The focus of Flex Appeal – a campaign to push for flexible working for all in a bid to reduce stress-related burnout and increase productivity – has been in the UK. Here we look beyond the English Channel to Japan where 60-hour weeks are the norm and people are literally working themselves to death. *Thanks to translation support from Miro Tanuko.
Miriki Takahashi remembers where she was when her daughter, Matsu told her she got a job at a big Japanese advertising firm. “I was stood in our garden next to the family’s favourite blossom tree, trying to get reception and I remember I was so happy she got the job,” she said. “I was a proud mother,” she continued. Matsu had always wanted to work in a creative industry and this was a great opportunity in Japan’s competitive graduate jobs market. But just one year later things started to change. “She was never available to talk to us but would text occasionally to say she was OK,” she said.
One weekend Matsu came home to her parents and wouldn’t eat and couldn’t
get out of bed. “She just asked to sleep all day, even though we had a family
engagement and I realized something was wrong.” She learned from Matsu’s
colleagues later that she’d been working around the clock, continuing until the
last train, sometimes working 48 hours straight and often sleeping in the
On Christmas Day in 2015 Matsu took her own life. She was 24. It emerged she had barely slept after working more than 100 hours of overtime a month in the period leading up to her death. Her death was officially rule a case of ‘karoshi’ – the Japanese term to describe death attributed to overwork.
Japan has a culture of long working hours and this is not a new phenomenon but recent cases like Matsu’s have thrust karoshi back into the spotlight. In 2018, over 2,000 people died by suicide due to work-related stress according to The Japanese Statistics Portal. The death numbers peaked in 2011 with almost 2,700 suicide victims in total.
“The Japanese people count on the government but they are being betrayed,” says Koji Morioka, an academic who has studied the karoshi phenomenon for 30 years. Miriki says the country is killing the very workers it should be supporting. “Businesses just focus on immediate profit,” she says. “My daughter and other young workers want to work, they are ambitious. But these levels of stress cannot continue, the death toll and health issues of this current capitalist government cannot continue. Our family is struggling to continue.”
Early in 2018, the government introduced Premium Fridays, encouraging firms to let their employees out early, at 3pm, on the last Friday each month. They also want Japanese workers to take more holiday. Workers are entitled to 20 days leave a year but currently about 35% don’t take any of it.
In the local government offices in Toshima, a district of downtown Tokyo, they now switch off the office lights at 7pm in an attempt to turf people out of the office. “We wanted to do something strong,” said government official, Januko Hutemi. “There needs to be a huge shift in the way we work. We are currently just going through the motions like hamsters in a machine that is running too quickly. Noone can be healthy in these conditions and no one can be productive. The people lose their minds and the company loses out.”
In focusing on productivity and efficiency, he may have a point.
While the country may have some of the longest working hours it is the least
productive of the G7 group of developed economies.
The only solution campaigners believe will work is to put a legal limit on the overtime employees are permitted to work.
Critics say the government is prioritising business and economic interests at the expense of the welfare of workers. Even though these heartbreaking images from photographer Jamie Macgregor are very closely associated with Tokyo, they reveal more about how we’re being used on a daily basis by corporations and capitalist systems. Do we think beyond what we are doing and should, we perhaps, be asking: who are we doing it for?
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
*First published by Soho House group*. Author of Sunday Times Bestselling book Parenting The Shit Out of Life and founder of Flex Appeal – a campaign to fight for flexible working for all – Anna Whitehouse talks about postpartum beauty and why a catseye flick is not crossing the line
The first (and last) ever beauty vlog I did
was called ‘How Not To Scare People With Your Face’. The basic premise of it
was cobbling together a vague look in 60 seconds with a toddler hanging off
your left leg – quite the challenge if you’re attempting a catseye flick.
Either way, I had come to the realization that phrases like ‘this look will
take you seamlessly from day to night’ and ‘a slick of neon yellow eyeshadow’
just didn’t wash on the nursery run. So with a make-up bag that was once
brimming with versatility, I ended up with three items: Benefit’s concealer for
dark circles, NARS orgasm blush to make it look like I might have some life in
me and – somewhat punchily – Tom Ford’s Liquid Liner.
Having never considered that feline flick
because of the sheer skill it requires, the beauty director at Stylist Magazine
where I was working at the time told me to give Tom Ford’s pen a go. One steady
slick across my sleep-ravaged eyelid and I was sold. In 10 seconds my eyes were
crow-barred open and as the tiredness got more intense, the flick heightened
like some sort of exhaustion graph.
I had found my maternal arsenal – the three
things that could Sellotape over the cracks and not have people repeatedly
asking, “are you OK?” That’s really what make-up has come to mean to me, a
shield against the raised eyebrows and concerned questions. But it wasn’t until
I got a fairly feisty comment on my Instagram that I started to question why I was
blending and highlighting. It read: “You speak about postnatal depression and
being in a maternal fug, and, yet, here you are with a face of make-up. I don’t
It knocked me a little because I felt she had
genuine grounds for being disgruntled. Am I some made-up blushing fraudster? How
can someone in a postnatal fug who is feeling unable to walk outside the front
door even consider something as vain as a catseye flick? I wondered if covering
up was ever a good idea? We tend to cover up bad things: lies, bank robberies
and here I was slotting my face into the police line-up.
It was one of those inspirational quotes (that
I often find uninspirational and dispiriting) on Instagram that read: “Make-up
is art, beauty is spirit.” While the whimsical italic font was painful to
navigate, there was something in it. It comes down to how you feel not how you
look and what’s a little blusher among NCT friends? Whether you go bare-faced
or high-browed, red-lipped or mascara-free, it doesn’t matter, really, and
everyone’s armour is different – some mainline miaze snacks, others slick on
some of Mac’s Lady Danger lipstick to accentuate the bloodshot eyes.
But while I was lactating all over the place and wondering where my mind, body and spirit had dispersed to, I felt momentarily comforted in the fact that I could draw a straight line on my face in under 10 seconds. It’s a small win but a win all the same.
I got sent a Ninja Foodi and asked to experiment. So I spent eight hours making a sandwich…
The Foodi landed like an alien craft. It is large and futuristic and covered in buttons. But the amateur chefs of the internet had promised great things on other reviews – unctuous stews, chips fried in the air, roasts done in 30 minutes – so I broke a lifelong habit and looked at the instructions. Then I went to work.
Eight-hour pulled-pork sandwich with chilli chips and avocado mayo This is an adaptation of a recipe from the BBC good food website. I added the English mustard and more seasoning. I also think it might benefit from cider in place of some of the apple juice, but laid off the booze this time.
The pulled pork (prep 10 mins, cook eight hours)
The meat 1kg pork shoulder, skin off 1 tsp smoked paprika ½ tsp cinnamon 1 tbsp flour 2 tsp oil Salt and pepper
The slow-cook marinade 1 onion, sliced 3 garlic cloves, crushed 80ml cloudy apple juice 1.5 tbsp honey (could also swap half a teaspoon for treacle) 1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar 50g onion marmalade Dollop of English mustard
Method Slice the meat into four chunks. Mix the seasoning, flour and spices together. Rub these over the meat so there’s a lovely crust. Brown the meat in the Ninja Foodi pot (lid off) with some oil for a minute or two. Mix the marinade ingredients in a jug, then pour them on top. Chuck the onions in too. Turn it to slow cooker mode, put the pressure lid on top (set to vent). Set the heat to ‘lo’ and the time to eight hours. Walk away with the smug satisfaction that you are creating something of such unctuous glory. After eight hours, scoop the meat out (you can leave it for longer, as the cooker switches to a ‘keep warm’ mode). It’ll fall apart, soft as butter – just use two forks to helps strip it into pulled pork. Then cover and keep warm as you cook your chips.
The chilli chips (prep 10 mins, cook 20 mins)
Ingredients Loads of spuds, cut into whatever shape you like your chips (but keep sizes roughly consistent) 1tsp olive oil Chilli flakes
Method Mix the oil and the chips in a bowl for an even coating. Sprinkle the chilli flakes over the top. Give it all a good shake and stick it in the air fryer for 20 minutes at 190c. Shake halfway through.
Avocado mayonnaise (Prep 5 mins, no cooking)
2 avocados 1 tbsp olive oil 1 tsp apple cider vinegar 1 clove garlic 1 tsp salt ½ tsp ground black pepper 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Method Put the above through a blender until it’s a lovely green paste.
I piled the meat into a brioche burger bun with barbecue sauce and a slice of apple on top as a nod to my five a day. It may have taken eight hours to create, but it took about four minutes to eat. So then I had another one. While there’s lots this machine can do, I think the slow cooker and crisper are likely to have the biggest impact on my Sunday lunches, knowing that while I tangle with parenting, meaty juices are silently brewing away in the background.
The Kit The Ninja Foodi is a pressure cooker and air fryer in one, but it also does lots more, depending on which lid you use. With the pressure cooker lid on you can steam veg, slow cook (great for really deep flavours like stews) or pressure cook (like cooking in a giant kettle, and typically healthier than baking or roasting). With the crisper lid on you can air fry (similar crunch and flavour to pan or deep frying, but with a tiny fraction of the fat), crisp or grill. And just leave the lid off to sauté in the super-non-stick pot. Head to www.ninjakitchen.eu/uk to find out more.
This post was sponsored by Ninja Kitchen. What does that mean? They sent us the kit and paid us to write a blog post (and Instagram posts), but they don’t tell us what to say. We write honest reviews and only accept jobs for products we like. If something doesn’t work for us, we say sorry and send it back.
This blog post is an advertisement in association with EDF Energy and Howz.
My mum went grey last year. For ages she’d dyed her hair and 2018 was the year she decided to stop papering over the greys and give up her blonde ambition. Whether it was her silver tresses or pride in bagging that elderly bus pass, there’s no denying my folks are entering a period in their lives where age is on the table. I’m not in any way age concerned but I am thinking about the future – a future where I’m not worried about the people who have ironically dedicated a lifetime worrying about me.
It was something my sister said that brought EDF Energy’s Howz to my mind. Howz is a system that simply exists to give you peace of mind when your elderly folks live in their own home. It’s about independence, it’s about celebrating that independence and it’s about staying in touch without calling every 5 minutes to ‘check all is OK’. This is it in a nutshell: There’s no invasive cameras, Howz uses sensors and a smart plug that you could connect to a kettle or other sockets to monitor activity so that you know if there’s any change in routine. If things are quiet, you get a notification and you can put in a call to check all is, in fact, OK.
Now my sister used to work for EDF Energy and she’s still mates with a few of her former colleagues who mentioned that this project was happening. While we’re both keen to monitor mum closely (she’s a live wire), she mentioned it would be ‘a good one for granddad’. Our parents are edging into the territory of needing Howz but my granddad is currently home alone with only his library of books and an Ocado delivery as regular companions.
He’s the most independent and equally stubborn man I know and there is no way he is venturing into a caring home for the foreseeable future. He’s also against all screens – TV, iPad, cinema – and if it’s too ‘gadgety’ it’s not coming in. But that’s where Howz comes in and breaks down those concerns because this is about helping him stay independent longer. It’s subtle, it’s not about surveillance, more gentle monitoring so both us and my granddad know there’s an extra blanket of security wrapped around him. It’s about checking in without checking up – something I wish my Mum and Dad had focused on when I was a teenager venturing into the Northampton clubbing scene.
To check out Howz and to see the full video click here.
Flexible working is not about parents, it’s about people. People with needs that don’t fit into a 9-5 construct. Here journalist Robyn Wilder speaks about the need for a little bit of flex for someone with ADHD.
I decided to go freelance after my maternity leave ended in 2016, I said it was
because the baby was still breastfeeding, the prospect of full-time childcare
was prohibitively expensive, and I’d grown too used to wearing pyjamas.
that wasn’t the whole truth. Really, I was afraid to return to office life.
I’d never really got on with it. I’ve worked in nine-to-five desk jobs almost
all my adult life, and they’ve always followed the same depressing trajectory.
