When you watch, say, the Apprentice, you realise how amazing it is that work has managed to dominate our lives. Saying things like ‘We have to think about the margins’ and ‘everything I touch turns to SOLD’ while wearing a Burtons tie is actually seen as more important in our society than having a laugh with our kids in the park, feeding the ducks, or sitting down and having a nice cup of tea.
Incredible, isn’t it?And if you have children, which, let’s face it, quite a few people do, the world of work doesn’t want to know. Imagine needing time off to look after a sick child, or (gasp) pick them up when school/nursery finishes? YOU LOONY! You’re obviously not cut out for a real job, ya slacker! For some women, this is how the conversation might go if you broach the dreaded subject of childcare:
BIG BOSS ALAN SUGARTITS MAN: What do you mean you want to leave at 2.30pm to pick up your kid from school? Are you insane?
YOU: Er, no, it’s just that you don’t pay me enough to afford a childminder and the after school club is full and my child will be standing in the playground crying.
BBASM: (grudgingly) Well just this once.
YOU: Actually, school is Monday to Friday.
BBASM: YOU’RE FIRED!
OK, so it’s an extreme example. But it’s not a million miles away from the prevailing attitude that work is simply more important than anything else. Even though for half of your day you’re probably playing Candy Crush under the desk and drawing willies in the margin of your notebook in yet another boring meeting about paperclips.
The real problem is that some bosses just don’t like the idea that you might have something more important in your life than getting that eye-watering dull spreadsheet on their desk by close of play. They need your full attention, otherwise you might realise that what they make you do every day is really boring and crap. So they act like big babies themselves. They pull rank and try to pretend that paperclip meeting is more pressing than your kid’s nativity.
Obviously, some employers pride themselves on being flexible about child-related concerns. But their idea of flexibility is usually pretty…inflexible. Sometimes you can work from home. (A home that is full of kids and old bits of toast crusts and mountains of laundry). And sometimes you can leave early, as long as you make the time up (AT MIDNIGHT, in between feeds). Great! And all the while, you’re earning about a third less than you used to. HURRAY!
And that’s not to mention the reception you get from colleagues if you’re coming off maternity leave. They level you with that accusing ‘You’ve been watching This Morning for 6 months’ look and regard your baby as if it’s a bag of poo. Couple that with sleep deprivation and everybody pretending you’re not in the throes of post natal madness, and it’s a wonder more new Mums don’t go to work carrying axes and yelling ‘HERE’S JOHNNY!’
Actually, they don’t do that, because there are hardly any jobs, so we’ve also got to be hopefully grateful for the chance to leave our kids with a highly priced childminder to go to an office every day to discuss the finer points of the Herbalife diet with Sandra from accounts.
There are ways round it of course. Some women manage to combine work with motherhood successfully enough. But without help, close family in your area or an understanding boss, work is still traumatic for a lot of us. It’s tempting to go freelance, so you can spend more time at home, but that’s a potential nightmare, too. OK, so there are cups of tea and the radio, but you need to be a bloody Time Lord to get everything done, and if the kids are on holiday or they’re sick, you can kiss goodbye to your wages.
Sorry if this sounds too much like a massive ranting moan (That’s because it is). But I like working, and I don’t see why I should jump through hoops just to do it and raise a child, too. Why can’t work be based on productivity rather than time served? Why does this massive gulf between work and parenthood have to exist at all?
A truly flexible job would be between the hours of 10-2, three days a week, in a nice office with free toast and a fully staffed crèche. Instead of screen breaks, you have to take a 10 minute play break every hour and pretend to be a Gruffalo, or build a Lego tower, because it’s good for the soul. You also have an hour for lunch so you can catch up with the adult world and plenty of time to make school pick up. I calculate that if we work hard, we’ll probably get everything done.
And if we don’t, well, who cares? We’ll get to spend time with our kids, work AND have FREE TOAST. Result!