Actual Blogs

Unbalanced life lessons

Eight lessons I’ve learned since I became an Unbalanced Woman. 

  1. There’s always more to do – my To Do list will never ever end. So it’s not the end of the world if I let some items stay on that list a while. I really will vaccuum my filthy car ‘one day’. No need to be more specific than that. 
  2. Everyone’s priorities and standards are different – There’s no point judging myself against someone else. I admire the gorgeous mums in the school playground, immaculately dressed and in perfect make-up. I wish I looked like that at 8.30. But I wake up   looking like Medusa with very grumpy curly-snake-hair. So my beauty priority is simply to tame my wild frizz, just enough to avoid scaring young children. Everything else can wait. 
  3. To achieve one thing, you often have to give up something else – for example, for my health needs I have prioritised more rest time, but sacrificed running. Getting back to running is still lounging on my To Do list, diarised that famous ‘One Day’. For now I do it occasionally. VERY occasionally. 
  4. It’s OK to ask for help…  Of course we all know that, but I often feel it’s easier to just do it myself. They might not do it right. Also true. But what if…. they learn and (shock horror) might do it better? 
  5. …It’s even better to give yourself permission to not even do some stuff at all! Yes it would only take a couple of hours to nip to B&Q and buy a new piece of wood to fix that skirting board. But neither I, nor anyone else in this house jumps out of bed on a Saturday shouting “Woohoo, odd jobs day!” And so far there have been no giant mice sneaking in through the hole for a Mouse Party (or if they do they are great at tidying up after themselves, so they are welcome).
  6. If something makes you happy, make time for it – be selfish and let some other shit go. Occasionally having my nails done feels like a treat. Yes I could spend that time cleaning my car or going for a run. But…. I DON’T WANT TO!! 
  7. This is it. This is my life. As the famous phrase goes, no-one lies on their death bed thinking “I wish I’d spent more time at work”. And I know I certainly won’t lie there thinking “I wish my cupboards had been tidier”.
  8. And finally, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that having an Unbalanced Life where I complain that I can’t fit everything in, is actually a wonderful existence, because it means my life is full of things that are important to me – family and friends to love; a job that funds my life and challenges my mind; a house and garden that create great (messy) memories; a million things to do, people to see and choices to be made. 

I may be busy, I may be dizzy, but fuck me, I’m one lucky Unbalanced Woman. 

#HappilyUnbalanced

Guilty of doing nothing

Imagine standing in a courtroom and hearing that you’ve been charged and found GUILTY of doing nothing. Clearly that’s ridiculous. So why is it that when I find myself doing ‘nothing’ (like say binging a TV box set or reading a magazine with a brew), I suddenly feel a tremendous guilt?

I think about little jobs I can complete so that when my husband comes home and says “what have you done today?”, I can justify my time well spent. I think about returning to work tomorrow, and what I’ll say if I’m asked what I did yesterday. I conclude that, “put a wash on, and… well…., you know…., sat on my arse most of the day”, probably doesn’t make me sound like the windswept and interesting kind of girl I want to be.

To be clear, my husband doesn’t give two shits if I’ve sat about on my day off, because he would do exactly the same. My colleagues would probably say, “That sounds like heaven. Good for you.” The problem is totally in my head. The guilt comes from me, and my absolute phobia of being…. lazy *shudders*, like that’s the worse thing to be accused of.

I spend the working week looking at the many jobs that need doing and think ‘I’ll do that at the weekend’. Then at the weekend I think, “Why should I spend my weekend doing chores? Weekends are for family time and seeing friends, or just chilling out. I know – I’ll do that on my day off.”

Today is my day off. Between school runs I have just over five hours. Five precious hours to catch up on everything that I’ve put off. I’ve almost done the second coat of paint on the shed. I’ve almost tidied the shithole of our office / dumping ground. I’ve almost been for a run. I even thought about going to IKEA while it’s quiet. But I haven’t actually done any of those things.