I’ve impressed my bosses, been promoted for ‘being ideasy’ – then entirely
failed to deliver. My admin has gone down the toilet. My productivity has gone
out of the window. I’ve missed or fidgeted through meetings, had too many sick
days, spent entire work days browsing the internet instead of completing
project work, and made hideous detail mistakes, like adding too many zeroes to
a budget spreadsheet.
my manager would start disciplinary proceedings, but by then I’d have resigned
and begun the cycle with a new company. I’ve never lasted more than two years
in any one role – instead I’ve just got used to the notion that, despite
not wanting to be, I was somehow a Bad Employee.
once I started freelancing, my productivity shot up, and I began to wonder if
something else were at play. Last year, I was diagnosed with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a lifelong development disorder of the
brain that can cause hyperactivity, compulsive behaviour, and sometimes
debilitating problems with organisation, focus, and memory.
my work difficulties started to make sense. Meetings understimulated my fidgety
brain. Being in an open office was as constantly distracting as trying to work
under a strobe lamp, and my lack of executive function regularly firebombed my
attempts at admin and project management. I could only really get ahead in a
task if it completely absorbed my focus, and the constant overwhelm landed me
in bed, sick, at least twice a month.
with ADHD are less likely to be in full-time, paid work than those without the
condition, and that their on-the-job productivity may also be reduced. This has
implications for individuals, employers and the state, as a result of reduced
tax-take and increased expenditure on welfare benefits.”
always assumed, not realising I had ADHD, that my “issues” weren’t compatible
with the workplace. But perhaps that’s not true. The Demos report adds that
“People with ADHD can be creative, energetic and dynamic.” And, without blowing
my own horn, let’s not forget that it was my ideas – not the fact that my keys
were in the fridge and I was probably wearing mismatched socks – that got me
promoted in the first place.
first thing to remember is that, if your ADHD is severe enough to impact on
your work and life, it may count as a protected disability under the Equality
Act 2010 [http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6074]. Which means your
employer is legally required to make reasonable adjustments to help you work
ADHD Foundation suggests that employers include implementing a flexible working
policy for affected employees, including:
Agreeing a 15-minute window at the beginning and end of the day, as people with
ADHD have issues with lateness.
The option to delegate non-core aspects of the job (eg, admin).
Weekly planning meetings to break projects down into clear, manageable steps
A system of visual prompts, charts, clocks and alarms to improve focus
option to work alone in their own space, or from home, to increase focus,
and/or the use of headphones or white noise to reduce distraction.
be quite honest, if I’d been diagnosed while I was still in full-time
employment, I’m not sure I’d even be sitting here in my pyjamas writing this to
you. Because while this style of work gets the most out of me in terms of
productivity, I am self employed, which means my boss has ADHD.
days I’m medicated and undergoing treatment, so I am much improved. But there’s
nothing like filing your tax return one minute before the deadline, or
realising you haven’t invoiced someone for work you did a year ago, and you
don’t have enough money for next week’s grocery shop to make you nostalgic for
a corporate payroll department. Right now I would give my right arm for someone
else to be in charge of all the important work admin, and I’m realising – as
the boss – that this is probably something I’ll have to outsource.
point is that the traditional workplace isn’t necessarily a toxic workplace for
people with ADHD. With the right support, and a healthy dose of flexible
working practices, employees can be happy, and employers can benefit from the
exuberance and creativity that people with ADHD tend to bring to their jobs.
if all else fails, a nice pair of pyjamas is always a decent fallback position.
Robyn Wilder is an award-nominated journalist. She has been The Pool’s parenting columnist since 2016, and writes about being mixed-race, motherhood, and mental health (only with jokes) for publications including Stylist, The Sunday Times Style Magazine, GQ, Grazia, ELLE, and Tatler.
Whoever came up with the phrase ‘I slept like a baby’ never had a baby. That person cannot have faced the onslaught of a collicky infant that won’t be put down or a baby that will only fall asleep to a delicate combination of black out blind, white noise and shushing. Oh the shushing.
But now I’m through the newborn trenches and wrangling a toddler, I’ve had time (3 minutes or so) to look back at what helped me through the dark times. The Stuff. The Stuff that helps make things a little less of an onslaught. (And apologies to anyone reading who is yet to procreate, I hope I’m not putting you off – many have a blissful time, just wasn’t our lucky roll of the dice.)
The first thing that helped was having a dedicated snack table. A table that was abundant with all my things – water, lip balm, chocolate, Netflix, phone, book that I’ll never in a million years get round to reading because my eyes hurt with tiredness. Having a safe space for your things stops the annoying hollers to your partner (or anyone in the vicinity) of ‘can you just get the…’
The second thing is definitely the Sleepyhead. I was sceptical at first because I went through a panicked stage of buying everything with ‘miracle’ in the title and needless to say no miracles were had. But the sleepyhead truly delivers. In many ways I’d look at her kipping in that snug nest (It took only three days before I was getting 4 hour stretches of slumber) and desperately want someone to make an adult-sized one for adults that don’t know if it’s night or day and happen to be wearing two pairs of pants for reasons that remain unclear.
While I (and noone else I believe) can truly help someone with a relentlessly mewling infant, there are small things that make a big difference in the first throes of keeping the infant relatively happy. These are my two. And don’t believe in ‘miracles’ at 3.03am – they rarely deliver.
Flexible working is not just for parents, it’s for people. People with mental health issues, people with caring responsibilities, people living with disabilities; people wanting to live. In our Flex Appeal – the campaign to fight for effective flexible working for all – we speak to Penny Wincer, photographer and mother raising a neurodiverse family. Here she talks about the realities of working and raising a disabled child.
It’s Tuesday morning and I have a long To Do list. I’ve been up with my son since 3am as usual and like most exhausted parents, I can’t imagine getting through the day. After a strong coffee, I get started on some urgent deadline work, sending files to clients before I move onto my son’s admin. My son is not a newborn, he is disabled. This particular day includes chasing up a specialist dental hospital appointment (he can’t access a regular dentist), talking to the provider of his respite fund to check whether the (already approved) increase in respite hours has actually started as promised and then calling and checking in with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) on where he is on the waiting list. I then block out the next 30 mins for crying on my bed when they tell me it will be at least another 8 months (it’s already been 8) and there is nothing they can do to help us in the meantime.
After I have dried my tears and washed my face, I pick up my laptop and clear my head, walking the 45 mins to my office, making sure I am out of the house before the nanny arrives. This change over is essential if I am to get any work done past 3pm as my son would be too confused if I was shut away working in the house somewhere. So I finish the day in my co-working space, retouching a job I shot the previous week, before heading home to relieve the nanny and start the long bedtime routine with the kids. (Alone, I’m also a single parent).
Not all my work days look like this. As a photographer some days I’m on location shooting and juggling trying to get my son calmly on his school bus before dashing off across town. Other days I’m in my office all day and squeezing in all the household errands that are typically left for weekends but that I can’t manage with my son in tow. It probably looks messy to someone who is used to their work days following set hours, commute and routine but I’m used to it and I love it. When I started freelancing in my early twenties, I knew that it would help me lead the life I wanted but I had no idea that it would be the thing that enabled me to work at all.
In 2018, only 3% of mothers with disabled children work full time and 84% do not work at all (as apposed to 39% of mothers with non-disabled children)*. The two main reasons for this is lack of flexibility from employers and lack of appropriate childcare. My son requires one-to-one care and cannot attend a mainstream after-school club or holiday club. He can go to the holiday club at his special school (for which we are incredibly fortunate to have) but only 2 days per week, only school hours and only 8 out of the 13 weeks of holidays per year. For most people these restrictions mean maintaining traditional 9-5 bums-on-seats employment is completely impossible.
This of course has a huge affect on the entire family. It is estimated that 40% of disabled children in the UK live in poverty* and lack of access to flexible work is said to be one of the contributing factors. It also costs approximately three times the amount of money to raise a disabled child than a typical child and many of us will be caring for our children’s needs indefinitely and not just during their early years.
While I’m grateful for and love my work as a freelance
photographer, I largely owe the possibility of this to the fact I had my career
long before I became a mother. Setting up a business or working freelance is
not an option for every parent of a disabled child. Between juggling local authority transport to
special schools and NHS appointments (neither of which we have any control
over) as well as our need to carry out vast amounts of medical and educational
admin, it is virtually impossible for parents to be in a full time job that
requires you to be in an office during set hours.
At the moment the picture is fairly dire. 1 in 4 families with disabled children go without specialist equipment and adaptations and 1 in 6 regularly go without food*. But I truly believe businesses are missing out on a vast resource in this community. Never have I met a more efficient and passionate set of people as the ones I have met through my local support group. We are used to fighting bureaucracy, attending tribunals, writing letters of complaint, running on little sleep, learning to be a therapist/advocate/legal expert and finding alternatives when everyone tells us what we want is impossible. Who wouldn’t want someone like that on their team? And with increases access to flexible working, a whole generation of disabled children and their families could be raised above the poverty line. Surely it’s about considering the human nature of business? Not all humans work the same way – or, in my world, can work the same way.
A little while ago we did a TEDx talk in Lausanne, Switzerland. And because the folk at TED are a refreshingly fastidious bunch who fact-check everything (a rare treat on today’s Internet), the video has taken a while to go up. But here it is, in full – How to be a Happy Chicken…
On 17 October last year, I chaired a table on flexible working and zero hour contracts at The Equality & Human Rights Commission. Invited to that table was Lourdes Walsh, a mother and shift worker in the retail sector. Lourdes brought to life the reality and human cost of shift work and drove home the fact that flexible working is not simply about breaking down the 9-5. This is her story. Please feel free to share and amplify her voice in your own organisation.
My name is Lourdes Walsh and I have been shift working in the retail sector for the last three years. Before my current job I worked multiple zero-hour contracts in the Arts whilst raising my son and maintaining our home.
When we refer to shift work, we tend to mean work hours scheduled outside the usual working day. Often shift work starts early in the morning or late at night.
The night buses and tube services are often worked by parents. Doctors and nurses, many of those parents. Those working in adult social care, hospitality, in late night restaurants and dawn opening supermarkets.
These parents often work through the night, parent through the day, through nursery drop off and school pick up, through spelling tests and spaghetti dinners, and back to work. Through the night. Most may grab a few hours sleep, some won’t. Some will go to work, exhaustion overhanging from the previous nights, behind a wheel, measuring medicine, caring for the sick and vulnerable.
I’m quite fortunate in that my current shift pattern allows me to bring my child to school – but it never allows me to collect him. My working day finishes at 7pm meaning that childcare is the single, most stressful bane of my life. The expensive, over subscribed childcare options available for a school age child finish at 6pm. I am regularly beholden to the kindness of others, reliant on the stretched patience of other late arriving parents, those not quite as late as me. My conversations with my child’s teacher do not consist of praise worthy anecdotes, but logistics of pick-up passwords and familiar faces at the gate. Shift work is often minimum wage, my job is. I have been priced out of the nanny, childminder market.
The anxiety this induces in my child, quite honestly, is something I don’t, I cannot afford to, think about.
I’ve previously worked zero-hour contracts. It was the worst period of employment in my working life. I was engulfed in debt. Staying permanently contracted is my number one priority. I’ve been known to come in early, leave late, work extra days. I worked weekends for two years for fear that saying no, even to spend that time with my child, would lead to losing my job. This fear has left me completely iced out of any conversations on or around flexible working.
I have spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, the need for allowances for summer holidays and sickness. I end up retreating at the detriment of my family, our life and its quality. We are overdue dental check-ups and eye tests; his swimming instructor spends more quality time with my son than I. It’s difficult to get any time together in which I’m not planning my next move, an infinitely stressful game of chess, always trying to remain two steps ahead. Just two days ahead.
This Summer I asked my manager if I could work more flexibly. Less weekends, a 5pm finish. It would mean that I could collect my child from Summer camp. It was refused. They don’t do split shifts. I work alone, I don’t have a lunch break, I don’t sit down. I am tired and irritable, stressed and resentful. Anxiety is rising. Morale is down.
This refusal, this lack of understanding, has meant that sometimes, I’ve had to bring my child into work. Hidden him in a back office, barely bigger than a cupboard.
It was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. I don’t want my child at work with me. No-one wants their child at work with them. But all mothers, all parents, want what’s best for their child and that means providing financially. That means working.
I was reported for bringing my kid to work. I wasn’t asked what could be done so it didn’t ever need to happen, I wasn’t called in to discuss why or find resolutions. The response was *shrug* don’t bring your kid to work.
Just to reiterate, it was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. No-one wants their child at work with them. Being listened to, being included, having me in the room, would have made it so the situation never would have arisen. I felt humiliated, weak. I feel vulnerable and embarrassed. I feel like less of a parent.
In all honesty, without flexible working I have to seriously consider on a weekly basis, whether work, the impact it is having on my mental health, my quality of life, and increasingly on my child, is worth it.
Working flexibly in retail, working flexibly in a shift work environment, can be as easy as listening to your employees, your team, those on the front line of business and being open to a conversation. ‘How can we make it so that you work best for us’ is the question employers should be asking. Job security, job positivity is great for business, for productivity, for profit.
Flexible working cultivates a productive, loyal workforce, employee retention and development is good for business. It is this adaption of skills and inclusivity that creates an active economy.
The demographics of the workforce are changing, we now work until we are older than ever before and it is not just the children we care for that we must think about. With working later, comes living longer. Raising children gives way to caring for elderly parents and relatives.
I am entering this conversation as a single parent of one, but I look at society and can recognise flexible working is not just important to me and my family, but that flexibility at work is vitally important for all workers, at whatever age and at all levels of income.
