Words: Sally Henley
I decided to write this blog a while ago, but as all working parents will know, it’s been about finding the time! And juggling the multitude of things that need to be constantly done to keep on top of things. Gina Hood’s recent Campaign article on the Invisible Workload has rung true to me on many levels. The need to be organised, both for myself and my family is now more necessary than ever. And I’m doing it on a bit less sleep than I’d like. Some days it’s an achievement just getting out of the house on time, with my child fully dressed (mostly), clean clothes (both), and my bag.
I thought I was organised before motherhood, but now it’s at another level. Not only am I organising what I need, but I’m also thinking constantly about what I need to do for my son. The problem is my memory isn’t as good as it was before, and I hate that. So, now it’s all about lists, even if there is one item on there…just in case.
So why am I writing this? I often hear from women in senior positions talking about being a parent, but rarely from those at middle management level, especially older mums. I took a decision to have a child in my early 40s. I’m not alone, in fact, last year the Office for National Statistics revealed that women in their 40s are now the only age group with a rising pregnancy rate, with numbers more than doubling since the 1990s.
For me it was the right time. Though this doesn’t mean I didn’t ask myself questions about it. The fear of the unknown was huge. I’ve always loved working, but what would I have to change? Would I be able to do my job as well as I did before? What about my career, and how will I manage work and childcare? These and so many other things rotated through my mind (and still do).
When I returned to work, what I often felt was guilt. Guilt as I left my child at nursery for the first time; guilt when I realised the time and ran out the door to pick him up; guilt when I phoned in to say I had been to A&E with my son all night and was too exhausted to come in (he was fortunately ok); guilt as to whether I was being selfish. I put myself under a lot of pressure to be the same person and deliver what I had done before, and on only four days a week.
I should add that all this pressure was entirely put on by myself! I’m fortunate to work for a company who has never questioned the challenges of being a working parent. I’m able to manage flexible working that works for me, and that’s so important. I definitely think I’m more efficient on four days a week; I’m more determined and I have to be extra organised so that my projects can proceed whilst I’m not in the office. I’ve also had to take communication to a whole new level. My son has taught me so much already. Anyone who’s had to negotiate with a toddler knows that’s a real skill!
One of my biggest challenges early on was how I thought about myself as a working mother. I admire stay at home mums, but I both want and feel a need to work. It’s part of who I am. I love my job, and fortunately my son loves nursery just as much. So, when we do spend time together, it’s about making that time count.
I’ve also attended many NABs Working Parents courses which have been really helpful. A recent course on “Lack of Time Management for Busy Parents” taught me it’s not the amount of time you spend, it’s the quality of that time. Hearing from and sharing with other people in the same position has been really important, and just knowing that I’m not the only one makes such a difference.
So my advice to employers, is to take care of those returning to work after parental leave. The impact on confidence should never be underestimated. Pressures and priorities are different. Having children is a life changing event and circumstances are constantly shifting. Navigating this change is the challenge, and employers are definitely in positions to help ease this. Be open with your processes and help create an environment that fosters flexible working. Ultimately it makes it easier for women to stay in the workplace, which is a benefit for all.