Danielle's Story

Summary

Danielle is grateful for her employer’s flexibility. But in reality, it seems like both a blessing and a curse.

She’s doing her best for her kids, for her employer, and her clients, but it is proving incredibly stressful. Yet there’s no easy solution for Danielle and having worked so hard to get to where she is now, giving up her manager position seems confusing and disappointing.

The things she says would help her are:

  • Better boundaries
  • Being prepared for the unpredictable nature of working parenthood
  • Tweaking her work structure to incorporate longer and shorter days
  • Accessible, affordable childcare
  • Ongoing support for all working parents to have honest conversations

Read Danielle's full story below to see the choices she’s contemplating as a working parent.

 

 

Danielle's Story

 

My employer is very flexible. I’ve been with the company a long time and work at a senior level, which means I can manage my diary and be flexible around what I need. It’s great. It’s a tick for the employer.

However, flexibility does have consequences.

I don’t think I perform to the level I should be. I’m definitely more distracted because of home working life.

I’m trying to focus all my efforts on making sure the kids are ok, happy and taken care of and that I’m there for them as much as possible and not reliant on long days at school, a childminder, or another after-school setting. The distraction of not being able to start work until 9.30 because of the nursery commute affects my engagement and focus. I think I  then lose motivation and my confidence. I manage to scrape through fine. I think I’m kind of ok, doing enough.

But what next? School is going to continue for a while. So what does that mean for me and my career? When do I get back on track and feel motivated again? Would I ever want to be promoted? Not right now. There’s no way I could take on more responsibility.

I feel like I wasn’t prepared for this when I became a parent.

I need to be ok with accepting that this is my lot and this is what I can achieve at work. I imagine this is difficult for parents who have been working really hard, been successful in their career, climbing the career ladder and are now realising they can’t be what they thought they would be in their job.

Do I want to be flexible and around for my kids? Or do I not?

It’s a hard balance and it can be really hard to come to a decision. It’s not just about acceptance, it’s that you have to make the decision. The decision to be there and do all the pick-ups, which means you won’t be going for the next level up. The decision to not work at weekends.

I’ve got plenty of friends who love their job and have decided that their role on Earth is not to just be a mother. A lot of them are doctors and surgeons so they perhaps have a higher calling, but they will put their kids in nursery five days a week. They can live with that because when they are with their kids they are really present. Their children get 110% focused attention on a weekend and evening. They’re not going to give up the job they love so they pay for people to take their children to school because they need to be in surgery at 8am.

I haven’t got to this place but I admire them so much for making that decision because they love their job. I think when you don’t have that calling or passion in your work, it can sometimes feel like you’re just muddling along. Getting through it.

I feel like I want to be there for my kids because my job isn’t that important (especially as my partner has got a job which is important within society and has no flexibility). In some ways, this is a bit of a cop-out for him from the childcare responsibilities. The childcare is all on me.

Sometimes having a flexible employer can actually be annoying because I can be there for the kids. I can drop things. Because of that, I might never go for promotion. What happens to the career progression of people who make this choice? It's probably going to stifle it.

We talk about enabling women to be on the board but I don't think we'll end up seeing more female leaders because of flexibility. 

I feel like I’m in a no man’s land because there’s only so much I can give my career while I am being responsive to the kids’ needs and don’t have additional childcare. Things like nativity plays come up and then I’m making up the hours in the evenings and at the weekends.

I’m also running the house. The school admin. I wonder if I need to do a lower-paid, less stressful job role so that I can walk away at 3pm. But if I do this, will I be disappointed?

It’s really hard to have got this far and then make that kind of sacrifice.

But also childcare is so limited. Our after-school provision is full.

Perhaps once the kids are settled in school it might get easier. It’s one of the biggest challenges in parenting - it’s really hard to predict how it’s going to be. What will the needs of the children be? And also how will I feel? Perhaps I’ll have more capacity for a challenge when the kids are older.

It all feels quite unpredictable.

My kids are three and four years old. It’s hard. Do they need me more now, or actually when they’re teenagers? I have no idea.

I’m just trying to do my best.

The systems are not set up for it. It feels like this should be easy because you think about how many working parents there are. But it’s not easy.

My mum worked away a lot. She was the breadwinner essentially. My dad had a local job which meant he could come home. We also lived close to my grandparents. Without that, my mum said there’s no way she could have done what she did with her career.

My parents are great when we need them. But they go away a lot so I couldn’t use them as a regular childminder.

I feel constantly wrapped in guilt. My youngest only goes to nursery a couple of days a week. She often doesn’t want to go.

My big concern at the moment is how should I prioritise my efforts? Should I prioritise being with the kids and just deal with the stress of trying to deliver a job in minimal hours? Or should I roll back the job and maybe look for something else? Or do I invest in more childcare? It’s so hard to know what to do.

I get to go to the nativity, which is amazing but it comes at a cost because I haven’t got the boundaries.

When you’re trying to do it all, it’s hard to do anything well.

