George Osbourne’s latest good idea is to offer women (and men too I suppose) the chance to own shares in their company at the expense of their right to flexible working and other hard-won rights, I can see him suggesting next that parents can give up the rights to have their child educated in return for the kid having a marvellous time as chimney sweep and a few shillings a year if they don’t die in an industrial accident.
Now in this marvellous PC and equal opps world men and women have equal rights to parental leave and to request flexible working but only one person in the relationship tends to use these rights – the Mum. I’ve worked hard to get a fairly good career and a nice home (and a long suffering husband) – I now have my own office and a separate dryer (two sign of proper grown-up success) but I do the drop off & pick up and the nursery or school prefer to call me to tell me that one of the kids has been over inspired by Van Gough and the resulting injury traumatised 29 five-year olds.
The reality of being a working Mum is that you carry two huge burdens, childcare and a career. But when the Mum is in a low paid part-time job as opposed to earning big bucks working 60 hours a week surely this is fair you cry? Maybe, if it cut both ways but it doesn’t. In my experience even where the Mum is the main wage earner there is a social expectation that she will still handle the kids.
Before having kids I imagined myself as a competent super Mum, helping neighbours, having a pristine house and calmly managing a career to the envy of everyone else. Ha!
When I woke up this morning I’d spent the night failing to sleep next to a vomiting three-year old; in a late night emergency division of labour we’d agreed that I’d take the night shift, in return I wouldn’t have to stay at home (helpful as I had an important meeting that went on until 8pm). When I woke up the upstairs of our house smelled of sick and fish fingers (kids never get sick when the nursery feeds then inoffensive food) I’d overslept in my exhaustion and had to cut my shower very short, I then spent ten minutes frantically banging on my neighbours door (I was walking her daughter to school today) to find that they had succumbed to the vomiting bug too. Once my oldest was at breakfast club, glaring at me as he was finally being fed, I ran around the supermarket getting pukey-child-friendly food as I knew my husband probably wouldn’t have a clue what to feed sick kids (FYI – same as my Mum gave me, start with crackers, work up to rich tea, toast, tomato soup with bread and finally fruit cocktail) and probably wouldn’t want to leave the house with a projectile vomiting toddler.
I then got into work; parked illegally as all the parking spaces had gone and scrambled across to my office, burdened by Pepsi cans to keep me going until tonight’s meeting finishes. I had no make-up on and I had a worrying suspicion that there might be a small piece of sick still in my hair. But I thanked God I worked flexi-hours and could swan in after 9am on the grounds that 1. I would be working bloody late and 2. my youngest son had turned into a fish finger, norovirus and baked beans volcano. Glamorous, no – but managing to strike something of a balance and making it possible for me to have a career and kids, yes
If I was offered shares in place of flexible working there would almost certainly come a time when I’d snap and say “sod trying to cut the weekly shopping back lets embrace Mammon and give up my flexible working”. Once that offer is on the table people will make judgements about who is really committed to the company and who is just clock watching until they can finger paint. Even if I held out on wanting a small annual dividend I’d panic about my visible commitment to the employer and would be signing away my flexible working rights before you can say womens’ lib.
If I lost the right to say to employers (as I’ve done in the past) I’ll be flexible and I’ll be here for meetings etc.. but I need have a day at home each week or I want to average 7 hours flexibly a day instead of 7 ½ to avoid having a nervous breakdown trying to squeeze 37 work hours inside the nursery drop off and pick up, or lost the right to be there with my son when he needed different medicines to be given to him on an hourly basis I would have to give up work completely.
Unless you want a zombie like army of former career Mums staggering down the high street singing the theme tune to Charlie and Lola, glazed eyed and defined solely by their child, and want to lose the massive output that working Mums like me make to the country then lets not be silly – save our flexible working rights.