What began as just a grumbling at ground level has led to a conversation in this room. It’s important it doesn’t stop here. Flexible working that works for parents, parents like me and like you, works for everyone.
Amsterdam daily Het Parool recently ran a feature on flex appeal, and how we’re trying to bring a little Dutch touch to working lives in the UK. Here’s the translation (thanks, Google Translate)…
Oh, those lazy Dutch: they really don’t care about their work. Anna Whitehouse (37) often thought this when she saw her colleagues in Amsterdam go home to eat with their families at five o’clock.
“Why don’t they sit at their desk until nine in the evening, like good employees?” But after returning to work in England, she thought: well, why do we do that? “It is not that we produce more. You can’t work hard 12 hours a day”, she says.
Anna Whitehouse has a Dutch mother and an English father. It is mid December, and she’s visiting family in the Netherlands. Her sister lives in Amsterdam, her cousins in Eindhoven. We meet in the De Balie cafe, and her daughter Eve (1) plays with the wires of her mother’s iPhone and a leaking cup of apple juice on the floor.
Whitehouse worked in Amsterdam for six years, as a journalist for Time Out and a copywriter for the magazine of Supertrash, the now closed fashion brand of Olcay Gulsen. Her husband was at that time editor Holland Herald, the in-flight magazine of KLM. When their eldest daughter Mae was born, they decided to move back to London, to be closer to their family, where Whitehouse got a job at the l’Oreal Group. When her office was moved half-an-hour further away, she asked if she could start and finish her day 15 minutes earlier to be able to collect her daughter from the crèche. But the answer was no: they felt that would open the doors for anyone who wanted to work flexibly.
It came to a crunch one afternoon when Whitehouse was on the way from work to the crèche. A man got his briefcase stuck between the Tube door, which stopped the train. Whitehouse was 12 minutes late to the crèche.
“My daughter looked at me with those big Bambi eyes: why am I the last one?” The crèche charged a pound for every minute a child was picked up after 6 pm. And Whitehouse received a sermon from the manager: that this should never happen again.
“I didn’t have such stress here. I cycled everywhere in Amsterdam. I knew it would take five minutes to get from a to b. In London it can take hours. You do not just jump on the bike there: the traffic is always fixed and the metro system is outdated. ”
She decided to quit her job and start working for herself. She now runs Mother Pukka, a platform for people who happen to be parents. She also wrote a book, Parenting the Shit Out of Life, and presents a radio program about the struggles of family life – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Via her own site and Instagram, she runs the Flex Appeal campaign for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. What makes her an expert? “I am not an expert! I am just a very, very angry woman who has been forced out of a regular job, simply because I had a child.
Originally she wanted to call her brand Motherfucker, she was so angry. She turned it into the more friendly Mother Pukka because she wanted people to see more than just her anger. And, let’s face it, Whitehouse does not look like an angry woman. She drinks her cold oatmeal cappuccino in a good mood while she wipes the apple juice from the floor with her other hand. And at the same time she tells the story with which she has become the face of the struggle for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. “54,000 women a year lose their jobs in the UK because they have children. Most of them stop because their work has become too inflexible, or simply because of discrimination.” She rolls with her eyes: “Oh god, we have a mother here! In England women take off their wedding ring when they go to interviews, to prevent an employer from thinking that they will want to start having children soon.”
It was her time in Amsterdam that showed her things could be done differently, she says: that you do not have to be ashamed work part-time, and that it is not ridiculously sentimental to want to take care of your child when it is sick.
Maternity leave in England can last up to 12 months, but when you come back you often have to start working full-time again.
“While you have experienced something very big. You have been biologically altered, your world is turned upside down, you have scars, you may have had a postnatal depression, you still have leaking breasts. But in England they refuse to see the person behind the employee. In the Netherlands you have shorter leave, but then there is a papadag, a mamadag concept to give people one day off a fortnight to be with their child,” she says.
“The whole view on family life here is different. We eat a sandwich behind our desk ¬– in the Netherlands you have lunch in the cafeteria and you talk about your private life.”
But there are British companies that are doing well. Take Pursuit Marketing, in Glasgow. They decided a few years ago to go to a four-day work week with their employees on the same salary.
“Their productivity has increased by 30 percent, their turnover has doubled! Because their staff are happier and healthier, see their family and work harder in four days because they get that fifth day. They feel that they are trusted.” Because that’s what it’s all about: trust.
“Employers say: but they will all be sitting at home in their underwear watching The Kardashians! But the person who would do that, if she were in the office, might waste her time stalking her ex on Facebook. Then it’s not flexibility that’s a problem, but with your recruitment. Employers say: what if I can not see my people. We say: do not look at where they are, see what they do!”
It is not a bonus to manage your own time, but a profitable principle. Employers are starting to see that very slowly now, she says: that it is good for your company to give people space.
“Ask your employee what he wants, what’s bothering him: is it your child, do you have a sick mother? And ask him how you can help him so he can perform better for the company. It’s about money. ”
The irony is her campaign for a better division between work and life eats up at least 55 hours per week.
“It is seven days a week. Everything is digital and continues throughout the day. Mae is in school, Eve three or four days at the crèche. If she is ill, one of us can pick her up, everything is much more natural, but my fight for flexibility totally exhausts me. That is the ridiculous thing: giving people independence the risk is not that they do too little, but that they do not stop working!”
Whitehouse finds the Swedish approach inspiring. “The costs for childcare are limited at a maximum €135 a week. I paid £1,350 pounds a month for three days nursery: that meant that I earned £50 pounds a week after taxes and childcare. That is almost paying to go to work: you’re saying hey, give me £50 so that I can not see my children anymore! That’s what it comes down to.”
A while ago she was with an American colleague from The New York Post in Sweden. “She said to me: what are all these male nannies doing here everywhere? It’s so weird. The Swedish woman with us said: they are not nannies, that are fathers who take care of their children! ‘Latte dads’ they are called them. Then I realized how far the Swedes are ahead of us.”
This is a translation of an article that originally appeared in Het Parool.
Anywhere that leads it’s Afternoon Tea with a champagne trolley gets an immediate thumbs up. In the run-up to Mother’s Day I took my Ma to Berners Tavern, the only restaurant within Ian Schrager’s London EDITION hotel (famously under the direction of Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton). Routinely voted as the most beautiful dining room in London, we weren’t here for a 5-course-meal but to sate our sweet tooth.
And we were not disappointed. Silver tray-upon-tray of glistening fancies were delivered with savoury and sweet vying for attention over the home-made scones. Service was not simply with a smile but with a Cheshire Cat-esque grin where no request was too much and champagne flutes were always brimming. Perhaps the creme de la creme was the macaroon cake, which was pink and fanciful like something that would have made it onto a platter in Versailles. Either way there wasn’t a crumb left as we merrily – and riding a definite sugar high – ambled to our next stop: Skin Works.
There’s nothing more appreciated after scoffing for two hours straight than a cleansing detox drink and someone asking you to recline. This beauty parlour in the basement of a large beauty emporium epitomises the word ‘sanctuary’. Flumpy towels, tittering panpipes and a calming duck egg blue on the walls makes for a genuinely Zen experience. Once my Mum and I had come round (we both snoozed off) it was clear to see that an amalgam of champagne and facial had definitely left us feeling that glow. Happy Mother’s Day, indeed.
The thought of bringing a weaning toddler into 5-star plush luxury realms is enough to ignite a bead-on. Sticky peanut butter-slathered fingers and Egyptian cotton do not a merry mix make. I arrived at the Four Seasons Hampshire with apple puree on my left lapel and ready to start apologising for the biscuit that had been eaten and regurgitated onto the marbled floor. (By my child, not me for the record – I’m not a savage.) I didn’t need to apologise, though, as one of the team instantly ran over, offered up a Peppa Pig toy for my daughter, swept my bags off me and asked if I’d like a drink. And breathe. This wasn’t going to be one of those hotels that has you shouting: “no, no NOT the vase.”
Set in 500 acres of parkland in Dogmersfield Park, an 18th century manor house, this place has pure ‘escape to the country’ vibes. The rooms are luxe yet homely with all the baby add-ons you could hope for: nappies, wipes and Little Prince organic shampoo and conditioner. The lipstick-penned welcome note on the mirror was a friendly touch, along with a dog-shaped chocolate biscuit for the nippers. All in all it’s a home from home with all The Stuff for kids. You could safely land here not having packed a thing for your kid and all would be well.
Perhaps the biggest parental pull at this grandiose bolthole is Sharkie’s pool. We’re talking a super posh Leisure Centre-level water fun park for the kids that includes a big red slide for the braver souls and lots of water features that kept my daughter gurning and splashing into the early afternoon. It’s kid paradise and not a rogue plaster in sight.
While I could see that happy face from dusk until dawn, there’s nothing quite like being able to slope off to the spa as one of the hotel’s babysitters (£10 an hour) gives your child undivided attention with a bit of Octonauts thrown in for good measure. We had two babysitter slots booked: one for spa time and the other for dinner time so we could have a conversation that went beyond: “Can you grab the wipes.”
The Wild Carrot restaurant offered up a melt-in-the-mouth Wellington of Salisbury venison haunch, served with beetroot and a sumptuous jus – the staff are on hand to help with the perfect accompaniment from a healthy wine list. For those with a sweet tooth but little room left, the café gourmand is a knock out way to end the night.
Whether you’re looking for some QT with the family or QT with
them fully entertained, this is the ultimate spot to grab some R&R. That’s
not to mention the stables on site and the petting zoo round the back. And not
a breakable vase in toddler-reach.
I remember the first passive aggressive muttering about my tidiness. We’d been together for three weeks and Matt stepped on a hairbrush that had been nestling under my ‘floordrobe’ – the mountain of clothes that have never quite made it into their receptacles. I say muttering and passive aggressiveness but it’s was a clear message: “why are the things not where the things should be?” With a subtext of: Why is my foot suffering at the hand of your slovenliness?
Fast-forward 12 years, two children, one flatulent beagle and a relentless mortgage and the floordrobe well and truly thrives. Although now it’s peppered with miniature clothes and rogue socks from the small humans. Matt is delighted with his life choices.
And that’s no word of a lie because if he squints a little and ignores the fashion eyesore in the bedroom, his attention fully lands on the cupboard of doom and it’s contents. Within that bulging cupboard of discarded – and never-to-see-the-light-of-day-again-items – lies the answer to general kitchen-based messy floor issues. We’re talking a one-year-old taking on a Petit Filou yoghurt with intense hunger and without a spoon. It’s not pretty and the collateral damage after every meal is hard to palate.
Cue the Karcher FC Hard Floor Cleaner. Yes, those are words I never imagined uttering or writing in relation to our relationship but once you’ve taken that weapon into sullied floor battle, your life will be changed. I’m not sure what delights Matt more – the fact it sucks up bits (think discarded peas and mangled baked beans) while washing the floor or the fact that it dries in 2 minutes. Perhaps the latter because no one enjoys the sensation of a sodden sock and repeatedly telling a five-year-old to “not step on the kitchen floor” wears into the marital soul.
Multitasking often gets strapped to female shoulders – “women are such good multitaskers”. But while I am a dab hand at preparing a lunch box, while breastfeeding and answering the door to the postman, Matt is a dab hand too. (Wo)man power indeed.
Here are the hard facts that make Matt excited about delving into the cupboard of doom and retrieving the Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner:
It uses SmartRoller technology to vacuum light debris and wash the floor in one motion, making it easy and effortless to clean hard floors
Leaves hard floors dry in just two minutes
The microfibre rollers effortlessly pick up dirt to leave your hard floors sparkling, right up to the edges.
Using the FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner saves up to 85% of water compared to a mop and bucket
Suitable for all sealed hard floors, including laminate, stone, vinyl, waxed and sealed wood
The SmartRollers are detachable and suitable for machine washing, allowing you to keep them as good as new
Detergents available which remove run marks for streak-free results. With moisture protection to guard against swelling of the floors and with a lemon scent.
The Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner is available now for £199.99 at www.karcher.co.uk
This blog post was written in partnership with Karcher
Writer Lourdes Walsh shares her initial skepticism about #flexappeal
My first impression of Flex Appeal – a kaleidoscopic bombardment of lycra-clad women on my social media feeds – was not the most positive. A bunch of middle class, mostly white women with the privilege of career. Most, if not all, seemed to be living in their own homes, or at least with home security.
We are not of the same tribe.
They wanted to be able to collect their kids from school two afternoons a week, I wanted to be able to feed my kid two afternoons a week.
Calling for flexible working is all well and good. It’s a cause primarily benefiting women, as we are still the majority care-givers within every society. As a feminist, I’m all for that.
