Samantha Dooey-Miles doesn't work Fridays, you know...
While I was preparing to return to work after maternity leave, people would say to me, "You must be desperate to go back” before listing reasons I had never given them as to why I must be bored looking after my daughter all day every day. I suppose the assumption I needed more mental stimulation than a baby could provide was flattering. My friends had me down as being so intellectual that my brain required constant adult conversation or it’d rot. This was not the case. I loved spending my days with the baby, and not just because I could stay in my pyjamas all day if I wanted to and she wouldn’t judge me.
When it came to speaking to my employer about going back I knew I couldn’t return to my old way of working five days a week. I wanted to work but I did not want to lose pyjama mummy and daughter time too, which is why I requested a flexible working arrangement which, hooray, was approved. I got exactly what I wanted. How often does that happen in life?
It's safe to assume then, that what's about to follow is a list of all the amazing things I’ve discovered about flexible working, right? Right? Well, no. The arrangement I have is perfect for me. However, as I’ve found with all stages of parenting, it brought with it an unexpected problem - flexi-working guilt.
After six months juggling work, childcare and pyjama days I’ve finally conquered mine and you can too.
When you start departing the office earlier than everyone else, or find you have to hand over a project half-complete for someone else to finish because you won't be in for the next four days, you may find apologies spilling from your lips. "Sorry I have to go now" you'll say with one arm in your coat and one foot out the door. "Sorry I can’t join the meeting" you’ll type while declining a calendar invite which takes place at the exact time you're struggling to take your shoes off at the nursery before you go into the toddler room. "Sorry Trisha, you'll have to deal with this customer as they're coming in on a day I don't work" you'll say while mentally planning the trip to soft play you'll be making when the customer comes back to collect his new bathroom cabinet. Let’s be honest, you are not genuinely sorry but by apologising all the time you are giving the impression you have something to be sorry for. You do not. Please stop it.
Educate your childfree co-workers
Unless you work in a professional childcare environment, you can be sure the people you work with who do not have kids will almost certainly not know what is involved in being a working parent. When you need to nip off early because nursery rang to say that your little smasher is projectile vomiting, or when the door is slamming behind you as you exit the building at exactly 5.01pm every single day, you may develop a sense that those people without kids view your flexi-working as slacking. If, like me, you're prone to negative thoughts you may even start imagining the terrible things they say about you when you aren’t there. That you’re lazy, not pulling your weight, your new dress is unbecoming of a woman in her thirties. Actually, forget that last one.
You will feel immensely better if you teach people about your situation. For instance, say you are being asked to work late ten minutes before you’re supposed to finish for the day. This is a prime time to say, “As well as paying the nursery hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds a month so I can be separated from my child all day, if I arrive late they charge me a tenner a minute until I arrive.” Information like this will shock your colleagues into thinking, ‘Damn, it’s no wonder (INSERT YOUR NAME) doesn’t want to do overtime’.
Thanks to flexible working I have managed to, finally, create my own distinctive catchphrase in the office. Are you ready for it? “I don’t work Fridays”. Catchy, isn’t it? Like all good sayings, it’s based in truth. I do not work Fridays. I am not in the office, I will not make phone calls, I will not check emails or anything else because I DO NOT WORK FRIDAYS.
Being strict works for everyone involved in the arrangement. In my case I do not work Fridays as I want to spend the day with my daughter. I would not be able to do my job to any standard and I would not be able to be the mother I want to be if I were trying to fit both activities in at the same time. There’s also the equally important factor that if you have reduced your hours you have to be strict to ensure you are not working for free on days you are no longer contracted to work.
Don’t perpetuate the day-off myth
The Friday I don’t work (as a reminder, I don’t work Fridays) is dedicated to my daughter. These days are bliss. I can take full advantage of any sunshine rather than stealing ten minutes while eating a soggy Pret sandwich in the park on my lunch break. I can meet a mum pal and natter away while our children spread their germs to one another. I can read as many books with my daughter as she likes without keeping an eye on the clock to ensure I won’t miss my bus to work. All of this is a very pleasant way to spend my time. It is not, however, a day off.
When you say “day off” to your colleagues they envision you with your feet up, eating cake and watching Loose Women. It gives the impression childcare is a doddle, that the child you dash out of the office to take care of does’t require much attention. It’s your day with your child, a day where you can bond, your way of being able to even up the cost of childcare if you do a day yourself - it’s lots of things but it is not a day off.
Remember everyone has agreed to this
To reach your flexible arrangement you will have had meetings and negotiations of some sort with your employer. All of which have led to you signing a formal agreement which you and the company you work for have both agreed to. If you’re freelance you’ve explained your situation and the company have taken you on on those terms. This is brilliant - you have all agreed this is what you should be doing. Guilt be gone. Everyone knows and expects you to bugger off early or to come in late or to work from home on a Thursday or whatever you’ve arranged. So log off the system bang on finishing time, leg it to the train that gets you to the nanny before dinner is served and see the child you do all this bloody work for anyway.