Stay at Home Mum. Is It Enough?

I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have asked me “When are you going back to work?”

Sometimes I’m amused by this question. Other times I’m irritated and other times, it depresses the hell out of me.

Being a Full Time Mum

My Old Job

Five years ago I was an Online Marketing Manager for a clothing company in London. I had hoped to go back to work after the birth of my eldest, Alice. When the time came for the inevitable back to work discussions. It all went a bit wrong. I was told there was no scope for flexibility. I couldn’t work from home at all and it wasn’t possible to reduce my hours. At all.

I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping my 1 year old baby off to nursery at 7am and not collecting her until 6pm 5 days a week. The commute into and out of London somehow seemed to be so much longer and fraught with potential for more problems and delays than ever before. And so, with some reluctance, I quit.

I was lucky to find some freelance marketing and copywriting work not long after with 1 major client. And this gradually expanded so that I was working with several different clients.

Freelance Work

When It’s Good…. It’s Very Very Good…..

On the good days, when I’ve got work on the go and I can cope with juggling everything in around the children then freelancing is great. I enjoy the flexibility it gives me. I love the fact that I can work the hours that suit me.

…..But When It’s Bad It is Horrid

The are several downsides of freelancing but the biggest is the unpredictability. I’m often quiet with little or no work on. Which makes money unreliable. I frequently lose heart. I wonder what the hell I’m doing. Whether I’ll ever have work again or do anything more meaningful than referee my kids’ arguments and try and placate the toddler’s list of meltdowns. 

Can Being a Mum Ever Be Enough?

At the school gates, I’m well aware that along with 1 other mum, we are completely in the minority. I don’t work in the conventional sense. I don’t keep the usual office hours.  And when all the other mums ask me what I do, I feel the need to justify myself and talk up my freelance business. Why do I find it so hard to answer “I’m primarily a stay at home mum for now and juggling some writing work when I can.”

It’s strange isn’t it, but when did simply “Being a mum” become such a bad thing? Why is there always so much pressure to do something else?

I appreciate I’m lucky. Many other women don’t have a choice and have to go back to work for their family to survive. We can live on my husband’s wage, but during the slow times, I feel increasingly frustrated and weird about not being financially independent. I get frustrated that despite it being 2016, the “flexible” work options still aren’t really that flexible in most jobs. I’m frustrated that unless they choose to be the primary carer, most men don’t seem to have this issue.

Some of my good friends and my family remind me that actually being a full time mum is a big enough job in itself. The nursery down the road from me charges £55 a day. If I could charge that every day for looking after my two, I’d be happy enough! Plus there’s the issue of being on call non stop 24/7 and covering every role from teacher, supervisor, cook, cleaner, entertainer and referee.

Why Do We Want More?

There’s no doubt about it. Being a mum can be frustrating,monotonous and exasperating. I can understand why many mums choose to go back to work; to use their brain, to enjoy some adult conversation, to retain their financial independence or even just to have a lunch hour in peace.

My freelance work and this blog are my way of trying to gain some sense of balance. The blog is my creative outlet and to keep up my love of writing.  The dream is to increase the freelance work to make it more consistent.  But I need to learn to have some patience and not to get upset about it when things slow down.

And I know that next September when my youngest starts school, I will have suddenly more time on my hands to concentrate on driving this. I don’t want to wish this time away. Our children are small only for a little while and I don’t want to regret missing out on them. I need to keep reminding myself about this whenever I next feel exasperated. I need to remind myself that for now, this is enough.

 

Mummascribbles

Cuddle Fairy

The Downside of Freelancing

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I’ve always known about the advantages and disadvantages of freelancing. I love that you can work flexibly and for me the biggest bonus is that I can work around my children. I can work when they’re at school / pre-school and I can work in the evenings when they’re in bed. I enjoy being my own boss and not having to answer to anyone else. I can decide which projects to take on and when I want to work.

Prior to this week the biggest downside I’d experienced with freelancing was in finding regular work. A bit like blogging, it takes determination, self-motivation and a lot of self-promotion.

But this past week, I’ve experienced a few new downsides of freelancing:

 

  • No Payment

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For the first time since freelancing, I’ve had a problem in being paid by a client. I’ve sent a couple of emails chasing payment but with no response. This week I finally got to speak to the client on the phone and was dismayed when they said they’d had to make amends to my work. I mentioned that they’d previously sent an email saying they were pleased with the work and also pointed out that I’d had an original brief which had consisted of two lines. They quickly back-tracked and said they’d chase the money up.

When you’re working for an organisation and something like this happens, you know that someone will back you up. If a client doesn’t pay when you’re working for a company, you know that a manager or finance manager will help you. It can feel quite daunting when this happens and you’re on your own, because you realise that everything is down to you. I didn’t know what to do next. I turned to Twitter and asked the advice of some people I’ve met on there who have previously given me some good advice.