And yet, flexible working seemed to serve only a very small demographic of working women; the educated, those with five-year plans, life goals and a voice of agency.
I have been in employment for my child’s entire life. I was self-employed through my pregnancy and went back to work when he was six weeks old, having graduated from art school at 37 weeks pregnant. As a single parent I was never judged or berated for this. If anything, I was pressured to return. Single parents are demonised and I felt the constant need to prove my worth. That meant paying my way.
As a single parent, self-employment was not working. I needed stability and financial guarantees. I needed to pay London rent amid a housing crisis. As a single parent you are often pigeon-holed a ‘scrounger’. We are to work in anything, accept everything, no matter the detriment. I was a roach sifting through the scraps of job listings.
I said yes to whatever I could. I worked shifts in a pub, my colleagues taking turns to build Lego with my son at a corner table hidden from the boozer’s patrons. I was fortunate enough to have a manager who listened when I said I HAVE to work a certain number of hours. Inevitably though, I couldn’t have all the day shifts. Others had responsibilities too: relationships, auditions, degrees and second jobs.
I created a WhatsApp group among friends to farm my kid out when I worked late shifts. With one friend, I would drop my son off to at 5pm, then collect him after midnight, pulling him from the warm nest he shared with her own son, carrying him over my shoulder home in his pyjamas and out through the cold.
It leaves a constant pit in your stomach, a piercing headache of logistics. There’s hair loss and acne, there’s weight fluctuations and bouts of insomnia. Stress. Anxiety. Fatigue.
I did find another job, though. A job I was over-qualified for and passionate about. It was a rung on the ‘career ladder’. I felt inspired and hopeful and for the first time in too long I could let my shoulders drop and take a breath. I was working for London’s leading children’s theatre and from the very beginning I was honest about my ‘situation’ – that I have sole physical, emotional and financial responsibility for a child.
My working pattern was flexible, a few 9am starts and 4pm finishes. I hesitate to call it the dream – a working life that works with the needs of, you know, life – but initially it worked. Before long this was stretched: 4pm finishes became later, then a Saturday afternoon, then every Sunday morning. And then, suddenly, a change: everyone who had started within the last six months was put on a zero-hour contract.
Zero-hour contracts are the Wild West of the job market. Your boss is under no obligation to give you any work. People are ‘in work’, but no shifts means no money. Often people are only informed days before their shift, sometimes the morning of it. The number of single parents having to take on zero-hours has increased exponentially in the last decade. A recent study confirmed an increase of 58% in which single parents entered zero hour contracts and precarious self-employment status.
For women like me, this means paying for childcare you may not use. That’s bad business in anyone’s eyes and bad business leads to debt, sped along by the complexities of claiming tax credits or housing benefits, and the spiral into poverty is swift and devastating.
My ‘employment’ meant I was no longer entitled to housing benefit. But my contract meant I had no guarantee of work. I had no money coming in and I was still haemorrhaging cash for childcare and heat and food.
Within a month I was in arrears that it has taken me years to clear.
Working life doesn’t always work. And when it does, it doesn’t work well enough.
My current employment status is marginally better. I am forced into any entry-level job, a minimum wage, no progression. I work long hours, alone, without a break. I have too much to lose if I speak up, never mind suggest flexible working. Never was my lack of autonomy more evident than this summer.
I had spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, make allowances for summer holidays, always aware of my desperate need to stay contracted. I end up retreating, appeasing the boss to the detriment of my family.
When you work into the evening and all the childcare clubs finish at 6pm, there have been more days than I should admit to that my child has sat cramped and confined in a back office with nothing but Horrible Histories for company.
This summer I was reported for bringing my kid to work. By another woman: one with the power of flexible working and no child, working in head office. The news was ‘cascaded’ to me: “Don’t bring your kid to work.”
School starts back, with the 3.15pm finishes and the four hours of childcare to cover. After-school club is over-subscribed, childminders are already catering to those who can pay more. And so we’re back to the scrappy ‘who can?’ negotiations, payment in kind, too often indebted to the flexible workers in the playground.
Single parents are left out of every decision-making process in society, so of course they would be left out of the debate on flexible working. I wasn’t invited by a manager into an office to discuss anything. There was nowhere I could go to explain my situation in a way that dignified me as a human, as a parent, as a capable adult.
But it got me thinking. If people without children can work flexibly, then why can’t I?
I’ve said Flex Appeal – the initial conversation – wasn’t mine. I stand by that. But this Flex Appeal call is different. If all women are invited to the table, all working patterns and all salary status’, it can, it will, open the doors for everyone. We’ve said it’s not our fight, and they listened, questioned and listened again. It sounds different. If I’m being invited to the table, it’s definitely going to feel different. This feels like an evolution of the original.
I’m warming to it, this some-seen utopian dream of employers of compassion – where family life is celebrated in all its nonconventional forms. One that’s flexible enough that we can all win at this parenting malarkey. We can all be the parents we want to be without the fear of losing out, losing time, losing our homes, losing our dignity.
Flexible working is not solely for parents, it’s not something only for ‘mummies that want to see more of their babies’. It’s about a fundamental shift in how we work. It’s about giving humans – all humans – the flexibility to do the job they need to in a way that works for both employer and employee. Here, Sally Darby, founder of Mums Like Us talks about flexibility and disability.
According to government statistics there are over 11 million disabled people living in the UK. 16% of working age adults live with disability. There is a 30% difference between the percentages of disabled and non disabled adults in employment. Meaning that you are significantly less likely to be in gainful employment if you are disabled. It is also the case, that households containing a disabled person are substantially more likely to be living in poverty than households with no disabled member.
It is my feeling, since becoming disabled through MS ten years ago, that disabled people are a minority group who continue to face daily persecution, prejudice and discrimination. This is happening online, on our streets, in education and in the workplace. This huge section of our society is being under represented, under heard, and under valued. We are making a huge moral and economic mistake by not valuing disabled people and making our world work for them.
I am a mother of two young children. I have a severe visual impairment and significant mobility difficulties. For a very long time, I felt like the only person in the world that was parenting, working and living with disability. It was extremely isolating.
I created Mums Like Us – a network for disabled mothers. The aim of this group was to create community for other mums who were living with disability. I wanted to create a group where these women felt they could discuss the highs and lows of their unique experiences without fear of judgement. The Facebook group, exclusively for disabled mums, is a safe space for such discussion.
Last year I created the website and the Instagram account in the hope of widening the audience beyond disabled mums and encouraging others to consider the issues we face.
There is, as we know, enormous pressure on mums. We face a societal expectation that we should be all things to all people. We should be nurturing at home and ambitious at work. We should be vulnerable yet strong. We should practice self care whilst nurturing the needs of our children. We should be powerful and brave, a good role model, a strong leader and we should do all this while continuing to be judged on our physical appearance.
Disabled mums are juggling all this with additional pressures. They battle the contrasting media images of the disabled person as victim and as superhuman Paralympian. The vast majority of us of course, identify with neither.
For those of us who are mothers, the decision (should we be privileged enough to feel we have a choice) to work or not to work is much the same as it is for able bodied mothers. Approximately three quarters of mothers are in full or part time work.
Juggling work and motherhood is difficult. For the majority of working mothers, expensive childcare is unavoidable, maternal guilt is likely, judgement from others is almost inevitable. On a practical level, school runs, class assemblies, appointments etc make the demands of the nine to five difficult to manage.
When you combine these with the challenges faced by disabled mums, the traditional working model can feel incompatible with family life. These challenges are, for example , the need to accessible working conditions, periods of illness or pain and endless medical appointments.
Employers who embrace flexible working are able to accommodate the needs of a disabled mum. If her hours can be set by her schedule, she has the potential of any other person. She has already proved she has resilience, determination and courage by the bucket load. She can be a valuable employeee.
Time and time again, however, disabled mums have had no choice but to leave employment because it is assumed that no more can be done to create an environment that meets their requirements. Mums like us members repeatedly point out that working from home would have allowed them to meet their personal needs whilst meeting those of the organisation.
I want to make it clear that many mums like us members report supportive employers who have treated them with equality and dignity whilst making necessary adjustments to accommodate their employees. The good practice is a hundred percent out there.
There is no doubt however, that Disabled mums have experienced prejudice at all stages of gaining employment and working life. They have been forced from the workplace and they have felt they had no choice. The changes that need to be made are, more often than not, simple but resisted.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that I worked as a teacher. I was supported, encourage, respected consistently throughout my twelve years in the profession. All reasonable adjustments were made to keep me in work. Teaching, however, requires the teacher to be there, in the classroom, at the same time as the children.. the decision to leave was mine. I was not pressured or pushed. I felt I could no longer do my job with the integrity that I wanted to. This was a desperately difficult decision. I would love to see as few as possible disabled mothers have to make this decision.
Back in the day, when I was a youth, I would never even have considered edging into a wedding in specs. In 1999 (feeling old), glasses essentially equalled a work-like aesthetic with no room for words like: sass, fun, edgy (not sure that’s ‘cool’), playful and stylish.
Then one day I decided it was time to get a job and dress up ‘like an adult’ – I invested in a badly-tailored suit on my travels to Bangkok and went with a pair of specs. It was 2000 and I hit the new millennium with glasses planted firmly on my chops. Seeing truly was believing.
A decade passed and I didn’t feel myself without them on. Then I launched Mother Pukka and my logo shows me wearing specs with a slick of red lippy. Instead of being something I had to wear, they became something I wanted to wear – so much so they are centre stage of my working life – and yes, I wore them to weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and any other social occasion that required sight. And some good looking frames. We were as one.
But like my wardrobe, I don’t just have one frock for all occasions and I’ve gathered a few pairs for any eventuality. I love the new Kylie Minogue range at Specsavers for taking you seamlessly from day to night. I have the ‘ombre’ pair for posh events – like my sister’s wedding where I needed clear vision for getting on a boat after a few glasses of fizz – and the dark ones for day-to-day office-based slogging.
A pair of prescription sunnies is also a good idea for summer shindigs. I’m a big fan of Karen Millen frames for giving that St Tropez, just stepped-off a yacht vibe without needing a sturdy vessel or the South of France.
This post was written in partnership with Specsavers
Kids going off the walls? As part of our #pukkafreestuff series, Susie Lodge, founder of Wikiplacesforkids.com unveils the top FREE attractions for your full clan
What happened to the heatwave? The problem with rain is it can close the door on fun, especially when you’ve got used to having free range kids, smugly watching them from a safe distance as they romp about a park or forest. As I type this in the cinema café at 10am on a rainy Sunday while my partner takes the kids to Movies for Juniors, I’m as clear as anyone that rain means spending money to keep them busy… but does it have to? If rain has stopped play for a bit or you’re feeling the pinch after the summer hols, then here’s a raft of suggestions that won’t cost a thing. I’ve searched top to bottom of my brilliant parent recommended “Wiki List” to give you some amazing FREE days out across the UK… come rain or shine.
If you’re a Harry fan, (wizard, I mean), you’re family will love the Potter Trail in Edinburgh, a guided tour of the magical locations that inspired the character’s and scenes for the famous JK Rowling, visit the places she wrote the books and learn a few spells while you’re there. Muggles welcome!
Other brilliant options in Edinburgh are, the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Museum Scotland, The Royal Botanic Garden and Holyrood Park!
The Discovery Museum, Angel of the North, Quayside and Newcastle City Parks are fab places to visit in Newcastle, or if you want to visit the coast the gorgeous Whitley Bay is a must!
If you love rock pooling, then one awesome spot is Robin Hoods Bay, near Bradford, where you’ll also find loads of incredible fossils on the beach. Or for something indoors, you can’t go wrong with the hugely recommended National Science and Media Museum.
If you’re in the Blackpool area, then visit the wonderful Penny Farm Ponies, a great day out and supporting a great cause!
The Tate Liverpool, fab for all visitors also has a dedicated area for little ones to romp about and provides activity packs for the kids to explore as they go around and specific children’s workshops all year round, all free.
For an outdoors option in Liverpool, Sefton Parkcomes highly recommended too!
Who doesn’t love a Miniature Railway? Also home to a wicked adventure playground, the one at Worden Park near Leyland, Lancs is a great suggestion.
Nottingham’s Sherwood Forestsounds incredible, and this year’s Robin Good festival has a huge line up of amazing crafts, entertainment, music, re-enactments… the lot!
The Tolkien Trail in Birmingham is an amazing opportunity to walk the steps of JRR Tolkien, spot familiar place names – Shire Lane – and absorb the surroundings of an incredible woodland landscape that inspired Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings stories!!
Tring National History Museum! A mecca of incredible taxidermy (it’s not as scary as it sounds), this place is feast for the eyes, with plenty of space for excitable kids you’ll see all sorts from dogs to hippos, crocodiles and lions!
