I’m afraid we return to a previous subject for today’s blog. My apologies for the repetition but I’ve had a couple of things happen this week that made me think again about this subject.
Mum-preneurs. Or, at the very least, working from home, flexible working or whatever you want to call it.
I’ve been on leave all week but on Friday I had a day to myself as I kept E in childcare as normal. I don’t feel guilty about this – I think nursery is good for her socialisation and I needed to get some other work done. I’d been aware this day was coming up for a while and therefore put a lot of things aside to get done. Needless to say, I didn’t finish them all. But here’s what I did do:
- Wrote the main draft of the next chapter for the collaborative novel and uploaded it to Dropbox.
- Read through the other chapters already written by others and made comments on Twitter
- Put on a load of washing and hung it out to dry
- Thoroughly cleaned the kitchen
- Finished off the previous blog post for this blog and put it up on social media networks
- Finished a piece of flash fiction for a competition and made enquiries about how to enter it for judging
- Sent in an entry for another competition
- Started yet another redraft of a story I’ve been trying to write for a long time
- Spoke to my mum on the phone
- In an effort to shake the backache from sitting at this desk for a while, went on the outdoor gym equipment at the local park and ran across the grass like a lunatic
With the exception of the washing and possibly talking to my mum, those were all things I couldn’t have achieved if E was here.
And as I sat here I got to wondering – how do mum-preneurs and home-based businesses actually get their work done? The point of these ways of working is to cut down on childcare costs so putting the children in nursery is presumably out of the question. How do you concentrate on phone calls, writing, reports, emails, orders, customer service, etc with a small child in the house?
Is it all done in the evening? It can’t be.
E is very demanding right now. She wants attention, she wants someone to hold her hands when she’s walking or to encourage her to walk a few steps without holding on, she wants books reading to her, she wants feeding, a companion to block building. She can spend some time entertaining herself but not very long. And it’s not fair to her to ignore her needs if I need to get something done – she’s so little still, she doesn’t understand. And then she’ll just cry and I won’t get anything done. And anyway, I like spending time with her – she’s interesting, especially in her development at the moment.
The other thing that happened this week was that I was the official representative from my work at an event that celebrated the reopening of a revamped park in the city. The reception was on a Saturday when S was at work, so E and I went along together (I did ask if this was ok in advance.) We lasted about 20 painful minutes before I phoned S (on his way home) and asked him to turn around and collect E.
The event started at 11, the presentation was about 11.40 and the ribbon cutting and photos was at 12.30. The rest of the time was for networking. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to network while accompanied by a one-year old but it’s not easy. I don’t find it easy anyway but I couldn’t get my work hat on while I was with E. Some of the people there were very nice and talked to us both but many more completely ignored us. (I’m not blaming them, you understand, it was a networking event – I realise you can’t just turn up with a child and demand attention.) Within a short amount of time E was upset by the noise (I don’t know why networking types have to talk so much louder than normal but they do) and I couldn’t do so much as hold a cup of coffee without her wanting a cuddle or to get down and walk or to stand and look upset. In desperation I grabbed the nearest food to hand to placate her – a bakewell tart (don’t judge me) – which worked as a distraction for about a minute but then we had to go outside and I made the call.
Once E was gone I was free to work as normal but it took a lot longer to remember who I was, what I was doing and why. Thank goodness I didn’t have to make a speech. At one point though, the woman organising the event came up to me and said, all concerned: “Have you lost your child?” Clearly the sight of me knocking back strawberry cordial and a cream scone typified the reaction of any mother who’d misplaced their offspring. I explained where she’d gone.
I’d not been to any kind of event before where I’d been as completely ignored or regarded as no one of consequence in this way. And all because I’d had to bring my child with me. It was quite eye-opening. I imagine the majority of people there had families. I imagine a lot of them have had trouble with the work-life balance in the past (I say this because I know few people who haven’t.) And as I said earlier, I’m not really blaming them. It was a work-type event, despite it being on a Saturday morning.
When we talk about flexible working, we need to think about things like this too. We need to look at families who are not surrounded by relatives who can step in on a Saturday morning or an early morning or a late night or whenever work demands something you want to give but can’t do in the same way as you used to. Not just for women but for everyone. The world has changed. Working practices need to too.