Are working mums being sold the impossible dream?

Mum working on bench

Are working mums being sold the impossible dream? The Times published an article last weekend asking this very question on flexibility.

It’s one I’ve often pondered at the moment I wake up and realise that there’s no milk for breakfast, and the bread is mouldy. Epic fails, or everyday life of a working mum?

Firstly, I think the media’s approach to working mums can set unrealistic expectations, let’s face it – the majority of us aren’t the Sheryl Sandbergs of this world. We have normal, busy jobs. We don’t have a team of housekeepers and nannies, the idealised perfect homes or endless finances – in reality, we run the household, we shop and cook and clean and drop the kids off at clubs, and our cars are full of discarded cheerios (or is that just mine?).

The Times article also talks about flexible working, but identifies this phenomenon as toiling all hours, juggling conference calls and bathtime, and working until 1am to complete tasks for the day. To me, that’s not flexibility – that’s shoe-horning a full-time job around your family, meaning that you don’t fulfil either of your roles properly (we’ve all done that). Your family feels they have to fit in with the demands of your work, and you’re not able to give full focus to your job. No wonder some of us are facing total burnout.

Flexibility is a personal thing

For me, flexibility is the exact opposite of what the Times article describes. I see flexibility as being able to choose my working pattern to fit with the needs of my family (I choose to work three days a week). On a Monday, I work until 3pm and take the children swimming after school. Wednesdays I make up my remaining 8 hours from Monday, and then work all day on Thursday and Friday (usually at home). I’m lucky enough to be supported by a fantastic childminder who my children love spending time with, and she does the school run on my other two working days – I see us all as part of a team, which is also vital to achieving a real balance with my working hours.

And yes, sometimes this level of flexibility means spending an evening at my desk, but that’s my choice. What is also means is that I can still be a part of sports day, school plays, PTAs and still work in a fulfilling, challenging and developing role, in an organisation which which values my experience and help me shape my future career. I suppose flexibility actually means something different to everybody, whatever their situation. Pondering upon this some more, I spoke with some of the EC team this morning to ask what flexibility means to them. Here’s what they said:

“Working 4 days a week which can be spread out over 5 days works for me. This is great during school terms as I’m able to take the children to extra activities/sports. I also have a live-in au pair, which works really well for our family.” Debra

“Having a mix of working from home and out and about with clients means I can get the balance right. Having a nanny to cover school pick-ups and dinner times covers that tricky period of the day, and it means I can get back for the bedtime routine and spend time with the kids. I enjoy the work life balance, and if I find there is too much work it means we have to grow the team to help cover additional tasks that need doing. It has to be sustainable.” Heather

I know that sadly, at the moment our flexible working ethos at Economic Change isn’t the norm, but am sure that by embracing flexible working practices as a team, having empowerment and flexibility intrinsically embedded in our culture, and shining a spotlight on the possibilities for working women, that we can be the start of something much wider.

We have limited places left on our September cohort, starting next Tuesday. Find out more and sign up to our Supermums Programme here>>

 

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