One of the best recommended splash parks on the list is the Embankment in Wellingborough, although these get super busy on hot days they are great and the kids love it, and this one’s brilliant for a free day!
Irchester Country Parkhas a huge outdoor play park with areas for all ages, there is also a short walk to discover dinosaur bones and eggs!! Plus the woodland itself is great.
Another great suggestion is Ferry Meadowsat Nene Park for a great run around for kids – and pets!
N. Ireland is stunning, and The Giants Causeway is one of the most breath taking natural coastlines on the planet, despite being National Trust it’s free and families with all ages will love exploring these awesome stones!
Antrim and Newton Abbey is also a must see with amazing gardens and castle ruins! For some seaside action, White Park Bay is beautiful, full of fossils and wildlife, a great walk or lazy beach day.
There’s soooo much to choose from in London, but here’s a few of my picks…
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London is the home of the 2012 Olympics and the London stadium, and it’s now filled with play parks, cafes, parkland and waterways. A great day out in an iconic location.
Visit Vauxhall CityFarm for a bit of the countryside in the city, lots of animals, events and horse riding on offer (at a small cost).
Corams Field in London is ace, with playgrounds tailored to all ages, a small area holding goats on the left, and a big pool with fountains in the summer… and a basketball/ 5 aside pitch at the back!!
There’s so much amazing stuff to do in Cornwall, but I’ve had to pick and love the sound of Heartlands in Redruth, an amazing visitor attraction, with botanical gardens, interactive exhibitions, and kids play park set on the grounds of the old mining landscape.
Roskilly’sFarm in Cornwall sounds ace, it’s the home of an award winning ice cream brand, as well as lots of wonderful animals. This working farm has meadows to stroll about, milking to observe and events each week (some have a small charge).
My pick of the south, among loads of recommendations is Bedgebury Pinetum – An incredible adventure playground, set in the heart of a stunning arboretum, ideal for walking, cycling and all sorts of outdoor recreation!
If in Norfolk, where to start, there’s tonnes to choose from
on the site, but all the beaches are EPIC, miles of sand and stunning scenery.
See the site for a few great suggestions from other parents.
In Essex, near Braintree, the Great Notley Country Park, looks epic, with a 1.2 KM play trail giant seesaw, tyre swings, huge sandpit and climbing forest.
You can go crabbing in loads of great places, but we love Brightlingsea where you can find loads of the little nippers all ready and willing to take the bait!
So, deep breaths, as from this massive edit, you can literally fill up your calendar with free days out, but for loads of other ideas, take a look at wikiplacesforkids.com – brilliant days out all recommended by people, with kids, who’ve actually been.
The last time I visited The Connaught was in 2008 for a feature in Grazia Magazine. The piece was: ‘where would Carrie Bradshaw stay in London’. A light Google and The Connaught with all its 5-star gilding is a clear number one. Nestled in Mayfair – close to Oxford Street but far enough away for some privacy – this is the top of the hotelier tree. Don’t read on, though, if you’re looking for a bargain pit stop. This is sheer luxury from the moment you waft into the lobby to the second you’re waved off – by the requisite white-gloved hand – on exiting the resplendent red brick building.
While Sarah Jessica Parker hasn’t been spotted there as yet, when we visited recently, Gerard Butler was casually perusing the bar menu. It was tough to play it cool, even tougher to look up from the succulent sea bass delivered to that crisp white linen-swathed table. Other A-list fans include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Oh and the entire Instagram community.
Swanky Mayfair is on your doorstep here with Christian Laboutin, Purdey & Sons, Vivienne Westwood standing tall, along with grandiose lunches at Scott’s and photogenic sarnies at the Mount Street Deli. Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Park Lane, Piccadilly Circus and Connaught sister hotels Claridge’s and The Berkeley are a horse and carriage, taxi ride or short walk away.
While many top-tier hotels ooze pomp, The Connaught is all for friendly, comfortable luxury with no request a hassle, no query left unanswered. Any starchiness is exchanged for a truly polished service with a coat hanger smile at every turn.
The rooms are where Carrie Bradshaw and Big would unite. Traditional mahogany furnishings unite with feminine touches – the dressing table complete with Dyson hairdryer is the stuff of boudoir dreams. It’s the epitome of home-from-home but with a wholesome dollop of palatial detail, which is exactly what you’d expect from London’s Grande Dame.
Oh and if you are looking for a knock out cocktail for date night, the Connaught bar is everything you could hope for and more. Classic whiskey cocktails in old school British surrounds is just what the (love) doctor ordered. Oh, and Gerard Butler. Not that we were stalking.
This post was written in exchange for a one-night stay at The Connaught. To book go here
I got to fulfil two small dreams recently: firstly, meeting Michael Moore and secondly, doing that serious nodding face that film journalists do when conducting interviews.
I had about five minutes in a small hotel room, my slot wedged between Adam Boulton from Sky News and a reporter from Reuters, neither of whom seemed entirely clear what a Mother Pukka was, and why one would be there.
But we’re getting to a stage now where Mae occasionally sees the news and starts asking questions, so I asked Moore how he thinks we can explain the world’s ills to small children.
He was in London to promote his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, which I found to be equally tragic, rage-inducing and depressing but also uplifting a tiny bit hopeful and worth the time of anyone interested in the state of America. It considers how Trump got to power, how the Democrats were complicit, and what can be done next.
We’re working with McDonald’s to try and get the flexible working message out to more people. Here, we explain why…
Why are you talking about flexible working at all?
In December 2015, Anna left journalism to take a copywriting job for a big beauty brand. It was a wrench, and the idea of joining the corporate world was a bit daunting, but we had a mortgage, were thinking about a second kid, and it seemed best for the family.
In January 2016, that brand announced they were moving her office from somewhere 45 minutes away to somewhere 90 minutes away. It meant she would see Mae asleep and at weekends and I would have to cut back my hours. She asked for 15 minutes flex on her start and leave times. They said no, because ‘they’d have to do it for everybody’. So she quit, and Mother Pukka was born. We started Mother Pukka to try and make earning a living and raising children a bit more compatible for us. #flexappeal is our effort to make it more compatible for everybody else too.
Flexible working helps people improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier in their relationships, and better able to provide for themselves and their families.
But it’s good for employers too – it boosts productivity, helps attract and retain talent and can save on site costs – and society in general, by tackling the gender pay gap, addressing the issue of 54,000 new mothers being forced out of work each year, and keeping more taxes and skills in the economy.
It’s not solely an issue for mothers: it can benefit anyone who works or wants to work. But it does disproportionately affect women. And, ultimately, schmaltzy as this may sound, we don’t want our daughters to have to decide between earning money and raising kids.
Why are you working with McDonald’s?
When we started #flexappeal, we had two very simple goals – make people aware of the right to request flex, and encourage employers to trial it. And that was it – parp the trumpet and hope someone listens.
The first #flexappeal flash mob was in early 2016 and we’ve been running it, mostly alone, ever since. We’ve had some help – all those thousands who’ve attended flash mobs across the country, experts offering free advice on workitout.org.uk and the Let’s Talk About Flex Facebook page.
We’ve had a few hundred encouraging messages from people who were emboldened to make (mostly successful) flex requests, partly in response to #flexappeal. We’ve given talks at a few companies, trying to excite them about the business benefits of flex.
But now we feel a responsibility to take it further. We get lots of questions from people asking how they can get flex, and we can’t always give an answer. We can talk in general terms, but people need specific answers. We recently trialled an event called Soft Play, Hard Talk, which brought together 50 parents in a soft play area so the mums and dads could quiz three volunteer advisers (one recruiter who specialises in flex roles, one self-employed mum and an employment lawyer) while the kids played. Now, we want to take that further. McDonald’s has restaurants all across the country, and wants to help people have these conversations.
What specifically will happen?
We’re trialling an event called Let’s Talk About Flex. There will be one each in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, the first event is taking place on Wednesday 19th September. Three or four flex experts will be on hand to give specific advice about individual circumstances. There will be about 30 places (first come, first served) and people can bring their kids if they need to. We get lots of very specific questions, which we can’t always answer, and think that 10 minutes one on one with someone more qualified could make a big difference.
What about McDonald’s record on flexible working?
Like anything, it’s not 100% perfect, but from our conversations and research it does seem to be good, and they too have been banging the drum for years. One of Matt’s first pieces in journalism was for a trade mag called Human Resources magazine in 2005, where he interviewed the HR boss of McDonald’s UK (who now runs HR for the firm globally). Even back then, they were talking their flex credentials and the benefits it gives them as a business. Anecdotally, McDonald’s employees have also told us good things, and we know they have policies in place that back up the stories we’ve heard. It seems to us that their advocacy to flexible working is genuine.
What about the zero-hours contracts?
Flexible working should be about mutual benefit. Our view is that zero-hours contracts usually put all the expectations for flex on the employee, with the employer giving no commitment in return. They also tend to be imposed on staff, rather than giving them a choice.
In the UK and Ireland, from day one in the job all McDonald’s staff can choose between flexible contracts and fixed-hour contracts. While the flexible contracts don’t guarantee a set number of hours each week, they still come with the same benefits as fixed-hour contracts, including holiday pay and health insurance. People get their schedule in advance and there’s no exclusivity clause stopping them working for other companies.
Of their 120,000 staff in the UK, about 90% chose flexible contracts when given the option of flex or fixed-hours. It’s that element of choice – along with hundreds of messages we’ve had from serving or former McDonald’s staff – that convinced us this partnership could work. The official company line can be found here.
What about the food, though?
We both eat there a few times a year, have done since childhood and remain suckers for an occasional Big Mac. We’ve taken our eldest a few times as part of an effort to introduce her to as many different food types as possible, but wouldn’t take her every day. Everyone needs a balanced diet, and kids in particular. But how you get a healthy balance it is up to you, and McDonald’s seem pretty open about what’s in their food and where it comes from.
This editorially-independent post was created in partnership with McDonald’s.
It took my three go’s to pass my driving test. The first test I had to pull a U-turn back to the test centre because I was deemed ‘a concern’ – left and right has always been a struggle. And then throw Matt, my husband into the mix who, at 42, doesn’t have a driving license (“I’m urban,” he says) and you’ve got quite the line-up for an advertising campaign promoting the new Renault Scenic family set of wheels.
In my mind car advertising was all pencil skirts, dramatic mountainscapes and a deep George Clooney-esque voice penetrating mind and (presumably) wallet. So when we got the call that Renault would like to work with us – the automobile equivalent of The Flintstones but with a less daring wardrobe and more passive aggressiveness – we had a few questions.
Followers, engagement, algorithms and all that aside, Renault wanted to exchange the suited and booted brooding couple for a pair like us who were generally hollering things like, “Matt have you got the wet wipes? We NEED the wet wipes” in yoghurt-embellished threads against a backdrop of Peppa Pig. With the campaign titled ‘Behind Car Doors’, they wanted the audience to get into the car and sit with us as we navigated the open road with the full team and all their relentless needs.
And what needs there were. The first video we shot was when I was 35 weeks pregnant. I remember driving my eldest to nursery as Braxton Hicks contractions – false contractions ahead of birth – kicked in and I edited the video to take my mind off the whole uterine palaver. The next video we shot, we had at 1-week-old baby strapped into the back as we were fielding questions from our eldest that went thus: “why can’t I dress the baby as a dinosaur and keep it in my pencil case?”
From endlessly long journeys and relentless requests for ‘iPad now’ to my eldest communicating solely in canine language, it’s, indeed, been a journey. While many find the advertising on Instagram uncomfortable at times – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, no one wants to be a slipped a Wall’s sausage on the sly – I truly believe Renault got it right here. They were the first brand that let me tag a huge ‘AD’ at the beginning of the caption along with geo tagging to ensure it was clear this was an advert and wasn’t going to leave a bad taste in your mouth as you realised halfway through viewing.
They were also one of the first brands we’ve worked with who gave us carte blanche to create what we wanted around our lives. This meant it wasn’t uncomfortable viewing where we had to say things like, “oooh the gear stick on this Renault Scenic is divine” as we drove to school.
More than anything, the car is spot on for the family. I don’t own any pencil skirts and I haven’t tried it on a dramatic mountain road but it has wipe-clean seats, a massage function on the chairs (perfect when waiting at the school gates with an eye twitch), a huge sunroof for the kids to say things like “that cloud looks like Papa’s bottom”, USB portals for the iPad and a really great steering wheel. And according to Matt my driving throughout the campaign was not ‘a concern’. That said, he’s never had a driving lesson.
