New year: your new approach to being a working mum
Do you feel like you have to constantly prove yourself in the workplace because you’re a working mum? With most of us having a few days off because of the Christmas and bank holidays, this is your chance to go back to work renewed and ready to stand firm!
We don’t ask to be treated like martyrs, or for a medal, neither do we ask for special treatment, just because we have children. Most of us working mums just want to get on – by that I mean getting on with the work we’re being paid to do. Most of us want to get in with that work without feeling as though every step we take in the workplace is being scrutinised in case any semblance of life outside it is impacting on our work or how we do it.
Whether you work full-time, part-time, on a rota, term-time only or whatever pattern of work, one thing seems to ring true for many mums, and that’s that there is often a battle to prove yourself when you have young children who depend on you. This may lessen as your children get older and more independent, but what do you do if you have a young or disabled child whose needs are important to you?
1. Learn the mindset of those you work with
With more than a decade’s worth of media experience under my belt, and several line managers in that process, I feel like a veteran when it comes t working with other people – and sussing out how their minds work. That, I feel, is the key to staying comfortable your workplace and not having to justify our needs as a mother to want or need to be somewhere else.
So, in some workplaces, your colleagues may constantly talk about family life, what they did at the weekend, their children etc, and it’s therefore safe to follow suit. In other working environments, you can literally see your colleagues zone out when you start to go into more than just the passing comment about your weekend, if it includes children. You have to develop a heightened sense of self-awareness to make sure you’re not rambling on about your children. And you need to develop perception in the attitudes and behaviours of other people – look at their body language, follow their eyes and facial expressions. Also, if your colleagues never actually ask you about how your children are doing, they probably don’t want to know.
Once you’ve worked out where you stand on this issue, it will give you an idea about how much detail you need to volunteer when you need to take the afternoon off work, or ask to work from home. In some workplaces, it’s sad but true that needing to take a pet to the vet is seen as more acceptable than needing to attend a medical appointment with your child. Needing to stay home and get the boiler fixed (renin summer!) can be brushed aside in some workplaces, but if you take the day off for a child-related reason, you’ll lose respect. Learn to play the game.
2. Be bold and courageous
Once you’ve worked out what the culture of your workplace is, you will know exactly where you stand as a working mum. The next step is to be bold and courageous. What this means is standing firm. If you need to take a day off for a childcare emergency, know that the law is on your side – don’t act as though your line manager is doing you a favour. Also, don;t feel as though you need to tiptoe around colleagues who make demeaning comments about your needing to take time off. We all have annual leave, and just because you choose to take your around the school holidays and your colleagues take two big holidays a year and work all the way through is not your concern. Your priority is working at an excellent level, and not being made to feel less adequate because you are a mother.
Sometimes, we beat ourselves up about having to leave on time. I used to do this in a former workplace – I started work an hour before everyone else, but when I left n time, it was a problem. Not with my line manager, my reportees or close colleagues, but other people in the office. As soon as I’d stay up to wear my coat, it seemed like all eyes were clock watching. This used to make me feel very self conscious, to the point where I’d be emailing on the train journey home, just to ‘prove’ that i wasn’t slacking. Until one day, my husband picked the children up from school and I decided to work a little later to finish off a piece of work. Everyone left exactly half an hour after me. I was gobsmacked! I made sure that they all knew that I knew I worked a whole hour more than they did, so all the snarky comments about my leaving early was nonsense! After that, I made as much noise as I wanted when I was leaving – i was unshakeable.
Read our guides on being a working mum and the law so you are armed with knowledge about what you can and can’t ask for in the workplace. The saying, ‘knowledge is power’ is fact. If you know your rights, you have a certain confidence in how you carry yourself. Also, get to know the staff handbook, if your employer has provided one. At least you’ll be able to use it as a point of reference if things get sticky.
3. Don’t be a doormat
Feeling overwhelmed at work often emerges when (you feel like) you don’t have a voice and when you feel you need to agree to all projects and tasks that are thrown your way. Where does this actually come from? There is nothing wrong with saying ‘no’. Read our guide, ‘The Working Mum’s Guide to Saying ‘No’ Without Feeling Guilty for more in-depth tips and advice. In fact, if you don’t learn to speak up, it will start to affect your work – you just won’t have enough time to do everything you’re given. If you do manage to clear all the work, you’ll be taking some of the work home with you, which means it will encroach on precious family time, and rest time, so you’ll always feel stressed. Again, this will have an impact on the quality of your work if it continues for the long term, and your wellbeing.
Founder and editor of www.motherswhowork.co.uk, a mother of two wonderful children, wife, entrepreneur (check out www.geekschool.co.uk) and journalist.