Working 9-5 as a Mother

Botany at Natural History Museum

At my desk at The Natural History Museum, long before I had children…

So, after a couple of applications and an interview I got myself a job. Delighted was an understatement, because this was a senior level job at a local museum. Effectively, I was back to where I left off before I became a parent and my career was back on track. You cannot underestimate how important this was to me, I really do love museums and archaeology and i’m prepared to take the salary sacrifice in order to pursue my interest. In doing so this has cost me a lot, i’ve never been able to afford a lot and most of my peers have very nice houses and cars, holidays which I can only dream of (yet alone take the children with me) and they aren’t wearing hand me downs at nearly forty years old. I digress, being an archaeologist has given me some amazing life experiences and has benefitted me in other ways.

I enthusiastically accepted the job and then I questioned the exact working arrangements. You see, I was well aware that I was going to be working far more hours than my contracted 37. Thats part of the job and i’m willing to do that, in the past i’ve worked 70 hour weeks for a pittance, but its lovely to enthuse and engage people. The crunch came when I was told that it was 9- 5:30, with some negotiation I managed to get them to reduce this to 9- 5 with the related salary sacrifice which my husband wasn’t impressed about as he is fully aware of the demands of this sort of job which go beyond hours.

However, the employer steadfastly refused to consider my request for flexible working. I have three children, with their associated demands of school assemblies, sickness, hospital appointments and so forth. My husband’s firm was willing to be flexible, but sometimes there are moments when you need to see a teacher or a doctor and he has an important job, sometimes he cant help  out as he has an important meeting which might be 3 or 4 hours away from home. I quite simply could not guarantee that someone could be present when needed. For me, flexible working is as much about peace of mind to do the job effectively as it is about actually utilising it. I didn’t intend to steadfastly work irregular hours, rather the contrary, however I did want to know that I could be there if needed.

Of course, there is another factor in all this, given the cost of childcare which means that many working women can end up paying three quarters, if not all, of their salary towards the care of their children its no wonder that many women are stuck at home looking after their children themselves. For me, a lack of flexible working meant that I would be paying £1400 to go to work as I had to engage a nanny or childminder permanently for every single day. What is the point? More to the point, where am I supposed to find this money from? I know loads of women in this situation.

Without going into the details of this particular job, I do find it hard to appreciate how much impact it would have made by giving me the chance to  come in at 10 one day and leave at 6, rather than 9 to 5. Alternatively, to come in at 7 and then leave at 4. Lets just say, this is not on the whole a public facing job, no-ones life depends on specific hours of work. Yes, precedents might be set, but with flexible working employers should be considering individual circumstances. I’d argue that the demands of looking after 3 children outweigh those of someone worried about traffic or other similar issues.

A lot of museum work is solitary and doesn’t need to be done in any particular location. Working at home works exceptionally well, as its much easier to concentrate. This is what I often did in my old job and that was arguably my most productive moments. Thats another argument, but it is interlinked. The dream job for a parent is undoubtably one which allows flexible working and home working. For the employer this would also provide a very focussed and determined employee, anyone who has had children can appreciate the improved levels of organisation and time management which comes with parenting, which can only be of benefit to an organisation.

At the end of the day I needed to make a choice, did I ‘risk’ upsetting an employer by taking my responsibilities as a parent seriously as and when needed. Or did I become a totally detached parent and effectively try to find someone who could do everything required of me, a live in nanny or au pair? I thought long and hard. I had children because I wanted them, desperately. They frustrate me, I hate dealing with the school and being a taxi service, I detest the school run. But I’m there for them if they hurt themselves, if they have a meltdown at school, if they are sick. If I won the lottery would I work? Yes, but not rigidly 9-5 and I think thats where I found my answer. My children come first and always will do and I hope one day that I can find a job where I can work around them providing them the best support that I can give, whilst satisfying myself so I can be a happy mummy and they don’t keep telling everyone that their mummy never smiles.

This whole episode has demonstrated to me that although there is glass ceiling for women, it is antiquated working practices that force women out of the workplace and keep them out. Flexible working does work for so many professions and employers, I was astonished to discover that it isn’t offered as standard in these sorts of roles. A modern approach to working results in a modern, diverse  workforce which can only benefit an employer.

For me, the whole situation has not only been disappointing, but in many ways, life changing. I am very limited in the jobs which I am qualified to do within my profession; there aren’t many to start with and then once you have a family and become geographically limited, the number of potential posts reduces further. What to do next? That’s a really serious question and it seems like I will be ‘forced’ into freelance consultancy, as working for myself seems the only likely way that I can combine working and my caring responsibilities. But even then there is stiff competition as many of my peers have chosen or been forced into this option themselves.

I don’t have an answer to this, and I must admit its come as quite a shock and surprise to me that this would even be a barrier to my going back to work. I’ve been looking into it further and its clearly a much bigger issue than is first apparent and arguably a greater barrier than the cost of childcare for a woman entering the workplace. There are some established campaigns and if you are interested and care about this issue then you may be interested in the work of the Fawcett Society.

On a very personal level, i’d have to say that if my children ever expressed an interest in a career in heritage i’d urge them to think extremely carefully. Whilst its a worthwhile profession, the pay has always been poor but enjoyment and opportunities have always outweighed that. However,  the lack of funding and support from the Government has resulted in what at least appears to me from looking at my peer group, a real crisis in terms of opportunities and some extremely stressful situations both professionally and personally.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences of being a working parent.

1 Response

  1. Carol Hedges 18th April 2015 / 2:50 pm

    Not WORKING PARENT, BUT WITH A WORKING DAUGHTER. Sorry you decided to give up the job…but I can see why. As you know, I mind Avalyn 2 days a week… Hannah is more lucky than she knows…and almost every week, I get a phonecall at 4.40 to say that a meeting has run over, or a deadline has arrived and could I stay until 7? The ONLY way young women like you can go back to fulfilling jobs is for Grandparents to step in. We are the flexible workforce – unpaid, unacknowledged. You lament the glass ceiling? There is a glass ceiling for the over 60s as well — we cannot reduce our hours of work while you are attempting to increase yours. No, this is NOT a criticism of you/her. It is the ludicrous working patterns imposed by the still sexist nature of work in this country. I hope that soon you WILL find something that fits round school hours. I also hope that my health and energy will not flag because boy, I can’e see any way that Hannah could do what she does without me!!! xxx

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