Luckily, as of this week, I haven’t had to spend any more time on it. The client finally paid up, but it has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

 

  • Free Work

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This past month I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing up quotes and proposals for potential clients. And annoyingly not one of those jobs has come off.

I ended up submitting a 6 page proposal for one client and heard nothing back. It might be that the client is still considering my pages of work, perhaps they are still grappling with budget cuts, or they could have stolen all of my ideas and implemented themselves. This is a valuable lesson learnt for the future; that I must not give too much away upfront! Whilst I want the work, I need to tempt clients in rather than giving it all to them on a plate.

Similarly another client asked me for a quote and a proposal. They then decided to think about it for months before asking me write a free page of copy for their website so that they could work out which freelancer’s style they liked the best. I dithered about whether to do this, but went for it, thinking it would be a big job, only to find out 2 months later that although they “really liked my proposal and style”, they preferred to use a freelancer that was located closer to their business in Dorset.

Again, if I was working for a business, I’d be paid for putting in all those hours for proposals and quotations regardless of whether the work does come off or not, but with freelancing, doing work for free is simply part of what it’s all about.

 

  • Uncertainty

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Whilst I was sending off all these proposals and quotes to new clients, I began to panic about childcare. I have enough to cover the basic work that I already have, but if all these new jobs were to come off,  I knew I’d struggle. So I started speaking to friends and family about whether they could help out with my 2 year old and also asked at my daughter’s pre-school if she could do more sessions.

So when none of that new work came off, it all felt a bit ridiculous, not to mention embarrassing and a bit well…. Rubbish! I know that this is the part of freelancing, it’s just it can be very frustrating to run around like a loony trying to organise yourself only to find out that it’s all for nothing! The uncertainty of whether work will happen or not is a definite downside to freelancing.

 

I think I’ve been unlucky to have experienced all of these points in such a short space of time. I know that in order to experience the fabulous benefits that freelancing brings of flexibility and working from home, there has to be some downsides. I’d just prefer it not to be all in the space of one month please!

Onwards and upwards, here’s to more productive times ahead.

 

 

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A Dedication to All Mums for Mother’s Day

Mother's Day     Being a mum is hard work. Whether you’re a brand new mum who is still finding her feet with the joys of sleep deprivation, a worn out mum who is dealing with a feisty toddler or a mum worrying about her grown up children.

Whatever the situation and however old your children are, there always seems something to worry about. Worry about whether your kids are OK and worry about whether you’re doing the right thing too. It’s exhausting!

In honour of Mother’s Day, I dedicate this post to you, lovely mums. I know so many different mums who are all facing different situations and all facing a battle of some sort. I’ve identified 6 types of mum and I know at least 2 mums from each group. Read on to see if you can recognise yourself in here, because this is especially for you:

The New Mum: Possibly a first time mum or a new mum who is also struggling to cope with entertaining an older sibling. The lack of sleep is a shock to the system as are the demands of feeding and trying to figure out general routines. Mums who have their second or subsequent new baby face a shock because they’re trying to figure out how on earth they can satisfy the demands of a screaming baby, but placate their feisty toddler too – tricky!

The Full Time Working Mum: I know several full time working mums who are all getting up at the crack of dawn to drop their kids off at nursery before doing an often long commute to get into the office. They must feel like they’ve done a day’s work before sitting at their desk. And then running for the train on the way home, praying for no delays in order to pick up their kids and start the bedtime routine. They have my greatest respect, I really don’t know how they do it.

The Incomplete Mum: These mums have lost a child too soon. They will never be the same again. Despite getting up and putting on a brave face every day, a piece of them is missing. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel, they are true heroes.

The Juggling Work & Juggling Kids Mum: Whether they are working part time, freelancing or working from home, these mums struggle to fit in work and kids. They’re cramming every spare child free moment with trying to sort out work. Whilst the kids are in child care they are working, when the kids are in front of the TV they are answering emails. All too often they feel like they aren’t doing anything to the best of their ability; work and parenting feels like half measures and they often wish they could do both a bit better.

The Stay at Home Mum:  Teacher, carer, entertainer, nurse; the list goes on for the role of the full time mum. Some days can be rewarding, fun and memorable. The bad days can be exhausting, mind-numbing, out of control and damn right horrible. Dealing with tantrums, sickness, general bad behaviour and not talking to another adult for 12 hours can be excruciating. I know plenty of mums who on occasion have cried, screamed and felt like walking out and never coming back.

The Empty Nest Mum: Having devoted most of their life to their children, these mums are suddenly facing having more time on their hands. Whether the kids are all now at school, university or left home, these mums may feel at a bit of a loss … or they might be dancing round the kitchen looking forward to their new-found freedom. Either way, it’s a sudden lifestyle change that can be as daunting as it might be exhilarating. After so many years, what to do next?

Whatever type of mum you are, it can be tough. Everyone’s struggling with every day issues and problems that can be very small and minor or huge and life changing.

