Instructions. Please. 

I am good at following instructions. It’s a pretty boring skill, but it helps navigate through this complicated life. I can negotiate opaque beurocracy, fill in forms, pass exams with ease.

But sometimes it lets me down. I’m not great at cooking or baking. I can follow recipes to the letter; but they need a bit more, a bit of inspiration to know how much beating is too much, what “season according to taste” should feel like. Back in my clubbing days I always wished for more choreography, less freedom of expression.

And now, in building this life, I cannot find any instructions. The big man and I don’t have a template for a working couple with a young child to follow. Neither of our mums worked. Mine had particularly strong views about mothers who work: I know, in retrospect, that these were a line of defence for a situation she felt she had little control over. But at a tearful drop off it’s hard not to hear your mum shouting at women on daytime television that if they wanted to work, they shouldn’t have had children. That the balancing act is selfish. That I am selfish, an unforgivably awful mother.

So I try to talk about it. But I can’t find anybody who is, or admits to being, as torn in two. The mums I know who are progressing work harder than me; see their children less; have no hobbies or free time, just work and children. They don’t seem to be weighed down by self doubt and suffocating guilt for every hour their child is with somebody else. Or, they work less hard than me, but throw themselves into home life with a contentment I cannot copy.

Maybe this is the point where I accept that I’m just not willing to work hard enough. That the sacrifices you need to take are a step too far for me. I’ve done well so far; I could just settle here, with my lovely little man and reasonable career and happy husband. I am lucky. I know I am lucky. But I cannot get this life to feel as though it belongs to me. I don’t want to battle to define what my happy is: I am tired and I want somebody to tell me what to do.

Flexible lives 

I’m generally against men joining in the “What about me?” whining brigade. Particularly middle class white men, the least discriminated against groups in the history of time claiming that false allegations of rape are as the same problem as piss-poor prosecution of sexual offences (yes, they are immensely damaging, but the scale of the issue is so different as to be utterly and completely incomparable). Or positive discrimination somehow pushing men into a second class citizen at work: as if board quotas don’t mean that a woman has to work twice as hard to prove she got the job on merit rather than statistics. Or any other whining complaint; as though they can’t bear being left out of any club, even one which offers nothing but frustration and disadvantage.

I’ve written before though about how our language towards working parents needs to change. My husband works a 4.5 day week, and we are doing the sums to see if that can become 4. He wants to do this: it’s how he gets to know the little man better. He will never get this time back. It supports me in my career. We’d both like to handover the little man a little bit less to the wilds of nursery. The advice he gives to his friends who are about to become dads is to work out seriously think about positioning themselves so their career is such that they can take a break. Or downshift a little bit.

And the response from these dads, or dads-to-be, is a pretty consistent no. Not across the board; but close. A lot of it is financial. For various reasons, the men in our group tend to be the main breadwinners. But a lot of it is cultural. We expect mothers to need flexibility at work; more and more companies are doing their best to meet that expectation. The same doesn’t apply to fathers. At all. Nobody asked the bigger man whether he would be returning to work full time after his (brief) paternity leave. There aren’t part-time roles or workers around him, or job share fairs in his very male dominated industry.

This isn’t fair. It isn’t fair for mothers, who have to shoulder the majority of the childcare burden. But it also isn’t fair to fathers. Why shouldn’t they be able to flex work around their life? We cannot consistently break the glass ceiling for women unless we make it possible for our men to support us at home.

Proper part time

brokenness-1-1420924It’s 6pm on a Wednesday and I’ve just finished work for the week. I don’t have the TFI Thursday or TFI Friday feeling that I’m used to. This is my new working pattern: but I’m a bit disorientated and feeling strangely neglectful.

Maybe it’ll be easier next week, when the bank holidays have worn off and Wednesday is the end of three days instead of two. Maybe it’ll be harder next week when the Christmas malaise has worn off and three days are as long as four.

I will now be at home for more of the week than I’m at work. I am lucky to be able to do this. I should be delighted: but I will not be able to call myself a career woman any more. I will be a mother and a wife who entertains herself with a bit of a job for pin money.

I’m melodramatic. It’s cold and dark and I’m suffering from withdrawal from constant chocolate eating. This is an opportunity for me to define myself as something other than an office monkey. I can’t bear the little man spending more time with strangers than with me any more; I get four days in a row now with my little buddy.

I mustn’t stop being melodramatic. I want to hate this month: I need something to kick me out of this inertia. My job wasn’t working at four days; my life will be better, but the job will be immeasurably worse, at three. And everybody arounds me knows I need a change. So in my three days next week I have coffees set up with promising women who could be jobshare partners. I have long overdue mentor meetings set up. I even sent a tentative email to a recruiter.

So welcome, 2017. January may look bleak; but I have the start of a plan. And I can teach the little man that Thursday is now also baby and mummy day; he will giggle and I will melt. The emails will wait until Monday.