If this is the first post you’ve read of mine, let me introduce myself. I’m Helen and I’m a working mum and a parenting, food and lifestyle blogger. My son is two.
I returned from maternity on a temporary promotion in July 2017. As the end of the temporary promotion loomed, I knew that we couldn’t afford childcare and a large drop in pay.
What followed after several spreadsheets and negotiations with my line management at that time, was a return to full time hours, but on a flexible basis to accommodate childcare. Little did I know that I’d end up having my promotion extended, and another promotion after that meaning I didn’t have to return full time at all!
If you follow my blog regularly you might be familiar with my weird working pattern but might not know how I got here. I thought I’d share it to help other parents have the confidence to ask for flexible working, or at prepare them for what the possibilities could look like.
This is the story of how I returned to work after my maternity leave, how I struggled to find a flexible working pattern that fits, and why I’m juggling it differently in the New Year.
my attitude to work post baby
I had my son at 41 (Small Boy is now two) which makes me a geriatric mum by all accounts. We went through a lot to have him so spending as much time as I could on my last shot at motherhood is important to me. Being an older mum also means that free childcare is very thin on the ground or as in my case – absent. As you get older, so do your parents and grandparents.
I’ve had several career changes in my life. I’ve been very successful, taken steps up, taken steps back and sideways, and experienced two redundancies. I wouldn’t say I was a high flyer but there have been times in my twenty odd years of working where I’ve been pretty close.
Although outsiders may see me as ambitious, I now know that a career isn’t everything. I’ve done it. I don’t need to prove anything to myself or to anyone else. My priorities have and will continue to shift. These days I’m just about having a job and working environment that doesn’t make me depressed and enough money that I don’t have to worry too much. And it has to fit from a childcare perspective. That is genuinely all I ask. I would not be one of those people who continue to work even though they’ve won the lottery. I think if winners say the money won’t change their lives they should have the money taken off them. Camelot don’t have to give it to me, but perhaps they could give it to some families who are struggling and really could use it.
planning going back to work
By the time I was into my sixth month of maternity leave I was frantically going through spreadsheets and bank statements to work out if I could afford to take more than nine months off work, and how little I’d have to work when I returned. It didn’t look promising.
I didn’t want to have to leave my son to go back to a job I didn’t like and that I’d outgrown. At the same time, I knew that financially it wasn’t possible to stop working. Several spreadsheets later, breaking down a variety of scenarios, I worked out that I we could manage with two and half day’s nursery, three at most. The minimum I could work was thirty hours a week.
negotiating flexible working
I went to my manager and asked if I could work thirty hours a week over three days, making the most of my employer’s flexible working and home working policies. I wanted to work 7-8 hours in the office, and then 2-3 hours at home. This seemed like a sensible option to me.
This was denied. Not by manager but further up the management line. It would be too stressful I was told. I did point out that I used to work five ten hour days a week in one of my previous careers and in itself a ten hour day with limited childcare costs would be less stressful than doing more hours and juggling it all.
More spreadsheets and a flexible working application from my husband to condense his hours, allowing him to have one afternoon free to look after my son later….
I agreed to work two and a half days in the office, with my son in nursery, and one day at home, with my husband having him for most of it. This was the work pattern I eventually returned to work on after being on maternity for 9 months. I knew I should be grateful but it wasn’t what I wanted.
starting back to work
Weeks before though I’d been offered a temporary promotion and that sort of took the edge of a bit. Somehow going back to work doesn’t seem as disheartening. At least if I’m back in work I’m going to be doing something more fulfilling and I won’t be losing money doing it.
It didn’t take long before it was clear that this arrangement wasn’t going to work though. On the half day Small Boy was barely at nursery before I was picking him up again. It wasn’t good for him and it didn’t seem like either of us was benefiting. I had wanted to work from home that afternoon but always had to come in for a standing meeting which didn’t even go ahead half the time. My resentment increased.
More number crunching, talks with managers, nursery, husband and more and I decide to go back full time. We can manage as long as Small Boy only has to go to nursery three days a week. That’s our financial limit. It’s also my psychological limit. I need time with him. I need to enjoy this rare opportunity. I’m not going to get it again.
The weird working pattern was born.
my current work pattern
I now work three long days in the office, usually around 9 hours each day. I might do more if I need to catch up or get ahead by working from home in the evening. On these days, Small Boy goes to nursery. Husband drops him over and I do the pickup. Needless to say, that means I start early but as Small Boy is usually awake at 5am that’s no great inconvenience.
My husband compresses his hours as well so he works four and a half days. I work from home on his half day and we split the child care. I can usually get in around 6 – 8 hours of work then. I’m not sure how that’s going to work in the long term.
I then have another short day working from home. That’s usually only a few hours which I can do very early or in the early evening, depending on Small Boy, his naps and if my husband is home on time. It’s my favourite day as I get Small Boy to myself and as much as possible I try to get out and do something with him or have a play date.
but it’s about to change again…
I’ve recently been crunching numbers again and from January I am dropping my hours back to 30 a week. That’s basically four days, but I’ll be working them in three. I’ll do 8 hours in the office and 2 hours at home. Now Small Boy is napping less and demanding more attention it’s just not practical to try and do anything in the day and your health and family sometimes have to take priority.
so what do I think about flexible working now?
It’s amazing. I am very lucky, but I would caveat that you need to take care of yourself too. It’s sometimes easy to get swept up with doing as much as you can because you are technically able to. Listen to you body and your emotions. Now I’m reducing my hours again, I feel like a weight has been lifted. At least I’ll have more structure now.