I find I need to consciously say, I’m not going to juggle. I’ll do this now, and the kids then. I wonder whether the person who compromises most is me. The kids get what they need. Work gets what they need. I’m then in the middle feeling stretched in all directions.

A friend of mine is Chief Growth Officer for a worldwide PR firm. She doesn’t have any hobbies or interests beyond family and work. She would love to but she says she can’t. She works away a lot and has two small children. Her husband’s a doctor so has no flexibility. She has a nanny who does the pick-ups from school, sorts tea and puts them to bed. But when she’s home, she’s the best mum she can be. The kids never see her working. Once she walks through the door, her laptop stays off. She loves her job, she loves her kids and this is the best thing she can do.

It’s probably not a choice I want to make. But it’s her choice and she manages it. It’s all about compromise.

For me, I pick my kids up at 3pm and then I set them up in the lounge so that I can do some work. It might be a Teams call. They’ll come in and tell me they’re hungry and they need me. I think they get confused as to why I’m not 100% focused on them.

But it’s also not fair on my clients because they also need me.

I find this blurring of boundaries really stressful.

From an employer point of view, there’s definitely more they could do to help even out the workload. If they went into it asking: what would the ideal day look like for a working parent?

There could be more flexibility in my contract. My clients are charged an 8-hour day rate. If I had a more flexible day rate I wouldn’t be so stressed about meeting my client’s needs. If we were honest and upfront about me working a 6-hour day, then I wouldn’t be scrabbling around trying to find those extra promised hours. It’s great that I can pop out and pick up kids at the end of the school day but the consequence of that flexibility is my work seeps into the evenings and weekends because of the inflexibility of the 8-hour client day.

I also wish I could walk away from my work; close my laptop and leave it behind at my office. My husband is either at work in theatre or at home with the kids. There is no other option than that for him. So I then feel a bit like: ‘god damn my flexibility.’

The company I work for have introduced a lot more in support of people returning to work. But when you’re returning to work you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. You’ve just been off for 12 months. You’re a bit nervous about coming back. There’s the confidence issue. It’s about having that drumbeat of: how are you doing? What do you need now? What will you need when the kids start school? Because age three is different to age five, to age nine, to the teenage years. Employers need to provide ongoing support as your family grows.

I don’t think many people feel they can have these kind of conversations with their line manager. People sometimes feel they can only say what line managers want to hear. And some people feel there’s no way they could raise it with HR. How do employers ensure their employees aren’t going to walk away and say, this job is too big for me. I can’t do it? How do they give staff the confidence to raise these issues and talk openly about them, without it coming back on them, or the fear of them thinking, ‘She can’t really cope’?

This is especially true when you’re working with clients and managing teams. People look up to you. They might be more junior, they might not have kids, they might be working all the hours. You’re trying to be a role model for them and show them you can do it all. I find myself saying, ‘Anytime you need me, give me a call.’ I’m actually thinking. ‘Please don’t call me!’

I know it’s not honest but I don’t feel I can drop the mask. I might show a bit of humanity and vulnerability - I appreciate that’s important too for building relationships and encouraging empathy. But I am still a manager.

I feel I’d lose respect if I was myself and said, ‘I am a mother’. I think it would help me but it wouldn’t help them. But I would love to not have to apologise every time I’m running late! I think people understand but it’s not great.

It’s a hard juggle when you don’t have the boundaries. When you’re trying to do both: being a mother and a manager. It’s hard to switch off as well because you’re thinking about it all at the same time. I need to do some figuring out.

I’m actively looking at the job market to see if there is something that would fit my life better.

I would love to go into an office more. One that was close by so that I’m out of the house and I am physically put into that employee mindset. I would love to have a minimum of two days of the week where my childcare is completely sorted so that I know someone else is picking up the kids and I can just be ‘Working Boss Me.'

I accept I might not be able to get that. I don’t think I could have the kids five days a week in childcare. I admire people who do but I don’t think it’s me. But I do need some better structure.

Two days I’d work 8am-6pm and another two days, fewer hours. It wouldn’t be that every day is flexible (like it is for me now) there would be stricter boundaries. I would love to have an employer that could offer something like that. I think my employer might be open to this - but it’s the client side - could that work for clients? It’s trying to figure this out.

I’m not sure I would have this conversation with my employer because I worry that they will think I can’t cope. And that’s a big fear for most people, right? They might not trust me to deliver my job, or ask me to be on certain projects.

I’m in demand for jobs because I’m good and I deliver. If people didn’t think I could, who would want to work with me?

I think there are companies that would put this structure of two long and two short days in place. I think they need to be brave and bold about doing it.

But as someone looking at the job market, I wouldn’t know where to look for these companies. I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to find out until I’ve applied, been successful and then got to the negotiation stage. But I don’t want to waste my time and then discover the organisation doesn’t share my values.

I wish employers put statements on their job adverts about being open to flexibility. I often see roles but I don’t put myself forward because I assume that they’ll be looking for full-time. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’d bend over backwards to accommodate me but I’ll never know because I haven’t put myself forward.

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