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?)

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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

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.

Misplaced adoration

Yesterday my boy thought I was an actual Supermum. I know the truth. But I absolutely, wholeheartedly accepted the misplaced adoration. 

He originally wanted to dress up as Harry Potter. We bought a suitable Hogwarts tie and round glasses and would reuse a cloak previously intended for a magician, by him drawing a Gryffindor badge and Granny working out some strange way of attaching it. I’m still not sure how that happened. Granny is much better at this sort of thing. 

Anyway, at 6pm the night before, he decided he wanted to be Ron Weasley instead. We had mentioned several times that his ginger hair would make this choice more authentic, but of course he wanted to be Harry and have an eyeliner pencil scar on his head. Who wouldn’t? Until he didn’t. 

The bright idea came when he remembered that Ron has a broken wand and he could stick sellotape around it, and that Ron wears a jumper with a big ‘R’ on it and perhaps he could ask Granny to sew an R on his jumper. He is well aware that Granny is better at this sort of thing too. 

“Actually”, I said, “I think I could do that.”

Those were the words that did it. It was like I was as magic as Harry Potter himself. I was potentially as magic as Granny!! 

Now of course I am not. I can’t sew. Don’t be ridiculous. But I do have wonder-web. And this is the genius part… I said, “You know Ron’s jumpers are home made, so I should PURPOSEFULLY make it look a bit rubbish.”

He totally fell for it. Bless him. While I was cutting up an old Tshirt (with paper scissors) he checked I wasn’t making it too straight, “it SHOULD look a bit wonky mum, because Mrs Weasley makes them herself.”

Look at the photo – I definitely achieved this wish!


He went to school bouncing, so proud of his costume, and I am still basking in the glory usually bestowed on my amazing Mum. I am enjoying it. Clearly this will not last and his illusions will be shattered when he asks for the next sewing masterpiece – one that shouldn’t look home made. I will be back to the usual ‘let’s ask Granny if she can help’.

The Sick Rules

Yep, this post is about sick. Actual vomit. Don’t read this if you are feeling queasy.

I had forgotten how utterly repulsive that sick smell is. Not just the smell, it’s very existence. Now we’ve been reacquainted by a 7 year old vomiting volcano who has erupted across my house. I’ve realised that it is my parental duty to make sure my offspring learns some clear rules about being sick – behaviours that I had previously just assumed were natural instinct. Apparently they are not.

My little boy is 7 and has hardly ever been poorly. He loves his food and (before this episode) I actually can’t remember the last time he parted with any unwillingly. He must have been very small. Luckily me. Yay. Ah but there is a flip side, because now he’s a much grown child with a stomach capacity for a high-volume vomit. And he hasn’t yet learned the ‘Rules’.

He doesn’t know…

1.  That a person who feels sick should head towards the bathroom / sink / easily wipeable surfaces. Not, most certainly NOT carpeted stairs, near a doorway with fancy woodwork ‘crevices’.

2. That once vomiting has occurred it is possible, if not probable, that you will do it again, so fucking STAY in an easily-cleanable area. Do not move to another room that you think would benefit from a pebble-dash-pasta paint effect on the walls, skirting and floor.

3. That whilst mummy loves you more than the world, there are some times that she would rather not wrap you in her arms and snuggle into your face. Those times include occasions when you are literally dripping from your nose to your toes in your own vomit.(But of course when you stand sobbing in an ever spreading pool of sick, with your arms outstretched, mum will OF COURSE run to you, skidding the final inches and almost taking you down like a bowling ball, so that she can comfort you. She will not intend to have a look of disgust on her face as she holds you and tries not to breathe through her nose.)

And also, there are things that I had forgotten.

1. Kids time sickness to perfection. They wait until Dad is out for the evening and Mum has just settled down in the sofa with a nice hot cup of tea and her favourite TV programme.

2. That it is wise to keep carpet cleaner in the house at all times. For fucks sake. Of all the times to run out.

3. That it’s slippy. Yes I slipped in it, yes I put my hand in it and yes I nearly threw my own guts up straight over the top.

4. That THAT smell won’t go away. Even when you’ve washed your hands 15 times, finally acquired carpet cleaner and wiped down/ soaked / boil washed everything in your house, that stench is now embedded in your nostrils. Forever.