“Unbalanced Woman you are accused of doing NOTHING, how do you plead?”

“Guilty as fuck, your Honour.”

Is part-time work a full-time pain in the arse?

Last year I was having a really tough time with my health and knew something had to give (I wrote a blog at that time called Literally Unbalanced if you want to know why). Eventually I talked to my boss about options to either work more flexibly or reduce my hours. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it could work. People who work part time seem to be just as knackered as people who don’t. Was I pinning my hopes on a Work vs Life balance myth?

Before I started I had loads of questions – some that people were able to help me with, and some that I’ve had to learn for myself. So I’ve written about my experience to see if this helps anyone else who’s trying to make a similar decision.

I know we all have different jobs, hours and employers’ rules, so to set the scene, I do a traditional nine-to-five office type of role, for a big company, and have a fantastic boss who is open to flexible working. Yes, I know, I’m blooming lucky!!

I wanted to take Monday as a non-working day, so I trialled two different options:

  1. Full time flexible working – working longer hours Tuesday to Friday
  2. Part time – reducing my hours by 20% to four normal length days – called a ‘0.8’

Here’s what I worried about / learned…

I’ll have less money

Let’s cut to the chase – this is hard to accept. If you reduce your hours you reduce your pay – no shit Sherlock, of course you do. Of course you should. But that’s why so many of us try to flex our hours rather than cut them.

If you usually work a five day week and are considering dropping to four or three days, dropping 20% or 40% of your salary is VERY hard to swallow. And let’s just make it a bit worse… if you have a job that gets any kind of bonus, performance pay or profit share, these will also be pro-rata rates. That sucks, and you have to suck it up.

I’ll get fewer holidays

Yep. Just like pay, holidays are pro-rata. If you go part time you get a percentage of holidays cut. You may get even less than you think because you are entitled to fewer Bank Holidays too. If for example, you normally get 27 days leave and 8 days Bank holidays = 35 days total, this whole amount could reduce by 20% (or whatever cut you take).

If you choose flexible full-time pattern, and work longer days on your working days, your company will probably calculate your holidays in hours, and each working day you take as holiday is equivalent to the number of hours you would normally work that day.

Of course, you ARE getting more days off by taking a non-working day – so quit moaning! Just ask for help to calculate your allowance, so you know what you’re dealing with.

I’ll probably end up working longer hours even if I take a pay cut

This is very possible unless you are SUPER strict with your time. It’s another reason I trialled flexible working first. Unless you are clear on exactly how your workload will reduce, you will end up trying to squeeze the same work into fewer hours. And unless you are a magician, or were previously a massive slacker taking two-hour lunch breaks without anyone noticing, that’s impossible.

Consider this when looking at your workload: an hour-long meeting still last an hour, you don’t get to attend 80% of it. Same for training, appraisals and administrative tasks. All these will still need to be completed in your working hours and will take the same amount of time whether you work full time or part time. So if you are part time, the hours you have available to do your actual work is even less that you think. Discuss this with your boss and wider team.

How will my hours impact the rest of my team?

I needed to discuss that too. For example, if I need to be involved in meetings or decisions about projects I work on, does that mean that people need to wait for me to return to work? Or can someone take responsibility on my non-working day?

If someone else is going to job-share with you on some of your work, you need to build up trust with each-other and set some ground rules. Otherwise you could end up reversing decisions and pissing people off.

I’ll always need to ‘catch up’

Yep – and this is the hardest part for me. Every Tuesday I arrive to a full inbox and need at least an hour to get organised. If you miss a meeting, someone needs to update you. Even tiny, seemingly trivial adjustments can feel significant, like the fact that everyone has already discussed their weekends, and moved on. It’s not the start of the week for anyone else. They are already at full speed while I’m just getting going.

I always worried that people wouldn’t want to have to repeat conversations or ‘waste time’ helping me catch up, but actually people have been really good, and don’t seem to mind. Or perhaps they just bitch behind my back… hmmm.

