There’s no doubt I moaned about being tired before I became a mum, complaining about long hours in the office and not having time to do the shopping and the housework. But, it all becomes infinitely more challenging as soon as you bring a little person into the world. Finding a job which fits in with family life and which pays enough to buy all the extras you need – the school shoes, the new clothes when they grow out of them, the birthday presents – can be tricky. But, with a change of mindset, it can be a more positive experience. Having gone freelance so I can set my own hours, here are just a few of the things I wish I’d known at the start:
You don’t have to try to have it all
City slicker Nicola Horlick was famously dubbed ‘superwoman’ in the UK press in the 1990s for holding down her high-flying job while bringing up six children. But, the banker recently said: “Family will always come first. I see the whole career thing as a bit of fun. Family is the most important thing to me.”
And that’s the key, deciding what’s important in your life. Because there are only so many hours in the day. So, if you are working full-time, perhaps the most important thing for you is being back home in time to give your children a bath and read a bed time story. Could you ask to change your hours so you can do that? Or, maybe you’re happy to work long hours so you can afford to take a holiday with your family, devoting your time off solely to them. It’s all about deciding what works for you.
You have a lot to offer
Mothers who are searching for work might traditionally have thought about the job seeking process as a problem to solve, desperately trying to find a workplace which would allow them to work at the time they have when their children are at nursery or school.
But, I’ve discovered it’s all about changing your way of thinking to telling people what you can do, rather than thinking about what you can’t. By switching your thought process from looking for a job to selling your skills, you focus on the fact that it’s not about you being lucky to find a job, but about your employer or potential client being lucky to have someone with your talents.
It’s a trend that’s highlighted in new services and websites setting up to help mums find work by telling employers what they’re capable of. quiddoo, for example, has just launched to allow freelancers to tell possible clients what they have to offer. Entrepreneur Rakesh Luthra, who set up the site, said quiddoo gave people an “extremely good opportunity to publicise and socialise their skills and what they can do.”
You can outsource
The same websites that help you to find employment can help you to outsource some of your own tasks. If you can afford it, they can offer the perfect way to find someone to do those little jobs for you so that you can spend more time with your children when you’re not working. Perhaps you might be able to splash out on a cleaner to come in every other week, or a dog walker to take your pets out for one day a week. Then you can use that time to paint with your little one, bake a cake, or take them to the park.
You can say no
While there can be no one more practised at time management and multi-tasking than a working mum, even then, you can’t do everything. Research earlier this year from the Economic and Social Research Council found that 70% of the housework is still done by women, even if they are the main breadwinner in the household. Can you ask for some help from your other half and from the children? I only give pocket money at the end of the week if their rooms are tidy. And my partner now does the ironing.
At work, you may think it’s a sign of weakness to say no, but your boss and your clients, if you’re self-employed, will thank you for your honesty. There’s no point in agreeing to do something only to find you can’t hit your targets or your deadlines. You could even suggest delegating to someone else, and offer to brief them, impressing your employer with your management skills.
There’s no such person as the perfect mum
Despite what you may think when you do the school run and see those mums with perfectly coifed hair and immaculate make-up kissing their children goodbye before heading to work, there is no such person as the perfect mum.
Sometimes, we all let things slip. Some days, the kids end up having to watch the television so I can get some work done, sometimes work slides because I can’t stand waiting any longer for a haircut, and sometimes the dishes sit in the sink for an awful lot longer than they should. But, I’ve stopped beating myself up about it, because if you strive for absolute perfection in everything, you’ll always be disappointed. No one I know has a perfect work-life balance. I’ve just learned to accept that sometimes good enough has to be good enough.