Saturday, 27 February 2016

5 reasons why mums know best and why every office needs them

After over a decade of motherhood I felt as if my workplace skills had atrophied to the point that I was entirely unemployable. Despite having held senior positions before popping a sprog and having worked in a couple more during brief hiatuses from my full time role as mum, I was sure that I was incapable of offering anything useful in the world of commerce.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling that giving birth and spending far too many hours in front of CBeebies has some kind of physical effect on your brain. Stripping you of your powers of bullshit and bravado that are crucial to survival at work. But I am here to tell all the mums who think they couldn't ever make it behind a desk again how wrong they are.

Mums really do know best for the following five reasons:

Mums are digitally savvy

You think fiddling with your phone, sharing pictures of your kids on Facebook, instagramming the birthday cake you just made, sharing a video of your baby's first steps on YouTube and tweeting a countdown to wine-o-clock are just distraction techniques to get you out of sorting the washing.

WRONG - these make you a digital whiz. You know all about the latest social media platforms, what makes for viral content, what posts have reach and how to communicate in different mediums online. These are skills that employers are crying out for. They are desperate to find that Holy Grail of content that real women are actually interested in and mums can easily locate it for them.

Mums are arch negotiators

Anyone who has ever worked anywhere will know that office politics reign supreme. Getting what you want out of a job is all about scratching the right backs and not treading on the wrong toes. It is a harsh world out there and only the best negotiators will rise to the top.

Luckily all mothers have been trained to haggle with people who drive the hardest bargains on the planet - toddlers. We have all had the fights over nap time, getting into and out of the buggy, over whether or not broccoli should be considered a great source of vitamins or a deadly poison that should not be ingested at any price.

We are used to wheedling, cajoling and occasionally using brute force to get our own way, no matter how unreasonable our opponent. I cannot think of better preparation to navigate the tricky power struggles of office politics.

Mums can multitask

Give a 20-year-old sixteen tasks to do at the same time and it is a recipe to find junior members of staff in tears in the toilets. This generation has just left home, where mum did everything for them (silly mum) and the idea that they should do more than one thing at a time is ludicrous.

Mums on the other hand are more than used to booking a plumber, while stirring the dinner and pacifying a screaming toddler with a biscuit. Or reading a story, while standing in as a makeshift climbing frame to her child. Or leaving the house equipped for any eventuality from snowstorms to sunburn.

Merely having to put together a report, make a phone call, book a taxi and chair a meeting, blissfully free from the usual soundtrack of wailing children, is a walk in a park for a mum.

Mums are nobody's bitch

When I was 25 my job was everything to me. If it went well I was a success, if things went tits up I was a failure. My whole psyche was tied up in the ups and downs of my career. That meant that I was terrified of losing my job and as such prepared to put up with any amount of shit, just so long as I was able to cling on to my rung on the career ladder.

Not any more. I like my job. It is fun, stimulating, gets me out of the house and pays me well. But it is not my life. My life is my family, my job is what I do during the day. This is not to say I don't want to do it well, but I am not going to play the game of who can stay longest or curry the most favour with the boss. If my employers can't see the value in me, I am confident someone else will, and even if they don't I still have my boys and really that is all that matters.

All mums are in the same boat. Not matter what happens at work, as long as your kids are happy and healthy life is good. This makes mums perfect employees. They will work bloody hard, give of their best, but they won't be afraid to stand up and be counted if something needs to be said - and every employer should welcome that, as otherwise how can they improve and do the best job for their clients?

Mums know best

I often sit in meetings where lots of young people try to guess what will motivate a proper grown up to make a purchasing decision. They come up with lots of fatuous ideas based on what we all thought grown ups were like when we were that young. A classic example was when someone said that 40-year-olds were past it and no longer cared what they looked like.

Ahem says I, a 44-year-old decked out in make up, hair dyed to hide the dreaded grey, clothes bought to make the most of a body ravaged by childbirth and my devotion to cake, yes we do.

I think my little colleague, who was young enough to be my child, saw anyone over the age of 30 as ready for a blue rinse and a zimmer frame. The problem is that when you are trying to appeal to people who have cash to spend, even 40 is a spring chicken.

While young people are amazing at knowing what the latest way 'millennials' communicate is, or what platform is hot or not, or whether you still meet dates on Tinder, or is that almost as uncool as saying uncool, they know bugger all about life. That said the combination of sparky, bright youth and genuine life experience is and something every office needs. So step up mums as your contributions are golden.

Mums are the CEOs in any family with the skills to reflect that. So if you are thinking of hopping off the school run and onto the career ladder, don't be afraid and make sure to haggle over your salary as hard as your kids bargain for that extra five minutes in front of the telly before bedtime.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

I did a bad thing

Bless me father for I have sinned. I have done a bad thing that I have never, ever done before. But I don't feel guilty, I feel pretty good about it.

