Business Family Balance #cipdbigconvo

Thanks to Sheridan Webb for today’s blog contribution.  Sheridan runs Keystone and Development and Training Ltd.  You can find her on Twitter as @Sheridan_Webb.

I was working full time as a client service manager with a training consultancy when I had my first child. I enjoyed my job, but as my husband and I have no extended family within 100 miles to help us with childcare, we had to make some difficult choices. We didn’t want our daughter being brought up by childminders, so I elected to return to work on a part-time basis (as many do). Before anyone starts getting uptight about gender stereotypes, this was purely a practically and financially driven decision: He is a surgeon – he earned more AND was on a very tightly defined career path/contract. I was a client manager for a training company, which paid less and was easier to do part time. If I had been the surgeon, he would have been the one going part-time!

Anyway, my employer was happy for me to return on a part time basis, as long as I reverted back to being a Training Consultant. The rationale for that was that clients expect their client manager to be available 8.30-6.00 5 days a week. So I took the reduced pro-rota salary, and went back. To be clear, I wasn’t forced into this – just encouraged, and to be honest as I was learning how to be a working mum, I thought having a less responsible job was probably a good thing.

But it wasn’t easy – The office was an hour’s drive from home and the nursery, and my boss wasn’t keen on me working at home (this was 12 years ago – we didn’t have the technology we do now) Also, I couldn’t travel anywhere near as much as I could before: No extended family remember? And a husband whose job meant long days, evenings on-call and weekends. Overall, my colleagues were understanding, but I always felt that I was letting my company down, and putting pressure on my colleagues. Just because they had no kids, or had help with kids, didn’t mean that they should be away from home more often: They had lives too.

So when I was expecting cherub number 2, I knew I wasn’t going back to work.

My husband was great – he said I didn’t have to work if I didn’t want to, we would manage. But have you ever been with 2 under 3’s 24/7 with no-one to relieve you even for an hour until your other half gets home from work after a 10 or 12 hour shift? This simply wasn’t an option.

So I decided to give self-employment a go. I figured I could choose my own hours and it would keep me mentally stimulated, meaning I had a life outside of being mum. The kids went to nursery 3 days a week and the plan was for me to earn at least enough to cover the nursery fees (no free places in those days). I started out doing associate work, and within 4 months, I was covering the fees. Just as an aside, it was odd though how many people thought that I worked at home WHILST LOOKING AFTER a 3-year old and a 1-year old. Bonkers!

What was even odder was that, after a couple of years, when I started to get my own clients, they were totally OK with me only being available Tuesday-Thursday. So the whole “You need to be available 5 days a week” turned out to be nonsense.

Now my kids are older, I work term time. There’s no childcare for the 13 weeks school holidays, and again, my clients are totally understanding: Of course it’s not that I’m completely unavailable: I answer emails, I do a bit of design work, I attend (arranged) conference calls, but everyone knows that I can’t travel and I’m not sitting in my office all day waiting to respond to last-minute requests. But if we arrange work in advance, or schedule a call, I can do it.

My family and my business are both important to me. Sometimes, my kids have to work around my business (finding places to go after school so I CAN get to that occasional meeting in London). Sometimes my business has to work around my kids (sorry, I can’t deliver a course in Basingstoke on Tuesday ‘cos my husband is at work 8am-8pm). It’s all about give and take. Balance. Yes, I’ve lost work because of my restrictions, but not as much as you might expect.

In 12 years’ I’ve learned that most organisations are accepting of the fact that many of us have family responsibilities outside of work and want to help. The fact that a new generation of (younger) senior managers are in the top jobs helps because (unlike their own parents) they are probably the first generation who have had to juggle these responsibilities themselves. They want to make it easier for the rest.

And although I’ve been told (when working as an associate) that telling a client about my childcare issues is unprofessional, I actually think it’s vital. Most clients really want to do what they can to help – you’ve just got to be up front about it, be as flexible as possible and be honest!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s