Whatever your situation, I hope you all manage to take a bit of time to relax and enjoy Mother’s Day, because you all deserve it, you’re doing a wonderful job!  Xx

Make Time for You and Break The Routine

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Whether you’re dealing with the rat race of a commute into work or you’re stuck at home with a screaming toddler who’s having a melt-down about the wrong type of cheese in a sandwich, life can seem like a constant re-run with a dire outlook if there’s no break from the routine.

It could just be the endless winter days, but just lately I feel like I’ve been living a constant re-run of Groundhog Day. By day I’m doing my best to occupy my two toddlers and stop them from fighting over the most ridiculous things (like who should get out of the bath first), whilst trying my best to fit in work, cooking and the general mundane chores during nap time and the evenings.

The Break

Then last week there was a sudden break in the pattern. Three things broke up my drudgery!

  1. I was invited out to dinner on a Monday no less by some other mums I know. It was only a cheap and cheerful dinner, but it was good to get out of the house without kids and talk to some other adults.
  2.  My husband has recently re-joined a gym. And for a trial period, I have been granted a 3 month pass to use the facilities. I’m not really a gym person, but there is a fantastic swimming pool. So on Thursday I took myself off for an evening swim. It was virtually empty, the lighting was low and for half an hour, I completely lost myself swimming my way up and down that pool. It was heaven not only to be finally doing some form of exercise again, but to be on my own, lost in my own thoughts.
  3.  At the weekend we visited the in-laws. My sister-in-law insisted on taking me to the local pub for some pre-dinner drinks leaving the men and grandparents to deal with the troublesome bath and bedtime. It felt naughty to be sneaking out the front door at 6pm to go the pub but why not?! We had a much needed catch up which we never seem to do when running around trying to sort out the kids.

So 3 things in the space of one week broke up my pattern of drudgery. Plus, it’s the end of February and I can see a glimpse of spring on the horizon. Things are looking up.

Crush the Routine

The point is everyone needs a break from the norm of some sort. Whether it’s going for a long walk, getting your hair cut or going out for lunch, everyone needs time for themselves to re-charge and re-focus.

I can remember one of my old bosses at work telling us that it was important to break the routine in order to keep the brain ticking over. He used to take a different route into work several times a week. I can see his point. With no break from the drudgery, life can threaten to become all-consuming and you can even begin to resent it.

I don’t know if my gym pass will last longer than 3 moths, but whilst I have it, I intend to swim at least one evening a week in that lovely pool and make sure I get some more time to myself.

What about you? Do you think it’s important to make time for yourself? How do you do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why is “Flexible Working” Still So Inflexible?

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We live in a digital age, apparently. We have technology available at our finger-tips, supposedly. Why is it then that many businesses still can’t use this technology to allow their employees a better work / life balance?

According to a recent survey, a whopping 80% of employees say they would be happier with more flexible working options. Better work flexibility means greater happiness and more productivity for business. And yet why are we still not getting this quite right? Why is it that the majority of working people I know are still plodding through a 9 to 5 hour day for 5 days a week chained to their office desk?

My Ultimatum

Four years ago, I had a job that I loved in London. I went on maternity leave and was hoping to go back. I asked to return on a part-time basis but that wasn’t deemed possible. So then I asked if I could work from home but apparently that wouldn’t work with the systems in place. Eventually, I was told that I either had to return in a full-time capacity or not at all. And so I made the difficult decision to leave. I couldn’t face working full-time with a heavy commute, and leaving a young baby for so long.

It still makes me quite cross now. Why should this have to be the case? Why in this digital age can’t there be more working from home? Why can’t there be more flexi-time? Why can’t there be more job-sharing or part-time work?

A Question of Trust

I can only assume that it is because of a question of trust. If technology can make us all work faster, smarter and in any location, the reason most businesses don’t employ flexible working practices is because they are suspicious of what might be going on if they can’t keep a beady eye on their employees. Perhaps organisations think that if they can’t see their employees grappling with an excel spread sheet they may instead be at home with their feet up or putting the washing on dancing round the kitchen to Uptown Funk?

Their Loss?

I passionately believe that many businesses are losing out in not offering flexible working patterns. My talented sister used to work at a well-known children’s publisher, she quit her job along with 5 other senior, well-regarded women in one year because they would not allow any of them to work a 4 day week in the office and 1 day at home. This to me seems ludicrous. Surely it would be more beneficial for the organisation to try and accommodate these women than to go through the painful procedure of recruiting, training and replacing the staff who all had valuable years’ experience?

When I started writing this post I was mostly thinking about mums and how there should be more flexibility for working mothers. But really, why can’t there just be more flexibility for workers full-stop? Why can’t organisations trust their work-force to get the job done in whatever time suits them best? If employees are happy they will be more productive. Better productivity equals better profit. Output should be measured on achievements, not on how many hours are being clocked up at the office desk.

I’d love to know what you think. Are you a parent who would like the opportunity to have more flexible working hours? Would you be more productive if you could work from home more often? Or do you disagree with me entirely?!