheryl Sandberg’s leaning in and more hanging on by a thin thread! At the end of each day, there’s also a feeling of leaving things undone.
Having kids is life-changing, challenging, and sleep-depriving! More open recognition of this during maternity leave, and the return to work lead up, might keep more women who love their jobs in the workplace, picking up at the level they were when they left and not sacrificing their hard-earned skillsets because they can’t, or don’t want to, commit to full-time hours anymore. Instead, no-one really talks about it.
I returned to work after a year’s leave with each child, at the root of the reason why was a love for what I do. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. A CV expert around those early years told me that, as a woman, I should never mention my age, my kids, or flexible working if I wanted to actually get a job. I’m not embarrassed by any of these things so to hide them to get hired? That was a resounding ‘no’ from me. I’m proud of the daily juggling and commitment to work being a working mum represents. There is no crime in wanting to work flexibly around raising the next generation, so surely it should be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and not the other way round?
Quite the reverse of it being something detrimental to hide or gloss over, there are so many additional skills and life lessons you bring to the world of work. Top five for me are:
1. Sharpened instincts – there is no training you can do for becoming a parent, you are thrown in at the deep end from day one, you figure it out as you go along. Rarely at work are you thrown into something you have absolutely no prior knowledge of and given the task of steering the ship!
2. Zero tolerance for time wasters or critics (see Brene Brown’s “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked…”etc). And, that it’s amazing how much more you do and how focussed you are when you have a hard time stop, ‘the more you do, the more you do’.
3. Understanding you need to build partnerships not hierarchies to keep everything moving forward, at work and at home!
4. Deeper appreciation for your own mental and physical wellbeing, and that only you know where your balance is – one person performing on fire is another person’s burnout.
5. Increased likelihood of doing a job you love for the time you sacrifice being away from your kids.
Be your own game changer
Embrace these golden words! After 10 years, I don’t feel guilty anymore when I have to get up and go to collect my kids, I just do it or state clearly at the beginning of a meeting if my time is going to be limited. I’m open about exactly when I’m fitting in sports days, or Xmas plays or any other vital school activity, and I always over-compensate in making the time up.
It’s true I’ve missed most school trips, never done any voluntary reading, have a debt of playdates and favours I may never be able to repay. I’ve also missed after-work socialising and networking events, not volunteered for work trips where I would miss pick up, and declined some important meetings where I could have been developing my career further.
But what I’ve gained in this decade? So much more than I could write in a blog! Just one look at my boys’ lovely faces and I know that I am the luckiest.
Song credit: Ben Folds