This blog post was written in association with Renault. AD
We are at the beginning of the school summer holidays. We are feeling relatively fresh and full of a few entertainment ideas. We are excited about this precious time outside of the shackles of the curriculum. Once that inevitably passes, you will need some ideas for entertaining the troops that won’t break the bank. As part of our #pukkafreestuff series, the brilliant Sally Webb, founder of Milk at the Museum (a blog that gets you out of the house and doing fun things with the kids) shares her top London spots that will keep them schtum and won’t leave you penniless
Let your child run free round the main gallery and get drawn into art and make believe as modern art and kings and queens surround you. The 1840 display is my absolute favourite where you can find an easel, pen and paper for your child to get creative and let their imaginations run wild. In addition to that, go on the hunt for Anthea Hamilton’s The Squash, a solo performer dressed in a squash like costume. This is running until 7th October and I can guarantee it will have the kids in a total trance giving you that all important 5 minutes to breathe.
Want a bit of farm action with a stuffed walrus, child friendly exhibitions and picnic areas to boot. Well head on over to the Horniman Museum and Gardens and check out their Animal Walk where you can catch up with Alpacas, Goats, Sheep, Guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens to name a few.
The Museum of Childhood is basically free baby sensory with a stack load of retro toys thrown in for good measure. You have the sensory pod with colour changing lights to mesmerize the little ones, the gated baby area with flowers that light up, rocking horses, fancy dress, games, dolls houses and a sandpit! Not to mention the free storytelling and arts and crafts sessions on daily. A total winner!
Who wants a leisure centre when you’ve got the lush V&A paddling pool with the most stunning surroundings in the courtyard garden. I know where I would rather be. While you’re there head on over to one of the most breathtaking cafes just past the paddling pool and nip to the ladies loos, you will feel like a Queen for at least 10 minutes. The most pleasant child friendly toilets I have ever seen!
There is nothing like a mahoosive Great Map to keep your little ones entertained for half an hour. This giant atlas, located on the first floor, allows your kiddies to go exploring on seas and land. Watch their imaginations come alive as they become pirates, sailors and mermaids. Also very conveniently located next to the café for our tired legs! While you’re there check out the All Hands interactive gallery. This is aimed at 6 to 12 year olds but my toddlers loved it, and the Childrens Gallery for 0-7’s.
Just before I get stuck in, I want to preface this with a dollop of transparency: we asked for a media rate for this holiday. So I don’t have to write what the brand want; we got a discount on the holiday in exchange for sharing our honest review here.
Last time I went to Greece was with a boyfriend and we booked an £89 holiday that included flights and a daily Greek buffet. Oh Teletext holidays, where are you now?
Anyhow, I was riddled with food poisoning throughout and can never hear the words ‘taramasalata’ uttered again. So when my mate Cerys suggested Skiathos as an ideal spot to park up the fam for a week, the cod roe sweats descended. A light Google of the island – it’s part of the Sporades group in the north-west Aegean Sea – and the cynical eyebrow softened a little.
Thanks to hefty protection measures, Skiathos is the least built-up of the Greek islands. There are no Prince William pubs or heaving nightclubs – complete with this year’s Love Island cast offs and vats of Sex on the Beach. It’s a bona fide place of beauty with 60 golden beaches to boot. (With soft sand over pebbles; an essential tick for those herding 11-month-old crawlers with a penchant for choking hazards.)
In a nutshell it’s a ‘fly-and-flop’ destination. Roman remains and architectural history are exchanged for crystal clear waters and balmy sunsets. We went at the end of May and the weather was a steady – and manageable with the kids – 26 degrees Celsius throughout. Just enough sun to nail the tan (I’m eternally wedded to the old adage, ‘if you can’t tone it, tan it’), while ensuring noone is perspiring over their Greek salad.
After deciding on the location, we approached the Skiathos Princess Hotel after TripAdvisor chucked it up as one of the best kid (and more importantly, parent)-friendly spots on the island. Just 20 minutes away from the airport, it’s got the three big wins: an immaculate, jaw-dropping beach, a kiddie pool the size of a tennis court and a knock-out kid’s club. If you’re looking to cement the ‘flop’ bit of a family holiday, those have become our essential components for dropping the cash on a destination.
The hotel itself eschews any pomp and ceremony for something that could be described as rustic luxury, perhaps. That’s a completely made-up concept but swirly foam on plates (the swank benchmark) is exchanged for hearty, heaving platters of fresh sea bass and coat-hanger smiles from the kind-eyed (my eldest still talks of the waiter Giorgio who made her a paper aeroplane) staff. It’s the best bits of the Dirty Dancing complex mixed in with traditional Greek architecture – think bougainvilleas enveloping white walls and red clay roof tiles. In short, it’s somewhere that doesn’t make you feel rubbish about releasing a weaning 11-month-old who gets roughly 1/3 of food offered in her cakehole. Equally, it’s a place that makes you feel tended to, without any need for cold towelette frippery and Relais Chateaux stationery.
The breakfast buffet is a thing of beauty. Jugs of freshly-squeezed orange juice await your bleary-eyed arrival, with a pancake station (allowing our eldest to order hers every morning was at least five minutes of peace parent-side) centre stage. It can feel a little like the world descends in the breakfast room because it’s a large hotel but everyone seems to disperse to various nooks and crannies throughout the day, ensuring it’s peaceful – even with an excitable 4-year-old and a baby desperately seeking out sharp edges and deep ends.
The key bit: childcare. The Little Seals Kid’s Club isn’t the biggest of centres but it packs a fair punch in the entertainment stakes. This isn’t just a colouring-in outpost; crafting is serious within these brightly-hued walls. Every day our eldest emerged from the fun house, I had another piece of plastic jewellery strapped to my person. There’s also 17 shades of plasticine – which they replenish daily – ready to go at any one time. I had forgotten how alluring and cathartic it is kneading, rolling and making a self-portrait out of soft rubber. (I stayed for the first hour but once my daughter was in the crafting zone, it was easy to slip away.)
For our youngest, it was the under-4 nursery, which is €10 an hour and manned by the genned-up staff who won over my youngest in a record 5 minutes. It’s a worthwhile cost when you can escape to the sun, overlooking the Aegean Sea with your life lobster. The kids were generally ensconced in their kiddie receptacles for two hours a day – to beat the midday sun. (Or that’s how we justified it.) Either way, the kids were alright and my husband, Matt and I had a conversation that went beyond, “can you pass the wet wipes.” I read two books (How To Stop Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), which is a holiday record.
When it comes to that mid-way point in the break where you’re getting slight cabin fever, it’s easy to escape to a suitably child-friendly spot. Skiathos town itself is peppered with traditional Greek trattorias where a knock-out Greek salad is yours for under €3. The main coast road is stunning and the buses that weave around the meandering roads are regular and cheap. To be honest the hotel itself offered up enough fodder and entertainment, we fully embraced the ‘flop’ side of things.
Perhaps one of the biggest pulls for young couples (without an entourage) is the aptly-named Banana Beach where folks sunbathe nude, while overlooking the stunning Skiathos harbour. We steered well clear for fear of any loud questioning from our eldest. Noone wants to have to answer the questions that might arise from clapping eyes on a nudist beach.
While this is undoubtedly the best holiday we’ve been on with the team, the hotel décor and furnishings let it down a bit. I loved a turquoise net curtain as much as the next person in the 90s but it doesn’t quite work here. Instead of looking Mediterranean chic, it just feels a tad dated. Also the beds could do with having a little more give, although that being said, I slept like a log and my back feels suitably ironed out.
But when it comes to the core pillars: sun, sea, sand AND childcare, the Skiathos Princess Hotel is, indeed, kid (and parent)-friendly royalty. It’s the sort of place where you know you’ll return because everything just works and you find yourself chirping at each other, “I actually feel relaxed, how is this so?”. Oh, and they do a knock-out taramaslata.
Things to do in Skiathos
Akkiton Open-Air Cinema
Skiathos’ open-air cinema can be found in Papadiamantis Street, and shows English films with Greek subtitles. There are films shown every day of the week, with normally two back-to-back showings in the late evenings.
Cost: c. £6 per ticket
The cruise will take you past the Blue Caves, to the beaches of Lalaria and Kastro, before docking in mainland Greece for lunch in a fishing village under Mount Pelion. You can then relax on the beach, with time for a swim at the uninhabited island of Tsougria before returning back to Skiathos.
Cost: £42.50 for adults, £24.99 for children (ages 2-12)
The Kastro is a fortification overlooking the sea at the northern tip of the island. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but the kids will be interested in the fact the Kastro was used to protect the people of Skiathos from pirate raids. The fort actually became the island’s capital for a period in the 14th Century, when the raids became so bad that Kastro became the only inhabited town on the island.
Make a Dog’s Day
If you’re a fan of our canine friends, this is an interesting treat for the kids and yourself. After visiting the famous dog shelter near Troulos and taking one of the dogs there for a walk with a tour guide thorough the hills, you visit a local, Maria, who will treat you to lunch and teach you some traditional Greek cooking.
Cost: £42.50 per adult, children go free
Megali Ammos Beach
At the beach, just 5 minutes away from Skiathos town by car, you can rent waterskiis, jet-skiis, pedalos and banana rides; a great way to spend time at the beach!
For a bit of exercise while taking in the scenery, your family can rent mountain bikes and tour one of two routes (one of 25km, the other of 14km). This might be one if you have older kids, with the harder tours being for those aged 16 and over.
Cost: various depending upon equipment rented
The Planes at Skiathos Airport
Many a traveller has found an odd pleasure in watching planes land at Skiathos Airport. The airport and runway are fairly small, and there is something strangely mesmeric about lying back and having a picnic while take-offs and landings abound in the near-distance.
Riding Centre in Koukounaries
For keen riders of those who want to learn, the Skiathos Riding Centre is based in Koukounaries in the south-west of the island. There are various things to do, from beginner riding lessons to being able to rent a horse for the day and tour the island by yourself on horsepack. For even younger family members, there’s a small petting zoo and donkey rides available.
Shop in Skiathos Town
It’s very easy to spend an afternoon ambling through Skiathos Town, particularly in the shopping street Papadiamanti. Shops stay open until 10pm, with many specialising in traditional Greek fashions, jewellery, ceramics and linens.
Olympic Holidays is offering 7 nights at the 5-star Skiathos Princess, Skiathos from £1,549 per person based on two adults and two children travelling. The package includes 7 nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation in a family room garden view, and return flights from Gatwick. Departures are available on 21/08/18. The package is subject to availability. For bookings call 0208 492 6868or visit www.olympicholidays.com.
I’ve just uploaded a photo of myself nuzzling my 10-month-old daughter to Instagram where I have 159,000 followers. In terms of cracking open a discussion on child online safety – and later, teenage online safety – I’m not coming to the digital party from a position of strength. It’s on par with The Cookie Monster analysing the negative impact of sugar in our diets.
This is certainly no self-flagellation exercise, though. It’s more an opportunity to lift the slightly sticky lid on the cookie jar; to rifle around among the crumbs lurking at the bottom and see what we are, in fact, doing here. On the Internet, online, uploading the good, bad and increasingly ugly (and not-so-ugly if you follow @symmetrybreakfast) elements of our existence. And to see how this digital drive is impacting – or might impact in the future – those we are nuzzling.
I don’t have the answers. But I’ve been digging deep for some guidance in a pixellated world that has been described as the ‘Wild West’; a world where the surface is seemingly peony-embellished and the underbelly a murky wasteland of uncertainty, confusion and muddy digital footprints.
To sharent or not to sharent?
“There are two things to be careful about,” says Victoria Nash, acting director of the Oxford Internet Institute when it comes to uploading an image of your kids. “One is the amount of information that you give away, which might include things like date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or tagging of any photographs with a geographical location – anything that could be used by somebody who wanted to steal your child’s identity.
“The second issue is more around consent. What type of information would children want to see about themselves online at a later date?”
Regardless of whether you privately have 32 followers or publicly have 320,000, Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, and an expert on children and the Internet urges us to take a moment to consider the nature of what we are about to foghorn to the world. “I think we should start with the question of cost – if you post a picture of your child with the mark of the devil on their arm, or in a temper tantrum, perhaps that will have a future cost. It’s not all pictures, but certain pictures that are problematic.”
It’s the equivalent of posting something juvenile and abrasive as a teen on Twitter and then – on becoming a fan-girled member of One Direction – that childish 140-character blurb defines who you are as it’s amplified on the front page of The Sun.
One friend (we shall call her Hyacinth for suitably protective purposes) uses a pet name for her daughter online instead of her real name. This is one simple step we can all adopt to reduce our children’s digital footprint. “Unless you literally post nothing at all, there is no perfect protection. But most parents probably find a happy medium, which is posting pictures or stories about their young children either without using their real name or without tagging them in pictures,” adds Livingstone.
By using a pet name, Hyacinth has also offered up some protection against those lurking companies or individuals who might be interested in her daughter’s personal data; even if Hyacinth’s privacy settings let her down, a search for her real name would not bring up any of her posts – at least for now.