So what is this bad thing I have done? I have let someone who commissioned me to do some work down.

I took it on in good faith, I really intended to do it to my usual high standard. I hate letting people down and I am a very conscientious writer who never, ever misses a deadline. You can ask any editor I have ever worked for, I will always go the extra mile. Give up that weekend or evening so I can get copy in to them, or make amends to ensure that it hits the brief exactly.

In all my 20 years as a journalist, I have never said no to any changes, any crazy shifts in perspective, any mad deadlines. I pride myself on being 100% reliable.

But a couple of days ago I emailed an editor who had commissioned me and said to her that I simply didn't have the time or energy to complete the writing task I had accepted.

I admit that I do bear some guilt in this. I should have said no from the outset, but it is so ingrained in me to accept any commission, I foolishly agreed to do this piece of work. I am heartily sorry for that. I know I made her life more difficult as a result and that was never my intention.

But what makes me feel a whole lot better about my shoddy behaviour is the difference between this and any of my other commissions. I was asked to write it for free.

So when I shamefacedly emailed her to say that actually, when push comes to shove, I am going to prioritise my job that pays me and my family that loves me, over scrambling to write up copy for nothing, I didn't feel nearly as bad as I probably should have.

This little epiphany in my life comes on top of a huge response to the editor of the Huff Po stating that he is proud not to pay writers, as those who write for free do it for the love of writing rather than  shabby commercial gain.

So I take it that he is more than happy to edit this online model of moral crusading for free? I mean it would just demean his position to actually, like, get paid to do it. If he is taking a salary then how can we know that he really is choosing the best, most enlightening and unbiased writing for our delight. I am just not sure I can trust him if I feel that he is being paid to do his job.

Come to think of it, why on earth did I pay the builder who renovated my house last year. Surely he is a craftsman and by giving him money I was sullying his art? He would surely have done a much better job of the loft extension if I had refused to pay him and insisted that the exposure it would provide for him, as it jutted proudly into the sky above all my neighbours, was reward enough for his toil? What a fool I have been to dirty all the transactions I have made throughout my life with the taint of money.

Next time I am in M&S I shall insist they donate my lunch to me for free, otherwise how do I know that my tuna and sweetcorn sandwich has been made with love, instead of the base desire of the person who made it to be paid for their work. Charlatans the lot of them.

So I am not sorry for the bad thing I did, but I am truly sorry for ever having considered writing for a commercial organisation for free. I'm ashamed that I was stupid enough to play along with the idea that writers should donate their words in return for exposure. After all I know just what that is worth, I have been on the cover of the Daily Mail twice, my stories have led on their website, with its 100 million readers many times, and yet still people think I should write for them for free, so what was that exposure worth in the end? Sweet FA.

Let this be a cautionary tale to all those writers who do consider their words so worthless that they are happy to give them away in return for that most ephemeral of concepts; 'exposure'. By gifting your words you are not paving the way to some distant point where someone will have a eureka moment and realise that actually your prose is worth paying for. Instead you are slowly hacking the heart out of the business of writing, killing dead the idea that it is a skill and craft that should be rewarded. Thanks for that.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Down time? Remind me what that is again...

The sunlight streams through the floor to ceiling sash window. It warms the cat curled up asleep on my feet. Around me lay the disemboweled remains of the Sunday papers, a glossy supplement laying bare the personal life of a famous actor, the business section counting up and down fortunes. My head lies snug on the lap of my beloved, as he is engrossed in the dubious pleasures of a grand prix on the TV. All is well with the world. 

Perhaps later we might get dressed, go for a late lunch, maybe catch a movie or just while away the evening in a wine bar putting the world to rights. The world is our  oyster and we can spend our own sweet time searching for that pearl of entertainment that will divert us until the working week begins again. 

This was how weekends used to look. They were a chance to rest, unwind and forget about the power struggles and pressing deadlines of the office. There were that precious 48 hours of down time that was so essential to making the five days of toil that interspersed them bearable. 

Since those hedonist days of old, the whole concept of downtime has become increasingly alien to me. From the rude disruption of my quiet weekends wreaked by the eccentric routines of a newborn, to the Saturday afternoons spent freezing in a local park, desultorily pushing a complaining toddler on the swings and trying to catch furtive glances at your phone for just a little distraction from the monotony of the playground. 

But in some ways it hardly mattered as back in the days of little children all my days blended into one blurry mush of childcare. There were a few notable highs to keep one sane; the moments when my children were adorable, funny, cuddly or hilariously astute. For example, the day my little son touched me gently on the arm and said 'Mummy, I know I say you are the most beautiful woman in the world, but you know I don't mean that literally? There are prettier girls, I just don't want to upset you.' What a charmer. 

But essentially one day of Play Dough, CBeebies and the park was much the same as another. 

