As a working parent, life is always a balancing act. Always feeling like you’re not doing your best as either an employee or a mum. Always feeling like you want to help, but you’ll be late to pick up the kids – or you’d like to go to the parents’ meeting straight after school, but actually you’re at work.
There are people in my team who work really hard and way, way over their contracted hours. They are, on the whole, not parents. I am as committed and motivated as I can be at work, but I can never stay late, never go in early, because the kids come first in the remaining 148 hours of the week.
Where I work, if you go over your hours you can build up flexi-time, which you can take back as a sort of extra leave. I don’t build up much, probably going one hour a week over my contracted hours. I take maybe two flex days a year.
As someone who works part-time, and works the early part of the week, I have another small, but significant pressure. I have to ‘pay back’ bank holidays. I should work the same proportion of my hours in a bank holiday week as my full-time colleagues and the part-timers who work the other end of the week. And where do bank holidays fall? Mondays. If I’m doubly unlucky, Christmas will fall at my end of the week too. Like this year.
And so to today. My son has just set off on a residential school trip. I don’t take the kids to school on a Wednesday because I set off for work at 7.45. I thought about my son going away, I thought about all those hours I needed to build up for Christmas and I thought I couldn’t wave him off. Because he was setting off at 9.15 on a work day and then I’ve got a 45 minute journey to work. I couldn’t afford those hours, I wouldn’t be able to wave him off.
And then I had a word with myself. What really matters here? Yes, work matters during work hours. But this is my 9 year old son going on a trip for two nights and three days. It’s the longest he’s ever been away from home, the longest we will ever have been without him. It’s a big deal. I want to wave him off and I’d hate him to be the only one without a parent there. How would that make him feel?
When I look back in future years or even weeks, will I remember that I maybe didn’t have enough flexi time to cover Christmas? Or will I remember that I let my gorgeous boy go off on a school trip without anyone to wave to him off?
It’s a question of priorities. And I know what my number 1 priority is.