From a personal perspective, we started out using ‘The Urchin’ when I launched Mother Pukka, then moved towards ‘Squidge’ when ‘The Urchin’ seemed a little Dickensian – and, perhaps, something that she would not have looked back on fondly – and have thrown in ‘Stevie’ for good measure. But this process has not been watertight and our daughter’s names are known, so we’ve started using emojis to represent them (to eradicate any searchable terms) or, rather perfunctorily, ‘my eldest’ and ‘my youngest’. Again, this is not a ‘you should do this exercise’; more a ‘this is where we are at’ gathering of words.
“It is increasingly difficult to secure anonymity online,” says Amy Webb, a futurist and CEO of digital strategy firm Webb.
Privacy settings are simple and, yet, not watertight. Unless you don’t touch the Internet, your footprint – regardless of whether you have tapped ‘private’ or not on Instagram – will be embedded there. Even Webb (who uploaded nothing of her children and has a private account) found herself caught out; in the process of trying to integrate her many social network and digital accounts, a couple of baby photos that she had edited using Instagram’s mobile editing tool somehow became public.
She never would have known, except that after writing about digital anonymity in Slate, several readers delved deep and found those photos with a subtext of “we’ve got you”.
(So not to scaremonger but even my Aunty June who has a hint of moral superiority in her tone when speaking about THE INTERNET – because she has her privacy settings locked down – is not fully ‘safe’ here.)
I think that’s a relevant point to highlight, though: it’s one thing expressing a concern about someone’s online security (“If I was you I’d be worried that your family could be found by a loon because you’ve posted X, Y and Z”) and a whole different moral ballgame posting the address to prove a point. (“Well look, I’ve found you [published on a public forum with 12 million visitors] so others can.”) In these increasingly murky realms with little or no policing, there has to be an unwritten moral code of conduct not to endanger further – regardless of personal gripes with a person. Vindictive is never a go-to state online or offline.
Back to the cost element – that cost of calling your child a ‘twat’ for not eating their broccoli, perhaps or detailing the contents of their nappy for the world to laugh at. Or, on a less obvious level, penning something personal about miscarriage (which I write extensively on) in the hope of making people suffering feel less alone. What should we be considering? What will it mean for our relationships with those we are currently waving a Fisher Price BeatBop toy at?
“Ten years from now, almost all the next generation of teenagers will all have baby photos on social media; it’s not going to be something that stigmatises them,” says Nash.
“My guess is that it will magnify whatever relationship they already have with their parents. If they have a great relationship, they may look back on those photos and say, ‘Wow, I can appreciate what my mum went through.’ However, if they are upset with their parents they may view such posts as this infringement of their privacy, and use them as fuel to the fire.”
Whenever I’ve been asked what my steps are in protecting ‘Squidge’ and ‘Stevie’ online, I cannot say they are watertight. And that possibly makes me a bad person and open to significant judgment. But these are our current personal – and I still believe like with the majority of parenting choices it is personal – online safety measures:
Never using their names (this has been since November 2016)
Never revealing school address or uniform
Considering how they would feel reading the caption and seeing the image in ten years time
Considering what others – potential bullies – might see as ammunition in the image and caption
Restricting images of them to 1 in 5 (hence the many graphic-led, less engagement-worthy tiles on my feed)
Ensuring as much as possible their faces are not in full view
Ensuring no bathtime or swimming suit or naked images are used
Using a black and white filter where possible – according to the NSPCC, predators seek clear colour images
Ensuring images uploaded of them have no space behind them to superimpose anything or anyone
Ensuring I have a ‘content’ structure and some control over what I’m uploading day-to-day so I’m not taking photos ‘in the moment’ for fear of ‘missing the moment’. Hence why I work with the photographer Charlotte Emily Gray – so we have one day a month where we take images, meaning the rest of the month isn’t spent with my phone in their grill. From a purely brand perspective, it’s not good for engagement to not be posting ‘in the moment’ but it’s one step towards controlling this all-consuming business – and business it is. Plus I am a shambolic photographer
To realise the above needs constant adjustment and those discussions need to include the whole family. My eldest is now in school and so it doesn’t feel right including her in videos or on my feed any more. If she is there, it’s an arm around my neck here or an obscured photo there
Not to judge or scaremonger anyone else, just to inform
To keep up-to-date on online child safety developments on the NSPCC website
One thing that truly hit home for me, though, was when Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked by the Supreme Court this simple question: “What hotel are you staying at?” Zuckerberg laughed and replied: “I’m not telling you. I can’t see how that is relevant”. And, yet, he has built a billion dollar business on encouraging us to tell everyone else where we are, what we are doing – and, perhaps, more worryingly, where our children are and what they are doing. Even if it seems irrelevant.
Regardless of how much I love social media and see the positives of uniting on a mass scale, this ever-changing realm shouldn’t go unquestioned.
Of 159,000 people following me, how do I know who is actually out there? What proportion of people wish me well? What about the – hopefully small – segment who are hate following? Those who seek to translate the hate into something more sinister offline? Who knows? And is that vagueness a significant concern as a parent?
Food – specifically cookies – for thought, indeed.
Text, sext and what’s next?
One of the main things that sparked this blog post was the health secretary Jeremy Hunt lampooning social media companies last week for “turning a blind eye” to emotional problems and mental health damage suffered by children who have free reign of the Internet. While I am not about to give the man a bosomy hug – and certainly don’t want to align myself with his political viewpoint, the man does – regardless of his often shady intentions – raise a solid point.
My own deep-rooted fear of my daughters running this pixellated gauntlet stems from an explicit message I received from a 14-year-old boy last year. The police were involved and his parents informed – but a lurking queasiness and innate fear of the accessibility of this newfound platfrom has remained with me ever since. Speaking to safeguarding expert Victoria Leather, who has worked in safeguarding in the public sector her whole life, it became clear that I could have also been charged had I responded in any way. While I don’t want this to be a scaremongering exercise, the consequences of our/my actions – however well meaning – are there to be used against us at any given moment.
“There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things,” said Hunt last week. “For example, I ask myself the simple question as to why you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract.” He added: “There is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent [them] being transmitted.”
Hunt’s letter (to giants like Apple and Zuckerberg) continued: “I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side-effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.”
Rates of stress, anxiety and depression were rising particularly sharply among teenage girls. NHS data showed that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm had jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the previous decade – a rise of 68%. The rise among boys was much lower at 26%.
He also said at the time that technology should be used to tackle cyberbullying automatically, using “word-pattern recognition”. There were many areas “where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media”, he added.
But in the interim – an interim where we/I have not got a answers in this ever-shape-shifting world – here are a few varying thoughts from those a little more in the know:
‘Start discussing online safety at an early age’
David Emm, senior security researcher at internet security company Kaspersky Lab
“I think one of the key things is to start the process of discussing online safety with your children at an early age, when they start to do anything that involves the Internet.
They might still be using the computer with you, rather than independently and this offers an opportunity to highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world and that there are both safe and unsafe things out there. It also enables you to discuss the things that are there to protect us, e.g. Internet security protection, passwords, etc.
As they get older and begin to do things independently, widen the circle. For example, if you let them start an account with Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters, help them create a sensible password and explain why they should use different passwords for each account and the possible consequences of not doing so.”
‘If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online’
Shelagh McManus, online safety advocate for security software Norton by Symantec
“The advice I give my own family and friends is encapsulated in: “If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online” For example, would you go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation? Would you be abusive to friends or strangers in a pub or bar?
Just because you feel protected by the apparent distance a screen gives between you and the person you’re talking to, you must remember that online is still the real world.
Mid to late teens need to remember that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Many employers and university admissions offices look at social media profiles when researching candidates.
My husband and I actually used to ask random questions based on what the younger family members had put online just to remind them that they should lock down their profiles! If they didn’t want their dad, uncles and aunts or future employers asking about exactly what was in that fifteenth drink on Saturday night, they needed to check their privacy settings!”
‘At least I don’t feel like a spy…’
Paul Vlissidis, technical director at cyber security firm NCC Group
“My view is very non-PC I’m afraid (no pun intended). I have no filtering of any kind on my kids internet, no snooping and no time limits. I have of course spoken to each of them about the perils of the internet and they know that it’s an unsafe place unless they stay on the mainstream sites.
They do have AV [antivirus software] and I do scan their machines regularly for malware and ensure they remain fully patched but that’s it. Basically I trust them.
They have approached me several times where something odd has happened or where they had concerns (one Google search my daughter did for Barbie and Ken certainly produced some interesting results I recall). Of course they may yet turn out to be axe murderers, but only time will tell and at least I don’t feel like a spy.”
‘Teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts’
Amichai Shulman, CTO of network security firm Imperva
“Being a parent (four children), paranoid and a vendor I can shed some light on this. My basic belief is that adults have proven once and again vulnerable to cyber attacks and therefore we cannot expect children to be any better – especially given that their sense of curiosity is far more developed and their sense of caution far less mature.
I do not expect my children to behave online much different than in the real world and therefore I explain to them about hackers being a type of criminal that breaks into your house through the computer rather than through the window. It’s easy for them to understand it.
I also teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts much like they should in the physical world. For example, I don’t allow my children to open a mail package if they don’t KNOW who sent it (or got my permission to do so) – much the same way, I don’t allow them to open unsolicited email attachments.
Could they fall prey to someone who took over their friend’s account and sent out malware? Yes, but so would most adults. Could they fall prey to a targeted attack on our family? They probably will – like almost all adults.”
‘Once you’ve written something you can’t delete it’
David Robinson, chief security officer at Fujitsu UK & Ireland
“The Internet is a fantastic place, but you have to be careful what you do and say when you are there. Don’t say things which you wouldn’t talk about in conversations with your family, think about what you do and say, you may well regret what you do by hurting someone or being hurt yourself.
Remember once you’ve written something you can’t delete it, despite what Google are doing in Europe, the right to be forgotten doesn’t apply everywhere! If what you do or say is controversial it will be copied many times and will always come back and bite you, even in later life when you apply to go to college, university or even a job.
How you connect is important too, the gadgets you use, smart phones, tablets even old fashioned computers all need to be protected as well. But that’s only one part of it, those applications and services you use need to be protected, you don’t want others seeing your information. Use sensible passwords and protection, it’s a little price to pay for the security of your information and intimate details.
Don’t be frightened to ask for help either, there’s lots of places and people who can show you what to do and how to behave such as Get Safe On-line, friends and teachers.”
‘Never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied’
Dave King, chief executive of online reputation management company Digitalis
“The first and most fundamental principle is that my children never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied. They both have iPad Mini devices at which they are more adept than most adults I know. But both devices are set to forget the wifi access code so that they cannot get online without either my wife or I present.
Ditto the computers in the house and the main screen for the computers to which they have access is in our living space (not bedrooms) so that any activity is plain to see.
We talk to the children about the risks because the time will come that they have access outside the safety of our home. We make a point of being open about the concept of inappropriate content and the existence of bad people. In the same way that a generation ago we were told to shout loud when approached by a stranger, we tell the girls to tell us immediately of any approach online.
We talk about trolling as we talk about bullying and we talk about paedophiles in the virtual and real world. Ultimately we want to retain their innocence but where we used to want street-wise kids we now need web-wise children.”
‘Try and be vigilant and monitor what you can’
Chase Cunningham, lead threat intelligence agent for cloud security company Firehost – and creator of educational comic The Cynja
“For my kids I have already set them up with their own personal private clouds through the Respect Network and I have set up all the devices that they can or could access the internet with has a passcode that only I know and each device has blocks on sites that I consider risky.
I also have set up monitoring on their credit reports (yes they are only three and five but kids credit thievery happens all the time) and I am with them when they are using the internet.
I tried to explain to them about the nasty side of the internet but it kind of fell on deaf ears, but I was able to educate them about the dangers of the internet through my comic The Cynja.
They didn’t understand what I meant when I talked about malware and botnets as a tech geek dad but they understood that bad things are out there in cyberspace when they read the comic and saw the images.
For me, and quite a few other parents recently, that was a real connection point for the kids was when they had a comic character to relate to who is literally telling them about being safe online and protecting their digital selves, they understood the story and were getting the message of being safe online all at the same time.”
The Cynja is a comic that teaches children about cybersecurity.
‘Educate early and often’
Samantha Humphries-Swift, product manager at cybersecurity firm McAfee Labs
“Get involved – I speak with my daughter regularly about which sites she is using, and given her age, I personally vet all app downloads. This way, I can keep an eye on security settings and make a judgement on whether I think it’s safe and appropriate for her to use.
Educate early and often – I warned my daughter about the dangers of the internet as soon as she started browsing, and remind her of safe online behaviour regularly – don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know, verify requests if they look to be coming from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger, never post your mobile phone number or home address online for all to see.
