one of my favourite eddie izzard routines is that of the bowl of pears which sit rock hard for weeks, then as soon as you’ve left the room, turn to mush. the transition is momentary but critical.
and so it was with my boys this weekend. in the sunny october weather we took to the hills of purbeck on our mountain bikes, workingmum, workingdad and two boys. we’d opted for a challenging ride, lots of off-road , much of it up hill.
it was at the top of the first hill when i realised what had happened. from years of us at the front, motivating the boys to keep going, things had suddenly changed. they were speeding up the hill, leaving us trailing behind. the transition. from boys to men (well young men). nothing will ever be the same. i’m so proud of them.
over the last year, the number of posts on workingmum has reduced. i guess that’s because the real conflicts between working life and being a good mum have reduced (see earlier post). however a new challenge has come into the fray, one that many in their forties are no doubt also facing.
as our parents get older, the more that their needs come centrally into the equation. so now we have children, parents and work to balance. of course, if like me you live miles/hours away from your parents, trying to be there for them is tricky, but of course it’s critical that you are there for them. i’m thinking i may reflect on this new dynamic in family/working life
after a decade of being a primary school workingmum, things have changed. both boys are now at secondary school. it’s a funny stage because whilst we can all pretty much recollect our own experiences at primary school, being at secondary school is like yesterday. life really is moving at a pace.
having children at secondary school means that things are changing. the journey towards some sort of independence has already commenced . at the moment most of the implications have made being a workingmum a little easier (earlier drop off times mean i’m back on a 9 am start at work; child-care costs have pretty much fallen away), however what comes with that is the inevitable sense of future loss.
my guess is that this is a stage in a mother’s life in which being a workingmum starts to provide some payback. the workingmum has retained her links with working life which in some way counter against the child’s increasing desire for independence. of course that’s theoretical, in reality every situation is idiosyncractic and informed by the characters within so take my thoughts with a pinch of salt.
anyway when you’ve got senior school kids that means you must be getting on and that really IS depressing.
fridays are my day away from work. i think of them as my lungs. they allow me to breathe, reflect and survive. i couldn’t recommend highly enough working four days above full-time for a working mum. anyway my friday sometimes absorbs the work i can’t fit in during the other four (my doctoral studies), sometimes it’s the space for getting all those things done upon which family life depends, but once in a while, it’s a day to claim for pure enjoyment. a couple of weeks ago was such a day, the sun was shining and i grabbed my day off and took off for a lovely walk along the beach.
as i walked, i thought about what keeps us workingmums sane (most of the time). i decided it was four things, the social, physical, creative and intellectual. no great surprises there. i was thinking how being a working mum provides plenty of opportunities to engage with these four points of the compass – the social, connections with other parents, work colleagues and of course friends. the intellectual – well the day-to-day juggling of workingmumdom presents enough of that, before you add the intellectual challenges the workplace might present. the physical – well for me running, swimming and walking are critical to my sanity and tempered stress levels. my guess is that this might be an area many workingmums sacrifice, but i reckon is so critical. and finally the creative – well perhaps we need to work hard to achieve that, for me it’s about making stuff – the constant stream of birthday cards provides ample opportunity for that. for others i guess music or writing is their creative kick.
anyway, if we can tick all these four boxes to some extent each week, then surely that helps us to survive, indeed relish the busy lives we inhabit.
the blog has been rather dormant for a while. apologies for that. must try harder.
anyway something worth reflecting upon. women and leadership and the extraordinary lack of representation of women in the highest levels of leadership of the uni. today the final new member of the university leadership team was announced. a mancunian (so that’s good) but yet another man. so that’s it, a newly invigorated team, comprising a series of 40-something white men (pretty much). well certainly no women in sight. (ah remember the days when i worked for a uni in which both vc and chancellor were women). anyway there we go. all v predictable. no women…let along workingmums around the boardroom table, being part of the decision making process which is going to (hopefully) steer us through the choppy waves and unseen currents ahead.
