Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Why I Marched at March of the Mummies 2017

‘Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get,’ said Forrest Gump, back in  1994. For me, as a working mum of two, I’d say life is like a Jenga tower – you never know what’s going to happen next. It’s for this very reason that I joined the incredible March of the Mummies in London yesterday and it’s something that I want to shed some light on, given that I’ve never taken part in a march before. 
Took an early lunch break and spent it at #marchofthemummies

I had my first daughter in 2013, the day after I turned twenty-eight. Since that time – well, eight months after to be precise – I’ve been a working mum, carving out a career for myself in the non-for-profit world. I had my second daughter in 2015 and since my journey as a parent began, I’ve changed jobs – twice.

When people ask me how I manage (particularly as my latest job has required quite a bit of travel so far) I always say that my life is like a Jenga tower. I’m four years down the line in this professional ‘juggling’ game and I’ve got strategies – there is always, always a plan. That is – until there’s not. Like a perfectly formed Jenga tower, most of the time everything functions and appears to be just fine. But, if one piece comes out of place – everything collapses. And fast.

The only reason I’ve been able to even cobble together this tower in the first place is because I am one of the lucky ones. We live smack bang in the middle of both sets of our parents in North West London – about a seven to ten-minute drive away from each of them. Both my mum and my mother-in-law work but interestingly (given that they are of an older generation, I hope they don’t mind me saying) they are both able to do so flexibly – which means they can commit to helping us with both of our children. When the girls were younger, this meant a full day each week – so along with their support and that of a wonderful local childminder, we were sorted. Now that the kids are older, this has meant weekly collection from nursery, along with helping with homework and dinner at our house, before me or my husband walk through the door.

But of course, even with this brilliant support, pieces still move around and the structure crumbles – we don’t pay our parents so we can’t exactly make a fuss if they go on holiday, have appointments or you know, lives of their own (how selfish). In these circumstances, it’s usually a case of sitting down with both my mum and mother-in-law to go through any plans coming up. But not everything can be predicted, particularly when, say, the kids aren’t feeling well. Yes, I am that mum who sends her children to school almost no matter what but when I had the two of them projectile vomiting over me (this is not an exaggeration) a couple of weeks ago on the first day I was due to go back into the office after a holiday, I was left standing, in a deep pool of sick, wondering what the hell I was going to do.

Then there are other, bigger shifts to contend with. I signed Alice up to a nursery after the one I wanted to send her to closed down. It was local and nice enough but for a few reasons, it wasn’t ideal. When I found out that another nursery that I had heard great things about but hadn’t even looked at because the hours were mornings only, had extended its sessions, I made the decision to move her. For a time, I was very stressed about how this would work logistically but of course, in typical ‘me’ fashion, I had made a bit of a mountain out of a molehill. What I have learned though is that nine times out of ten, when there’s a shift in circumstances to contend with, things do have a funny way of working out – most of the time.

The banner that says it all

Aside from our family support, I’ve been blessed with an amazing career mentor. Our mentor/mentee relationship evolved over time – from before I even had children. But since I’ve been a mum, its actually proven even more important to me. She’s a working mum too and a leader in her field and she, above anyone, has instilled in me the fact that flexible working is the way forward – what matters above all is getting the job done, rather than the time you spend at a particular desk in a particular office. And I always, always make sure I get the job done. Of course, there are many (many) times when I think I’m doing a rubbish job – at home and at work – and I could write you a whole essay on the guilt I sometimes feel as a working parent; I feel guilty when I can’t commit to staying late at the office to finish something, but then feel guilty that sometimes when I finish, I enjoy a quick stroll around the Zara down the road before I head to the tube. But, at the moment, I work 3 days a week in the office, am contactable and on email the rest of the time – and it works. So I try my very best to roll with it.

Truth to be told, I often feel like life is extremely chaotic – heck, at times, its utterly overwhelming. I wouldn’t change things, though. My work matters – it counts. And that’s not only in terms of my salary which makes a meaningful impact on our lives and lifestyle. It is important to me – as a person. I want to work. I love what I do. I don’t want to stop. I love that my girls know that mummy and daddy both work and though they’re still young, I want to show them that though it can be manic (ha!), being a working mum is possible. It should be an option for them just as it has been for me. That’s why I marched yesterday; it’s not the right thing for everyone, it’s not an option that everyone might choose – and believe me, I reckon I would find staying at home much, much harder in a lot of ways – but it should be a feasible, positive and manageable option. The fact is, for so many, though, it just isn’t. So many women have been squeezed out of careers for being pregnant or having kids. So many families don’t have parents and in-laws nearby who can help with the childcare. So many mothers literally can’t afford to work.

The front row

You can find the details of the campaign behind the March of the Mummies by checking out @pregnant_then_screwed on @instagram. You may not agree with everything – hey, you may not agree with anything – but when other countries are making strides (I’m genuinely thinking about upping sticks and heading to Scandinavia if I have a third) and ours is being labelled one of the worst in Europe for its maternity leave policies (we were ranked 22 out of 24 by the Trades Union Congress earlier this year for our statutory maternity leave) don’t you think it’s about time that we take a long hard look at ourselves? Because don’t we want the best for our families and for our children? Don’t we want them to have that choice in the future? That’s why I marched yesterday and that’s why I’m very proud to have done so. 

Marching with a smile


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