My previous working life was in a large corporate where flexibility was talked about but rarely appreciated. As someone who had seen both sides – before and after having kids – I totally get how employees without children might feel about the allowances supposedly offered to those who have chosen to reproduce. How is it fair that working parents get to leave earlier (notwithstanding they’re probably putting the kids to bed then getting back on the laptop), or get to work part-time or any other ‘benefit’? In truth, without these benefits it would be impossible for any mother (or father) to work in a professional capacity. But true flexibility is so so hard to achieve in such an environment and can’t possibly go any way to easing the guilt experienced by so many mums.
On that note, where does that guilt come from? Well to a certain extent from other people. When I was planning to go back to work after my first child a member one of the in-laws said that she couldn’t possibly consider going back to work with a young child and her husband backed her up citing the usual argument that it was detrimental to a young child to not have the primary care giver on hand 24/7. Had I been in a stronger place mentally I could have dealt with such helpful comments soooo much better but, already racked with guilt at leaving my baby (and really not wanting to), I just wound up beating myself up about it that little bit more. My return to work was ultimately not a resounding success and a still feel guilty at having left my son in childcare at that age, despite him having reached the ripe old age of nine and having no recollection of it whatsoever.
But not all experiences as a working mum are bad and it was a god send when I got a call from Ellen in 2010…
Ellen and Rebecca, two colleagues and close friends set up Dow Schofield Watts Business Planning in 2010 to break free from the restrictions that can be imposed by larger firms. Both hard working mums now with five kids between them, Rebecca and Ellen believed that running their own business would offer the flexibility they craved, and that they could also offer this to other working mums.
Ultimately, as most people will appreciate, running your own business is very (very) hard work. When something doesn’t go quite to plan the impact can be devastating, but when things work the rewards are truly worth it. Ultimately a major factor of working for yourself is the increased level of control. Two thirds of the workforce at JL are mums with young children who want to work in a challenging environment but still be there for the school run. As mums both the partners appreciate the importance of that cliched work life balance and fully support this outlook. Such an attitude can have an amazingly beneficial impact on the mental wellbeing of the staff who battle against the self-imposed guilt of being a working mum.
Don’t get me wrong, it can still be a challenge. I work 20 hours a week and I come into our lovely offices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday (though still do school pick up on all but Tuesdays when my mum does her bit). Having said that you know that when a client wants a meeting, they’re going to want it at 3.30pm on a Monday. To be honest you just have to be flexible. The clients pay the bills (and therefore ultimately my wages) and sometimes you can’t have everything.
Similarly in the school holidays. It’s pretty tricky to have six weeks off and you have to find ways around it and I find this all falls to me. I know some of the other mums in the office use sports clubs and the like, and I have always relied on family to help out. They get shipped down to London for a few days to spend time with their cousins and other than that, and holidays we may take together, my mum and the mother-in-law bear the brunt. It can be a whirlwind of wondering where they’re going and when but it always flies by and I’m always disappointed when September comes around and they’re back at school.
So being a working mum can definitely work. It might take finding the right place to work, and appreciating that you have to give as well as take, but it’s worth it in the end. I like to think I’m showing my kids that you can work and be a parent whilst still being there to provide what they need whenever I possibly can.