Which are the best days to work / not work?

The decision for me was to do with when there’s the least impact at work. I looked at when meeting happen, when deadlines hit and who else was in or out of the office. 

Monday was the best fit for work, plus it fits well with childcare plans I can make, and (bonus) I realised later, actually works out well for my holiday entitlement – I get more options for using my bank holiday allocation rather than always having to take the set bank holidays as well as another chosen non-working day. It’s complicated, but I promise it’s true. 

I’ll need to work harder to balance the inconvenience I cause

I think this is a common worry, and most flexible workers probably do over compensate a little. The key for me was to show that it is a ‘give and take’ relationship, so if there’s an IMPORTANT meeting or training day on a Monday, I will make every effort swap my non-working day to another day that same week.

We made an agreement that it would be a full-day swap, because it is not acceptable to interrupt my non-working day to ‘just attend this one meeting’ for an hour. My non-working day is exactly that. Hands off! We also agreed that I would need at least one week’s notice to give me enough time to flex my child care arrangements, or whatever is required.

In reality, that has only happened twice and I’ve had at least three weeks notice each time. The agreement means that we only prioritised the meetings that I REALLY need to attend. The rest go ahead without me.

I’ll have to be more efficient

Yes, and actually that’s a good thing. I am more efficient. Most of the time. The ticking clock makes me prioritise. I reckon at least three weeks out of every four, I think, “This week I’ll have to do a bit of work on my day off or I’ll never catch up”, but then I remember that I created that non-working (non-paid) time for a reason. And I owe it to myself to stick to it. Prioritise til it hurts!

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! You probably wont even be thinking about making a change unless you have something that’s really important to you. For me that was my health, for others it’s family. Whatever your reason, you have to make sure you stick to the plan that you make, and reap the benefits.

Monday is my rest day, it’s when I let the world slow down. It was so tempting to fill it with my to do list, or shopping, or chores or DIY. But I don’t – I rest. Because that’s what I need. That’s why I did it.

For others it’s time with their children, so they have to make sure they spend time with their children, and don’t fall into ‘I’ll just check my emails’. Unless it’s part of your agreement that you’ll be available, PUT THE WORK PHONE DOWN!

(..except for checking to see if you’ve won the work-team lottery, and if you don’t need to go into work at all tomorrow.)

So… are you wondering which option I chose?

Flexible working was great, but for me the longer days were just too exhausting. I needed to do less, not just squeeze more at other times. So it’s a pay cut, but better health – and I honestly couldn’t be happier. My boss and colleagues are superstars and I am so grateful and even more dedicated to my job. There are days when it’s hard to keep up, but every Sunday night, when I see the usual Facebook memes about Monday mornings, I have a little smile to myself and think “That’s not me, anymore”.

What a smug bitch I am! Poorer, but smug.

(P.S. I’m still Unbalanced though – aren’t we all?)

————————————————————————

Have you made the decision to flex or go part time? Or are you undecided? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Also check out Mother Pukka on Facebook and Instagram, who is leading a fantastic #FlexAppeal campaign to encourage more businesses to offer flexible working opportunities. She has some fantastic advice on how to broach the subject with your boss.

#worklifebalance #flexappeal #unbalanced #literallyunbalanced

I didn’t know (poem)

I didn’t know when I was a child,

what it meant to be a mum.
I didn’t count how many times
you wiped my shitty bum.

I never asked just how it felt
to be deprived of sleep.
I didn’t think my hungry cries
would make your nipples weep.

I didn’t know hard it was
to feed me through the night,
And never get a moments peace
to even have a shite.

I didn’t realise when I learned
to crawl and walk and speak,
That your knees and back and patience
would soon be up shit creek.

I didn’t know the sacrifices
a mum makes for their child
I didn’t see the work it takes
to stop us going wild.

I didn’t know the heights of stress
kids put their mothers through.
I never checked the effect
my selfish actions had on you.

I didn’t know my happiness
was always your priority.
I didn’t know how much kids take
their toll on mum’s sobriety.

It took a while for me to see
that you were more than ‘Mum’,
My feisty female role model,
like I hoped I could become.

Now that I’m a mother
in a family of my own.
I feel the power of loving your kid
with every frigging bone.

And some days it’s ok to think
your kid’s a little shit,
I’m sure you had those thoughts of me,
when I look back on it.

Now I can appreciate
the crap I put you through.
I can marvel at the lengths you went
to make my dreams come true.

Now I know just how much help
my Granny must have been.
Now I’m a mum, I need you
as the Granny on my team.

Now it’s my turn to sing your songs
to a gorgeous child that’s mine
But you should know
‘You are (and always will be) my sunshine’.

i didnt know 2

#mothersday #poemsformums

I am THAT parent

Muttering every sodding swear word under the fucking sun. 

Today I am THAT parent. The one who totally forgot that it was non-twatting-uniform day and took their kid to school in their twatting uniform. 

I bet the look of horror on both our faces when we arrived in the playground was comedy for others. Followed by “Muuuuuuuuuuuu-uuuum!!!”  

Panic run. Panic phone call. Panic clothes exchange. Panic sprint back to classroom. Quick change in the toilets. 

Out of breath and very thankful that my mum was at my house. 

Red Nose Day. Red Face Day. #nontwattinguniformday

H.I.I.T. 2

I discovered another H.I.I.T. workout today. 

This one is when a friend calls on Sunday afternoon saying that they are near your house and, if you’re in, how about they pop round for a brew – they will bring cake. 

We’re still in our PJ’s, and I might have gone to bed without taking my make up off (not pretty), we’ve just cooked a sort of brunch involving every dish in the house so there are dirty pots covering every kitchen surface and the house stinks of eggs, there’s underwear drying on the radiators, I have no idea what state the bathroom looks like… but a bit of cake would be nice actually. 

Option 1: Say, “Of course, that would be lovely. You have to take us as you find us – but of course you’re welcome anytime!! 

Option 2: Lie! Pretend we’re not home and to prove it, have my husband hold his nose and make some sort of tannoy announcement to pretend we’re at a train station returning from a weekend away. Spend the rest of the afternoon avoiding any movement near the front windows. 

Option 3: Say, “Of course, that would be lovely, but you have to take us as you find us – the house is a bit messy… (nervous laugh / give special glare to husband to assume the position on your tidiness HIIT session starting blocks),… but of course you’re welcome anytime….. how long will you be do you think?… in exact minutes please?!!”

On your marks, get set, GO…..! 

Who needs Joe Wicks?

#HIIT #reallifehiit #reallifeshit

*updated* I’ve just been reminded that this can be described as Scurry Funge: the act of running around cleaning when company is on the way.

Love it! #ScurryFunge

Nothing to do

I regularly look around my house and think of a thousand things I will finally get round to doing if I ever get a weekend with no plans – because weekends are always full of kids’ parties, or a special shopping expedition, or a hangover. 

I just don’t have time to….

 – make that trip to the charity shop with the bags of clothes that have been in the boot of my car for weeks

 – creep into the pig sty that my son calls his bedroom with a massive bin bag, like a reverse Father Christmas 

 – deal with that pile of papers that I should ‘file’ in some sensible folder like my mum says she does 

 – fix that skirting board in the kitchen that fell off six months ago

 – get in the garden and pull up all the dead plants that have been rotting there since last summer. 

Now I actually have a free weekend, and guess what…. I don’t want to do any of those things. And no one can sodding make me. 

I’m going to do nothing

I’m going to achieve nothing

and it’s going to be fucking brilliant.

#balance

Pair-enting

It seems that in most households where there are two parents, there’s one who does the lion’s share of parenting*. For some this is by choice, and for others it’s through circumstance because the other spends more hours at work. It’s physically possible for one of them to be with the children more than the other. But alongside that physical ability comes a mental responsibility, and it’s that part that is exhausting.

Let me give you an example – taking kids to school. The act of moving a child from Location A to Location B. Easy. Just like a taxi service. But hang on, there are a few other elements to build in, because the person who regularly carries out that task of Taxi Parent also takes the responsibility for knowing everything else about school:

  • The Taxi Parent checks if they have homework, reading, a project, a spelling test
  • They read the notes put in their bag, remember they need to take in money for a trip, for some charity day, for lunch
  • They are the person who makes sure they have the right clothes ready – their uniform is washed, new gym shorts bought, coat and wellies actually come home
  • They make sure the child turns up in a costume or non-uniform clothes on celebration days, and on class photo day they dig out the whitest shirt, comb their child’s hair and perhaps clean their shoes.

And so on. And fucking so on.

AND they also become the person who gets to know the other parents; plans time to get the children together outside school; organises helping each other out so one of you can go to an appointment or a meeting that clashes with the school run. The Taxi Parent becomes part of the life saving network we need to call on from time to time, or every Wednesday. They help each other out when one forgets the £1 for a red nose, or that a costume is required TOMORROW and they offer to lend you stripy tights or a magicians hat (they are luckily not using that day).

The other parent, who goes to work very early and comes home very late, probably doesn’t even ponder on these things for a second. Even on the odd occasion they take their child to school, would still ask the Taxi Parent if the child has everything they need because ‘you just know these things’. Because you usually do that parenting task, it is therefore assumed your responsibility even when you’re not there. You’re just temporarily delegating the delivery.

But here’s a really crazy idea. What if it wasn’t? What if the preparation of tasks wasn’t invisibly tied to the delivery of tasks. What if, we could split the responsibility for each task in two?  Let’s try some non-parenting examples first….

  • A pilot flies the plane, but doesn’t build the plane, plan who sits where, or serve snacks to the passengers.
  • The waiter who serves the meal in a posh restaurant didn’t cook the meal – and actually the chef who did cook it, probably didn’t peel all the potatoes.
  • The rock star who sings the song doesn’t necessarily write it and play every instrument.

There are teams of people and they work together.

Sometimes the rock star does write the song, because they want to, they can do, and that’s their choice. That’s wonderful.

So can we apply that to pair-enting? It might be possible….

  • The parent who puts dinner on the table could be supported by another who plans the meals, does the shopping, or even prepares and freezes a meal at the weekend.
  • The parent who dresses the child could be supported by another who puts a wash on, or empties the washer or perhaps irons some clothes.
  • The parent who bathes the child could be supported by another who cleans the bathroom (or organises a cleaner if you can afford it)
  • The parent who makes sure homework is completed could be supported by the person who talks to their child about their homework topic of Romans or practices spellings while on a car journey.
  • The parent who got up early with the kids on Saturday to take them to a sports activity, could be supported by another who gets up with the kids the on a Sunday and gives them an extra hour sleep or a bedside brew.

I know not all of these work for every couple or family, we’re all different. Single parents, I fucking salute you if you carry all this on your own. But are there maybe other ways we can ask each other, friends and extended family to help us with the supporting roles?

Sometimes the parent who takes on the responsibility for tasks doesn’t even think to ask for help from the other, who therefore don’t know it’s a problem until they are sobbing by the washing machine screaming that they just can’t do any more sodding washing – I have definitely been guilty of that in the past – “but he might do it wrong and shrink something!”. Yep, he might. But so might I – actually there’s no ‘might’ about it, I’ve ruined loads of clothes over the years. We learn from experience, and so will our partners.

We can spread the load, we can be part of a team. We might even learn to trust each other – given lots of time and a few mistakes made on the way – but wouldn’t that be worth it?