Thankfully my little vomiting volcano is feeling much better now.

But sod that cold tea, where’s that bottle opener.

Unbalanced and proud!

It seems we all get reflective at the end of the year. I’ve been re-reading old blogs and seeing how much life has changed.

When I started this page in March I didn’t tell anyone it was me. I felt like Batman, with a secret identity!

Until then I was pretending I had my shit together. No-one needed to know that my house was a bomb site, or that I didn’t play constant board games with my family.

No one needed to know that I was having counselling because I wasn’t coping with my vestibular illness. I could say on here things that I wouldn’t admit to anyone outside my family. It was like extra therapy.

But then lovely people started to Like some of the posts and send me messages saying that there are lots of us feeling unbalanced, but pretending we’re not.

Some people shared that they have the same vestibular illness as me. But most just recognise that constant juggle of a too-busy life, keeping all our plates spinning. It’s been great to share a laugh or a rude word when we let one of our plates spectacularly smash on the floor (and quickly try to sweep it up while no-one’s looking).

So I got the confidence to take my Bat-mask off.

Ironically it’s made me feel much LESS Unbalanced. It’s made me *genuinely* celebrate my unbalanced life and count my lucky stars that I have so much going on, that I just can’t fit it all in. It’s helped me accept that some things just won’t get done.

img_2594So now I’m standing tall, if a little wobbly sometimes. I’m proud to say out loud…
My name is Julie, and I’m Unbalanced.
Sometimes literally, sometimes mentally, but nearly always with a smile.

And a foul mouth. Let’s not fucking forget that.

Thank you to everyone who has liked this page, or sent me a message, or shared a story of your unbalanced lives. It’s amazing to know that you lot are Unbalanced too (please take that as a compliment!).

Here’s to a Happily Unbalanced 2017 for us all.

Xxx

I’m a Tapas Mum

Since going to see the film ‘Bad Moms’ I’ve been thinking about which stereotype of the mums I most relate to. Stay at Home Mum; Working Mum; Single Mum; Yummy Mummy etc etc. I’ve decided none of them sound quite right for me. So how about a new one… The Tapas Mum.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve never ‘wanted it all’ as the phrase goes to describe those who want a perfect family, great career and to be a permanent Goddess in the bedroom and the kitchen. I’ve never quite believed in that!

I do like the idea of having just a taste of each though. A little bit of everything. Like choosing a few small Tapas plates, instead of a massive portion of one meal.

For example:

  • I don’t need to be a high-flying, top of my organisation, cracking-through-the-glass-ceiling, role model career woman.
    But I do want a job that I enjoy and that I feel I’m pretty good at. 
  • I don’t need to be perfectly turned out in full make-up and 4 inch heels whenever I leave the house.
    But I do want to feel good when I go out to nice places. 
  • I don’t need a perfectly presented show home and a manicured lawn.
    But I do like to be able to relax in the evenings without spearing my bum on a pile of toys or yogurt-smeared cushions.
  • I don’t expect to have weekly meet ups with my girls for cocktails, dinner and dancing.
    But I do enjoy the occasional chance to get together with a friend or two for a brew or a shit-load of wine. 
  • I don’t need a pre-planned date night and a massive bunch of flowers delivered on a whim.
    But I do appreciate the times we get to go out and be a couple in a kid-free / no judgement, adult environment. 
  • I don’t expect my kid to be an Olympic-level athlete, mastermind of science or musical prodigy.
    But I do want him to have nice manners, have enough confidence to have a go at stuff and laugh a lot. 
  • I am never EVER going to be Nigella Lawson, in cooking skills or body confidence.
    But I will occasionally make a nice family meal that tastes half decent and give my husband a snog by the sink. Sexy! 
  • I most certainly don’t bake delicious pastries for the school summer fayre.
    But I do show up, donate a load of supermarket-bought chocolate for the tombola, and happily hand over every coin in my purse for the lucky dip. I even buy and eat the cakes that other people have made (that’s really not a chore, I really love the school fayre!)

Being a Tapas Mum is pretty great. So what do you say… can we create a new stereotype?


(This post was also shared on SelfishMother.com)