Thursday, 30 March 2017

What's my job ? Oh, I'm a mum.

On Monday evening I went to an event hosted by Mumsnet in conjunction with Boots No.7 about returning to work with confidence. The panel discussion was interesting as we heard from women from a range of careers including a high level fund manager, a model and a fashion writer. Each of them had taken a break to have a baby with varying levels of financial support and each had to negotiate a return to work taking into account their childcare needs.

It may sound naive, but I hadn't appreciated that so many of us have the same issues with employment. I worked for over 20 years before I fell pregnant with Brown Bear and the prospect of maternity leave was both enticing (a break from work - how little I knew !) and terrifying. What would I return to ? Would I even have a job to go back to ? As it happens I took the full year of leave and when I did return to work I made the decision to take voluntary redundancy and stay at home with my son for longer. I don't for a minute regret that decsion and I am so lucky that I was able to do this, so many mums aren't able to stay at home if they want to. I knew going back into work would be difficult, but I had no idea how much or why.

I've written before about the Motherhood penalty and the Fatherhood bonus. It's a phenomenon that's been studied by academics specialising in gender studies where women who have children find their careers suffer whereas men who do the same are actually rewarded with promotion, pay rises and even flexibility in work patterns. This is not the case for everyone by any means, but I am feeling how real this is right now. Before I had children I earned a very decent salary, had status and responsibility. I was able to pay my own way and to enjoy holidays and to buy things as I wanted. I now earn nothing at all, my status is defined by my children and I don't have the independence to spend money as I could before. I'm not suffering by any means. This isn't a 'poor me' diatribe. It's more frustration at the difficulty I now face in securing employment now I am a parent.

Once Brown Bear started at school I was working in a job I really enjoyed with responsibility and a decent salary. It was a maternity cover, but I hoped it would be a springboard to a career change for me. Instead we found out that we had been matched with Blue Bear and I found myself once again taking leave from work to raise a child. I didn't qualify for adoption leave or adoption pay - I missed out by a few weeks, but there you go. It was the right thing to do and again I'm so glad I did stay with him as it's made such a difference to how well he's settled into the family. My commitment to my children and my family overall is what has kept me going through a period where I have slowly depleted my resources, grown older and become more detached from the working world.

Listening to the panellists on Monday evening I was inspired to try again to get back into work and not to apologise for being a Mum. In the past I've found myself taking on far more hours than I can comfortably manage and neglecting my family as a result. I no longer want to put my sons into breakfast club and creche just so I can work. With so many women in the workplace surely employers can meet us in the middle and make the most of our skills and experience ?

Another topic that was covered by the panel was the concept of asking Hubbie (or whoever is your significant other) for help instead of it being a shared responsibilty from day one. When I went to work we discussed how to make it work. After a few months of being miserable, tired, overworked and feeling like a failure I talked to Hubbie and he suggested a different way of working where he and I shared the childcare. It made such a big difference. We were fortunate that his employer was willing to accommodate our needs, but I am now not so timid to ask for his assistance when I need it. I used to treat his job as having hallowed status and put my own needs last.

Following the panel discussion I had a mini makeover with lovely Rachael from No.7. I talked to her about my love of Boots No.7 and in over 20 years my skin has changed but my skincare routine hasn't. We're told appearance isn't the be all and end all, but it's all part of the armour of going out of the house and being someone other than mum for a while. I left the event with lovely make up on and a confidence that I will be able to go back into the workplace on my terms.

Being a mum is a huge part of who I am now, but it's not all I am or all I can do.

Take it away Dolly.

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