Welcome to Flexi Mamas, a series about barriers for working mums.
This edition of Flexi Mamas features Helen, who had her son at 41 (which she says makes her a geriatric by all accounts!). He’s now two, and he’s the only child that she and her husband have, though they also have a slightly deranged rescue cat.
She’s worked for a government department for the past six years. After joining them in a policy role, she took a secondment to an external communications role in another team for a year before becoming pregnant. It ended just before she found out she was pregnant, so she returned to her original role for a few months.
“I didn’t particularly want to go back to work after having my son”, says Helen. “I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could, especially as he’d be our only child. Plus, I didn’t want to go back to a job that I’d outgrown.
“That said, I knew that financially it wasn’t possible to stop working, so I decided that if had to go back to work I was going to make it worthwhile. I negotiated a temporary promotion for six months, which was extended by a further six. At least I would go back to more money and more interesting work. That certainly helped take the edge off.”
Helen was lucky to have access to flexible working arrangements, which made the transition back to work easier.
“The organisation I work for has a long tradition of allowing homeworking – we have more people than space. They had recently extended the working day so that contracted hours can be worked flexibly over a much longer period where roles permit.
“The flexibility works for both parties, so my manager was happy to accommodate a new working arrangement. After some negotiation I returned on reduced hours (30 hours) over three and a half days.
“After six months I returned to working full time, but compressed my hours over five days. It made more financial stress and weirdly was less stressful in terms of our nursery schedule.
“I now work three long days in the office, usually around 9 hours. I might do more if I need to catch up or get ahead by working from home in the evening. On these days, Small Boy goes to nursery. My husband compresses his hours as well so he works four and a half days.
“I work from home on his half day and we split the child care. I can usually get in around 6 – 8 hours of work. I then have another short day working from home. That’s usually only a few hours which I can do very early or in the early evening, depending on Small Boy, his naps and if my husband is home on time.
“It sounds complicated and a bit of a muddle and it is! I’m perpetually stressed by the arrangement, but it’s the only way we can make childcare work for us. With Small Boy being in nursery three days a week, we still have more going out on childcare than our mortgage. If I didn’t have a weird and flexible work pattern, and wasn’t able to secure a promotion, it might have not been practical to go back to work at all.
“I know that despite it being a juggling act, I am very lucky. Employers need to do more to make flexible working the norm. Many working patterns are hangovers from the old ‘9-5’ days. Many tasks and duties can be completed in isolation at any time. In many cases, working hours are fixed on an arbitrary or historic basis which no longer works or benefits anyone.
“We will only have a society where women can fully make the choices they want to about working, if everyone can work flexibly and manage their time more efficiently. That means giving dads and grandparents more flexibility too so the responsibilities of caring (and not just for children) are shared more evenly.”
You can find out more about Helen on her blog or her social channels: