As we come out the other side of another festive fortnight, traditionally, we should be re-evaluating our lives, doing more of what makes us happy and less of the things that bring us down. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and when it comes to emotive issues such as childcare, and finding the right balance between that and work, it’s more stressful than ever. It still amuses me, in a wry, irritated kind of way, that a lot of jobs give you the luxury of time when a baby’s born: you have months where you can get on with the drudgery of looking after a very small baby in peace and quiet, feeding, rocking and getting nothing back in quiet harmony. Then just when the baby becomes really interesting – someone you’re really rather fond of, who can say mama and will try to make you laugh by putting a tea towel on their head, who will crawl over for a quick cuddle then back over to their toys, who claps and laughs at you when you sing and will hide their head on your shoulder when they meet a stranger – that’s when you’re expected to wave goodbye to it all and go back to work full-time, something you may occasionally have dreamed of doing when in the throes of a six week old’s growth spurt.
Of course, this is simplifying it – to have a choice of work and childcare is a luxury not everyone has, and a year’s maternity leave is still more generous then other, supposedly progressive, countries. As a freelance journalist, it’s not something I’ve ever experienced either – there’s a lot of talk recently about flexi working, something I do, which is great because:
- I can work from home, be in for the postman and sign for packages (weirdly, you don’t realise how amazing this until you even vaguely contemplate going back into the office – BUT HOW WILL I GET MY DELIVERIES, was my first horrified thought).
- I can take my children to ballet on a Friday at 4pm, rhyme time on a Monday at 11am, go to Christmas concerts scheduled inconveniently in the middle of the day, go to the dentist, doctor, for lunch with friends etc – all without asking anyone’s permission.
- I can use my time efficiently. If I don’t feel like working and I don’t have any imminent deadlines, then I won’t work – unlike in an office, where you must pretend to be busy until the clock hits 6pm.
- I can wonder round the house dressed as an eccentric aunt, my dog at my heels, looking in the cupboard to see if any food has appeared since the last time I checked. This activity is only reserved for when I am actually on deadline though; I’m nothing if not a procrastinator.
But, of course, flexi working isn’t always so great. And that’s mostly because:
- While I can go to ballet, rhyme time, Christmas concerts, the doctor, the dentist and for lunch (not really selling my social life here am I) it does mean I’ll have to make it up later. Cue nights in front of the TV with the laptop balanced on my knees. It’s not ideal, and knowing all day I’ll have to work that night, when I just want to collapse into bed with Agatha Christie (ahem) is a real downer.
- You don’t work 9 to 5. So you work ALWAYS. I used to be terminally depressed on a Sunday night for the week ahead – yes I was in the wrong job, but it was also because I had completely switched off. On a Friday, I didn’t have to think about work again for 48 hours. I can’t even imagine that feeling now. I check my emails on Sundays / on Christmas Day / on the day I gave birth while laying in bed with my baby.
- And on that – I don’t get maternity leave. While I could claim it from the government, it’s such a tiny amount it’s not worth it for me. I wouldn’t be able to work, and as a freelancer I have never said no to work as you don’t want to lose the job.
Which brings me to the dreaded iPhone. I hate working when I’m with the kids, and even avoid checking my emails, which will always need to be dealt with, leaving a vague feeling of stress. I’m lucky that we have three days of childcare a week, which lets me get on with a huge chunk of my work, although lately I have been weighing up the possibility of dropping a day. It’s not sensible in terms of the workload, but I am finding it more and difficult to say bye to them for the day (am sure our lovely nanny wishes this was the case, but actually as I work from home, I’m constantly popping up every couple of hours hi girls! oh hi! Must resist..). What’s the answer? I don’t know. On paper, I think I’ve nearly found it with our current arrangement. But in real life, I’m not so sure. Answers on a postcard..