Since the boys have grown up a little there has been more chance to be self indulgent. Now that they can work the TV on their own pre-dawn weekend mornings can be spent in the land of nod once again. But every time you get settled down to being seriously lazy, it seems to be time to feed them again, or you remember that they have no clean school uniform, or that you really should listen to their violin practise, rather than sneaking in a decadent episode of Suits on Netflix. 

When I was a SAHM this wasn't such a problem, as I could work pockets of down time into my day. Since I worked a seven-day week, I felt it was acceptable to take the occasional half hour off to watch TV with my lunch, or go for a run with a gripping podcast on my headphones. While weekends were no longer luxuriant breaks from the week, there were the odd windows of indulgence to keep me from feeling too hard done by. 

Now that I am a working mother, I think the most bloody sacrifice to this new way of life has been my personal down time. Now I know some working mums say that the commute is their 'me' time. Well I am sorry, but being squeezed under someone's ripe armpit inside an insanely overheated train for an hour each way every day isn't my idea of a little treat. 

Add to which I am usually exhausted because I have had to get up too early or work too late, so my time on the tube is spent in a haze of stressed resentment at my miserable lot, and you don't have the recipe for chilled out relaxation. 

So that leaves the two scant days of the weekend, during which I feel duty bound to spend time with the children who I have seen for about 20 minutes each week day, most of which was taken up by screaming at them to get ready for school or bed. 

But I have a terrible confession to make. I would much rather laze on the sofa with my Kindle, or indeed those Sunday papers, than spend quality time with my children. I don't want cook tea, or tidy up, or deal with their roster of parties and extra curricular activities. I want to be selfish and slothful. I want to drink wine, go for dinner, spend a bit of time just tuning out the world, go for a run at a time that suits me, not their busy timetable. I want throw a snotty-hot-tears, kicking-my-legs-on-the-ground tantrum to demand some me time. 

Just as well that my wages are paying for the boys to have the latest whiz bang gaming console for their birthday, as that means they won't notice whether I am there, or not, or dancing round the room with in the Christmas Pudding nipple tassels I got from Secret Santa and little else. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

To work or not to work? Don't fret, Nicole Kidman has the answer

I am not a feminist. Well, perhaps I am in the sense that I do think the infinite superiority of the female of the species is illustrated by our natural ability to find lost items by employing such innovative tactics as looking for them and the fact that, in general, we can hold more than one piece of information in our minds at a time.

That said, my thesis is somewhat undermined by the fact that I never remember when the bins need to go out and I dissolve into a whimpering mess at the sight of a spider in the bath.

Perhaps indeed this is what I mean by stating that I am not a feminist. I think both genders have much to commend them, and much to disparage.

As a working mother in a house full of boys the idea blazing a trial for the sisterhood isn't something that plays on my mind too much, apart from trying to prepare my sons to be amongst the less repellent versions of their gender, by learning the importance of cuddles, putting the towels back on the rail and making a damn fine cup of tea.

But the example I set as a mother working or not is not something that keeps me awake at night.

I think that whether a mum works or not is probably down to two simple factors.

1. Does she need the money, and if she does will her wages be enough, post childcare, to make it worth the bother of wearing lipstick every day

2. Will she go bat shit crazy if she stays at home with the kids all day?

I know that my friends with daughters would add a third point to this as they do think it is important to set an example for their offspring, by showing women can succeed at work as well as being mums.

Well after a fashion anyway. I rather feel that motherhood and career are pretty incompatible activities, as both demand a full time commitment, which is hard to achieve simultaneously.

My advice to any daughter would probably be to hook up with someone who is loaded, employ a nanny to deal with any pesky kids and spend your time getting lovely facials. But I realise this path does come with its own pitfalls, as this type of sugar daddy almost invariably expects you to stay young and beautiful in return for his cash, and this becomes increasingly difficult as you eat chocolate and get older.

But you don't need my thoughts on the vexed question of to work or not to work as film star and ex-Mrs Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, has solved the dilemma for us all. The answer is that if you work you are a better mum.

Wells that depends. If you swan off to make a smash hit movie, come home with bags of cash and can make up for your absence by scoring them tickets to the Oscars, then perhaps working as a mother is a no brainer.

If you clean toilets for 12 hours a day and spend your spare time rushing between a patchwork of childcare that eats up 90% of your hard earned wages, perhaps the idea of living vicariously through your kids as a stay at home mother wouldn't be quite so unappealing.

Contrary to Nicole's certainly, like most things parenting, there is no right answer to these questions. It's all down you the parent, the children, the family set up and the various constraints and opportunities that are brought to bear on that situation.

Just as I rather despised those smug mummies who would lay down the law vis a vis breastfeeding, I also think that the best way to be a real member of the sisterhood is to keep schtum about each other's life choices. After all we all feel ridiculously guilty all the time, no matter what we do, so there is no vacancy for someone else to help us regret our choices.