I recently read an article in ‘The Times’ about the strain on professional working mums. I am a working mum, with a working husband and have had to manage two daughters as we both try to balance work and family life.
Firstly, I want to move away from the stigma of it simply being about women. I know of single fathers who have had the same struggle. This isn’t about gender, this is about the pressure of unworkable working conditions. But history shows us that it has always been the case. Family is never a consideration when you go for a job, in fact certain questions about family life, pregnancy, capacity to commute to work, and many others are topics we don’t have any obligation to share. We keep it quiet and sort it out later.
Management expectations are also grumbled about but hardly ever challenged. I have just completed my first year in senior leadership. The only way I have managed it has been through a combination of working in partnership with my husband, calling my mum for support (a 2 hour drive away) or negotiating with my place of work to leave early and make up time later. My line manager has been amazing, totally understanding and shown me trust which means I have been able to successfully juggle everything. The only difficulty I have encountered is with the primary school who have very stringent rules on collection of children.
We all live in an environment where we try to keep our personal life from our professional life. This has happened for years. My grandparents worked, my mum got herself to and from school and then started work as soon as she could.
My mum worked in a variety of occupations, the main criteria being whether they could fit around school pick up and drop off. Some did, some didn’t. All paid her just enough to manage each week, which is a different issue for another day. Later, as we grew older, she would work later hours. We had to learn independence. We had to remember to put the oven on at the right time so we could all sit down as a family and have dinner together. We learned to cook.
Suggesting that there is a ‘Correct’ way that supermums can manage is a fallacy. It is also not restricted to any particular segment of the work force. CEO’s, office workers, support staff, admins, carers, emergency service personnel; in fact any role in any strata of society faces the same issue. The only difference is how we all manage our families. Can we afford childcare, a nanny, the very limited and restrictive school out of hours wrap around care or do we rely on family and friends? Or do our children grow up relying on themselves because there is no capacity for a safety net of support for them?
I repeat, this isn’t a discussion on the role of the working ‘supermums’, this is a discussion about how work-life balance is really a work-life juggle. There is no one right way or answer. The only way forward is to get all working parties together to address the time bomb of work and family conflict.