so that’s not good. and neither is the sense that this male domination is about to ricochet down to our level. heads of academic group (dept) now must be professors. no longer sufficent to have a pluralistic approach to management in which some professors assume leadership/managerial roles , but not exclusively. so we all have to fit a certain template . a template designed for middle aged men (or possibly middle aged women without kids). whatever, the result is the same ; the replication of the male dominated leadership installed at the top of the institution. bah humbug :-(
sometimes people say simple things , but which resonate and stick with you. this week has been one of those in which work and home collide. back from bank holiday , school seems to have organised two events which i really should attend to support one of my boys. i feel a bit embarrassed asking top honcho if i can be late/miss something for the second day on the trot. when i ask , he responds ‘ is it important to you?’. now that i think is a good question to ask. cos yes this is important, for lots of reasons . reasons which might be difficult for him to judge, but he trusted me, he asked me to be honest about whether it was important…and of course if it was, he supported it. this is good management.
..just to note great delight that sarah palin didn’t get to be vp..and even more delight that obama got the big job :-)
tonight has been one of those nights when all tributaries of workingmum’s life come together. so monday night is now homework night. which is cool except that tonight there’s marking to be done. and a hair lice check is due. the planned swim (to retain an element of sanity) clearly isn’t going to happen – have to be an early morning run instead (supposed to be doing 30 mins exercise a day to keep healthy i hear).
so whilst mornings (sometimes) seem to be less painful as the kids grow older – son no one is now quite competent to dress and assemble all necessary bits n pieces for school – it’s the evenings which now seem to be the victim of the collision between motherhood and working life. pass the wine will you.
today’s media talks about workingmums and their chances of getting to the top . well to be fair the story isn’t that specific- the news is that there is a decline in the number of women (mums or not we assume) in the top jobs.
ok so first of all we might question the definition of top jobs … income is no doubt central to the definition used in the survey, but perhaps when we talk top jobs we should think about a wider range of criteria and then once we’ve got to a sensible definition of top jobs, then we can question whether women , or perhaps in this context, workingmums, have access to those jobs.
i sometimes talk with workingdad about what makes a good (possibly top) job. i’ve pretty much settled on three criteria : for me a top job in essence pays well, contributes something good to the community , and is fun (this is probably something to do with the people you work with). so straight away some of those top jobs the survey refers to, probably get excluded from my version of the list of top jobs…and the good news is that possibly some of the jobs workingmums do hold, perhaps emerge higher in the list by virtue of their contribution to society and (hopefully ) enjoyability.
so how do workingmums get access to such jobs? well the discourse in today’s media covers all the points which have been raised in this blog series including do workingmums want them? (they might want my definition of a top job, but a top job defined only by buckets of salary might be less appealing); is flexibility of working sufficiently available? are structures of working defined by a male orientation to working practices and changes to those structures resisted by those (dominant) males ? personally i can’t think of any job which couldn’t have flexibility of working built into it. every job should be supported by other roles in the organisation, and it’s such a supportive , collaborative structure which allows any single role to be flexibly delivered. yes that even applies to gordon brown and his cabinet (when they’re in supportive mode).
btw talking of politics, it is of course interesting to see a discussion about women’s access to top jobs appear during the same week in which we see sarah palin, seemingly workingmum extraordinaire, in her pitch for the vp position. this workingmum was initially pleased to see her nomination, but the enthusiasm was somewhat dampened after the sight of her perched on her bearskin (completed with head) sofa. the anti abortion; pro gun lobby; anti environmentalism; pro death penalty views don’t help either.
we will see if that workingmum does get access to a top job – and probably the establishment and this workngmum agree that it would indeed be a top job.
it surges through the system, as real as blood . it feels incapacitating.
sometimes arrival back at home is the perfect antedote – the demand to get one child to tennis, t’other to the dentist, takes over and serves to blank out the demands of the previous hours (this is the good side of being a workingmum).
…but sometimes….the stress won’t compromise. it takes over . mind is occupied. smiles are unforthcoming. this is the (very) bad side of being a workingmum. sometimes work takes over, when you know it shouldn’t:(
today is one of those days.