  • I’ll pack the clothes in the suitcase, you make sure we have all the toiletries.
  • I’ll buy him new swimming shorts, you take him swimming at the weekend.
  • I’ll buy the birthday present, look up directions to the party venue and make sure there’s petrol in the car, and you can take her to the party.

Pair-enting is a gift we can give to each other. Our kids see everyone being part of a team, and of course as soon as they are old enough they can do their own bloody washing. Then hopefully they’ll grow up to create families of their own where pair-enting is just, well normal.

*I’ve not done any scientific research, I’m too lazy. These are just my own observations, and you should absolutely feel free to think I’m talking out of my bottom. Or share your own blog with actual evidence that proves me wrong.

A biased review

Do you mind if I go a bit off piste today and instead of talking about me and my Unbalanced life, talk about a band that I went to see this weekend? I know that’s unusual. I’m certainly no music reviewer or expert. If I tell you that this band is really rather good and you may want to have a listen, you should know that I am completely, utterly biased.

I’ll tell you why… you see that ginger guitar player on the left…? Well I’ve had him! More than once. In fact, he’s my husband and father of my ginger child.

So here’s the background story. When I met my husband I was already 32 and pretty sure of who I was and who I wanted to be with. Compromises were now unacceptable (little did I know how many compromises you actually have to make when you are married with kids – but that’s another story). I was upfront and laid down two important rules:

  1. I will ALWAYS have a cat. I am crazy cat lady and you’ll have to live with cats forever
  2. I am not cool when it comes to music, I’m a pop monkey, and you will have to live with that too

You see, Ste is pretty cool (by comparison). He plays guitar in a band, all his friends are in bands, or write songs, or at least love listening to ‘proper’ music. They discuss bands I’ve never heard of – how ‘dirty’ the sound of guitars are, and compare the features of hundreds of pedals and amps in depth, while I gaze on remembering how this morning I was dancing round my kitchen to Katy Perry (with my cat) and looking forward to going to see Take That in the summer.

I could pretend to like the same music, and be more cool, but I’m just not. I watch the X factor style TV programmes they slate as commercial shite, and when I sing along to Ed Sheeran on the radio, I don’t even know it’s Ed Sheeran at first, it’s just a song I like. I am the opposite of a musical snob – I actually have no idea what is cool and what is not. I just like what I like. Fuck the judgement.

Anyway, last year, Ste joined a new band with a weird name, ‘Control of the Going’, and a weird sound. They play ‘Psychedelic Rock and Roll’. I had no idea what that was, and at first when I listened to him play I quoted my grandma, and Alan Partridge, “That was just noise.”

Clearly I was not their target audience, and that’s lucky, because it turns out there are a growing crowd of people who do like Psychedelic Rock and Roll – enough for them to start getting radio plays and now a record deal. A chuffing record deal!! They have released their first single today, and start recording their album next week. I may soon be married to an actual Rock Star!

Even better than that for me – because it’s still a bit about me! – now I really like them. I promise I’m not just pretending to because they’re getting a bit of success! You can tell from what I said earlier that I am honest about these things. It turns out that I do actually like psychedelic, dirty guitars when there’s a tune I can sing along to over the top. Gary Barlow could perhaps build that idea into Take That’s next album.

So here’s the shameful plug… Do you fancy having a listen?

Visit Control of the Going on Facebook  or Twitter as @COTG_

You can listen to their new single ‘She’ for free on soundcloud (just click to play) or on Spotify,or you can buy their single on vinyl – because that’s what the kids are doing again these days.

And here’s a review of the single launch – where Ste gets a special mention.

Alright yes, I’m really fucking proud of him. I warned you I was biased. The rest of the band are bloody brilliant too.

Have a listen, like their Facebook page, spread the word if you can, maybe even go and see them when they tour!

Perhaps I’m widening my musical taste and getting slightly more cool than I used to be, (even though I say ‘cool’ which is probably not cool either). At least I will always have a cat or two though.

Being married to a rock star wont change me!