The challenges of being a working mum with older children are sometimes less clear than with younger children. We are often blithely told when children are young that it will get “easier”. Easier? Different maybe, but the tensions between work and the needs of your family are ever-present.
Older children need a great deal of support at a time of growth and change for them and there are many pressure points for working mothers. As a Business Advisor supporting business’ owners to implement their business plans, I feel a real sense of achievement when I have contributed to making a difference to the success of a business, particularly a small business. As a business owner myself, I can be flexible and often arrange my time around my children’s needs but am unable to do this all the time. There are ever-present tensions between work and home.
Nuclear fusion or is it fission? It is nine o’clock on a chilly Monday night, and since the clocks went back it feels much later. I have just walked through the door, taken off my coat and am heading to the kitchen to say hello to my husband who is thankfully preparing supper. My lovely cleaner has been that day so all clear on the housework front. A plaintive cry reaches me from upstairs; “Mum, can you help me with my Physics?” calls my GCSE-work-laden teenage son. My heart sinks. My day so far … up early, make son breakfast, feed cat, ensure has clean rugby kit (son not cat), see him off to train, check train on time, make packed lunch for daughter, take daughter to school, travel to client, work diligently at client, rush back to collect daughter (no longer allowed to go to and from school on her own since disturbing incident with man in black car), grab snack, shove-in washing load, catch up on emails, leave to meet second client of the day (evening appointment), discuss business issues, come home feeling achieved something good. I was looking forward to the remains of my evening.
After a brief hello to hard-pressed spouse, I trudge up the stairs to help research the difference between nuclear fusion and fission with my son. (I didn’t even do O level physics, so thank goodness for the internet). Tomorrow evening I will be practising French with him in preparation for his French-speaking examination, the next nights discussing forthcoming History and Geography “controlled assessments”.
The Pressure Points The theory is that as your children get older the maintenance aspects of looking after them decreases, giving you more time to concentrate on work and leisure. My experience is that the support your child needs changes but does not decrease. Homework increases exponentially through both primary and secondary school, with your child needing guidance and often supervision to complete it, night after night. This requires a great deal of your time and energy.
The activities, friendships and events that your child wants to be involved in also grow as your children get older. This results in the familiar “logistics-dilemma-fixed-grin” when answering a question on your availability, while frantically working out in your head how you can agree to a fiendishly difficult work/child clash.
“Telford on Tuesday?” you airily respond to a client, fixed grin in place. “No problem.” While frantically texting a friend to ensure daughter can be collected from drama lesson on time while simultaneously working out how to transport son from after-school sports practice. Childcare is also a conundrum. How old does a child have to be before you can leave them alone, and for how long? I would still hesitate to leave my teenage son all day at home in the holidays while I’m working. Yes, he is perfectly capable of arranging his own activities and making himself some food while I am out, but am I wrong in feeling that it is unfair to leave him for a long, full day? However, he is clearly too old for classic childcare options.
Over the years I have been through the full gamut of childcare options; child-minders – excellent care but someone else’s home; nursery – too impersonal and rigid; nanny – reliable but cash-haemorrhaging; au pairs – couldn’t get up in the morning and smoked on the sly. I have also relied on relations and friends to help. None of these options really suit a teenager.
My daughter is also at that awkward age where a she has out-grown the child-minder but is too young to be left alone. It is too much responsibility to ask my son to look after her for long periods when I am working, particularly in holiday times. BC or “before children” I had a good job, travelled the country and worked the hours I needed to. Now 15 years later and another child on, I am still often frustrated at the curtailment of the working day and at the sheer amount of juggling of priorities required.
What is the Answer? Over the last few years I have come to terms with the fact that I have too many things to do and not enough time to do them in. It is very frustrating but I now accept that some (less important) things just won’t get done when I want them to be done. In pressure situations family, friends and acquaintances will help you in tricky situations, if you don’t take them for granted and are willing to reciprocate. I have also come to terms with the fact that I will have to repeatedly stop doing certain things in mid-flow in order to service the needs of my children. I just have to ensure that I have focused on the priorities and have set expectations accordingly. I have found that if I specify realistically when something can be done, clients agree to this.
Focus on the priorities, don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy your children now – they grow up too quickly.
Author: Christine Southern, founder of Business Accomplish Ltd. Christine recognises that business owners are working hard in their business, often with limited resources and conflicting priorities. Christine’s track record of working with small and medium-sized businesses has convinced her that by supporting business owners to clearly determine what they are trying to accomplish, and by implementing prioritised actions to achieve this, owners can make real progress.
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: @chrisiesouthern; Tel: 07931 174 500
Published in Mum and Career, bringing inspiration, support and information for working mums. http://www.mumandcareer.co.uk/