Communication is key – I like to be open, approachable and understanding about what my daughter is getting up to online. This way it makes it easier for her to come to me with any problems she’s experiencing online, and she’s happy to ask for advice.
On a more general note, talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have. Be prepared to field any questions they may ask – there are plenty of online resources available to help support you in answering tough and delicate questions.”
‘Not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time’
Jesper Kråkhede, senior information security consultant at IT security company Sentor
“My first observation on keeping your kids safe online is not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time to show them that you’re the most trustworthy when it comes to the internet. In brief, a good line of communication with your kids, where they can talk to you and you to them is THE starting point for the best online protection.
When it comes to passwords I tell them to use long sentences. Easy for them to remember and hard for others to crack. I teach them how to check that the virus protection is updated and how to answer requests. The bottom line we’ve agreed is that if they are unsure they should ask me.
My kids use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and I have asked them to be-friend me on all their apps. The next piece of advice I’ve given them is if they are posting a picture or a comment and they think they wouldn’t want me as their Dad to see it, then it doesn’t belong in the public domain at all.”
‘Become friends and contacts in your child’s social media’
Tracy Hulver, senior identity specialist for telco firm Verizon
“Make sure your children ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know. A lot of times the number of contacts of friends you have become a “popularity contest”. People that do not have appropriate of good intentions realize that and will try and contact kids by masking as people they are not and “infiltrating” the child’s “inner circle”.
Make sure YOU as a parent, become friends and contacts within your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor posts. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them access.
Ask to see their child mobile devices periodically. Some children, especially the older they get, will not want Mom and Dad looking at their messages to their friends and that’s OK if the parent doesn’t want to do that.
But if nothing else, look to see what apps are installed, take a mental inventory, and if the parent is not familiar with the app, go online and do investigation. That way you at least know the types of social media services your child is using and to the point earlier, you should at least sign up for that service to see what it’s all about.”
‘Imagine a responsible adult standing behind them’
“My general rule is If they can imagine a responsible adult standing behind them, and watching what they are doing on the Internet, and they would be happy with being watched by them, then what they are doing is ok.
If they are on Twitter for example, or Facebook, commenting or replying to posts, If they think that I would be OK with them doing what they are doing, then it’s ok. They need to be helped to apply common sense, rather than told what to do, and this can be easy for children once you help them to understand the risks.
My two children are 9 and 14 years old, so I have two different sets of rules and advice for them. For my youngest, I’ll teach her about the websites that are likely to be safe online: .co.uk, .edu, .org, etc., and I have a whitelist in place to make sure she only stays on those sites.
However, as they get older, learn more and become more mature, that list grows out and it becomes more of a blacklist with just certain websites blocked. It’s about giving them more freedom as they get more mature.”
‘It’s about them understanding simple safety rules’
Lucy Woodward, director at Disney’s Club Penguin virtual world for children
“This is the crunch generation – so it’s vital that we get it right, and kids and parents learn internet safety skills for themselves. My kids are still very young so for me it’s about them understanding simple safety rules at this stage and keeping it fun – for example understanding what a password is and keeping it secret (kids love secrets!).
At school my daughter has an Internet reading program where she has an individual password and I have found this a good way in to talking about the issue. My children like many will be straight on the internet at any given opportunity so I also encourage them to tell me if they click on something that they don’t like the look of so they get in to an early routine of doing this and always knowing they can talk to us.”
Talk the talk
Speaking further to Victoria Leather, she recommends parents stay up-to-date on how to keep their children safe, with the help of the NSPCC website (link below). “Safe, stable and nurturing relationships between parents and children are the starting points for protecting children offline and online,” she says. “These foundations make it easier to talk about difficult topics in age appropriate ways throughout childhood. Informed parents who keep up to date with the challenges faced by their children, whatever their age, are better placed to make informed, proportionate responses to risk.” CEOP and ThinkUKnow are also great sources of information in supporting parents and children by delivering online education and raising awareness of online child sexual exploitation. They also have information for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Here are some useful links if you would like to get fully genned up:
Note: If you would like to comment on this blog post or kick-start a discussion, please use my latest Instagram post. I would be keen to see where you are at and what I might be missing. We are, after all, in this together. From one Cookie Monster to, perhaps, another.
This week’s blog competition is to win a spot on an &Breathe retreat worth £2,200. To WIN this exclusive spot, comment on my Instagram post with GIVE IT TO ME and follow @andbreathepostnatal. The competition would be for our &Breathe Flow retreat which runs from the 13th to the 19th May 2018 and see more info here: http://www.andbreathepostnatal.com/flow. This is a brand new yoga/pilates retreat which focuses on restoring the core and building strength for functional fitness as well as deep relaxation and mindfulness. There are baby-bonding sessions as well as the usual childcare. Beautiful accommodation, full board, massage and baby equipment all included. While I haven’t been on one of the retreats, I have heard many good things and am already quite jealous of the winner. Here’s a little more information about the retreat:
Sometimes, or more likely, most of the time, parents forget to look after number one. Clio, the founder of&Breathe launched her business when shit was hitting the fan after her daughter (now three) was born. She really struggled with the transition to motherhood; the loss of identity, the pain of breastfeeding, the difficulties of getting the baby to sleep and getting enough sleep herself, pelvic floor issues, postnatal depression, and the confusion of keeping a child alive. (The usual quagmire so many of us navigate in some form or another) Never mind the desire to throw things at her husband’s head occasionally (a lot).
If you haven’t heard of &Breathe, get on over to their website right now. They run award-winning postnatal and family fitness retreats all over the place but they started their journey in France atClio‘s family home, a rambling manoir in the Limousin region which she owns with her husband, Bryn. When your body has been through such a lot (pregnancy and childbirth is your body’s biggest workout) it can feel like you don’t own it any more, especially when you’ve got a kid hanging off your boobs 24/7; but the lack of postnatal exercise information out there is terrifying. Add to that the way you tend to eat three packets of biscuits in a row because it’s the only thing you can reach/munch one-handed; and your out-of-control hormones and fragile mental wellbeing, and a re-set is often in order.
Unfortunately there are few places where you can do this with baby in tow. Which is where &Breathe steps in.
– All inclusive (tick), you don’t have to worry about any extras
– Except for travel (tick), so you’re not forced on a plane with everyone else if you don’t want to be
– Expert postnatal exercise and yoga (tick), so you know you’re in safe hands and can recover properly, rehab the core, strengthen pelvic floor, get fit for everyday life
– Dads exercise/yoga classes too (tick), and yes, they will be pushed!
– PT session per adult too
– Full board (tick) for healthy (uh oh) but delicious (yay) food which you can easily re-create at home; and we do have treats and wine too
– Relaxing massage, which will have you in zonked out bliss
– Childcare sessions so you can reconnect with your partner, or just read a book quietly (how novel)
– Mindfulness sessions if you’re up for it, because we could all do with slowing down a bit and appreciating ourselves and others.
Growing up, I was always vaguely aware that my sister and I were not alone. I remember one bedtime after mum had finished reading my favourite story,The Curly Cobbler, she explained to a seven-year-old me that if everything had worked out, they’d never have had me or my sister. So I don’t remember her story being a sad or traumatic one. Though of course it was.
Today, aged 65, my mother Lucia – or ‘Mutti’ as we call her because it seemed to fit her chirpy disposition – is a powerhouse of relentless positivity. It is entwined in everything she does; from warming our towels on the radiator when we’ve just showered to her catchphrase when we say we can’t do something: “just snap the ‘t’ off and you can”.
‘You happened when I had almost given up,’ she told me hopefully on one of the darker days following my fifth miscarriage.
While comments from friends, saying ‘at least you can get pregnant’ felt isolating and often (and never intentionally) insensitive, my mum’s positive outlook offered genuine solace. Perhaps it was because I knew she was bearing the scars of loss beneath that positive veneer – the same armour that would get me through the painful emptiness of losing a child.
I can’t truly remember if her sunshine-drenched outlook was always present – though sometimes I suspect not when I leave sodden towels on the bathroom floor. But the mum I know now is encouraging to the point of cheerleading in everything my sister and I do. My lunchboxes always had a little extra surprise from her – a little poem here or a good luck note ahead of a netball game there. Looking back after my own experience of miscarriage I think she perhaps held us tighter because she knew what it was to lose.
It was on holiday in Menorca in 2016 as I was eating a fairly limp salad when I felt the familiar blood between my thighs. I was seven weeks pregnant and having been through miscarriage four times previously, I knew the warm, dark, wet sensation of loss. I knew despite wild denial that it was happening again – I was losing a child.
Mutti was with me, along with my Dad, husband and three-year-old daughter. While we’d had a relatively close relationship throughout my life, I’d lived abroad for ten years in Dubai and Amsterdam so geographically we’d been separated. The first four miscarriages I went through, I only had her on speed dial and those aches for a bosomy maternal hug were never sated because of a continent or the English Channel between us. On that overcast Menorcan day, pierced with occasional squeals from giddy children in a nearby swimming pool, I calmly uttered the words to my mother that every pregnant woman fears articulating: ‘I’m bleeding’.
I think it was in that moment of silence that I realized for the first time I wasn’t alone in navigating this well-worn path of emotionally ricocheting violently between faux positivity – Googling all possible positive outcomes when bleeding – and crippling fear.
The truth is that however supportive my husband, friends and sister were, you don’t understand the searing pain of losing a child unless you’ve been there.
A name has been imagined, that foetus is a person, a member of the family – “the newest recruit” as my husband would say.
When someone loses a limb, you don’t say ‘at least it was a clean cut’ and so those seemingly supportive comments of ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least you have a child’ felt empty and ultimately painful.
If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.
My coping mechanism has always been curling up in a ball for a week and then writing about my experience. I posted a blog post entitled ‘miscarriage of (in)justice’ detailing the raw, physicality of losing a baby. The 1,345 comments was overwhelming; the connection to other mothers deeply cathartic.
There in my mother’s eyes was the exact same fear that was coursing through my own – only hers was masked by a protective maternal calmness. “We will take every day as it comes,” she responded in a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. It was a delicate mixture of fierce protection and innate calm. I felt that wing swoop over me and I instantly reverted to a childlike demeanour; foetal position helped both cramps and emotions.
Few words were spoken during the days that followed but our communication would manifest itself more physically – a gentle arm squeeze here, a furtive, protective glance when I’d returned from the toilet there. My mum knew from her own experience of loss that no words can placate the ebb and flow of the numbing fear and potential lost dreams. There was no pacifier or bedtime story that could take away the emptiness that was about to descend as the final thread of hope was flushed down the toilet.
My mum knew to sit in the dark hole with me.
On our return from that holiday she decided to stay one more night at our London home. I think she knew from her own experience that I hadn’t hit rock bottom – that I was still in no man’s land unable to accept reality. She was right. In an attempt to push my feelings away, I irrationally decided to retile the kitchen floor at 4pm. My husband protested and that’s when my Mum intervened: “we’ll do it together; it will be OK” before she set off to B&Q with the frenzied determination of a starved mosquito.
We sweated away until the early hours, mildly sunburnt from holiday and both determined to finish the somewhat daunting DIY task in front of us. Somewhere between unearthing a damp, mouldy 1976 Waltham Forest Echo that had been used as insulation on the floor and asking Mutti to pass me a chisel, I broke down. It was a deep-seated grief for all the four children I had lost without her soft lily of the valley scent and warmth to shield me from the devastation. She held me in a vice-like grip until I couldn’t cry anymore and I knew something had shifted. I was no longer alone in the maternal emptiness as we mourned both our losses as mother and daughter; one woman holding another.
The haunting sense of those children lost will never disperse because they are a part of me – they are part of our family. All I know going forward is that, whatever happens, I’ll look to my mum and know that I can snap the ‘t’ off and then, together, we can.
An edited version of this extract was published in Marie Claire Magazine.
I read something the other day that said the way parents are forced to work – whether that’s on a pitch or penning a shopping list – is using ‘splinters of time’. Those fragments inbetween naps, polite requests for “CHIPS NOW”, nappy changes, face/bum wiping and play date madness.
In those fragments, everything can be achieved – even if the eye twitch is pneumatic and the adrenalin coursing through your being. But while I’ve been working from home with the girls in tow, it’s been necessary to try and extend those fragments so I can make some headway with the inbox of doom and – if the gods are with me – sip a cup of tea that isn’t lukewarm. Here’s a few ways we’ve made those fragments into, well, shards, of time to celebrate Frankie & Benny’s Parenting Awards:
Despite a truckload of primary-hued toys being scattered about the house, my youngest refuses to engage with toys. I have about one minute at the most with Sophie La Giraf before she’s tossed aside and the meltdown ensues. For reasons I can’t fully explain, she’s been enamoured with non-toy toys. That includes keys, old trainers, dirty washing, discarded toilet rolls, plastic Tupperware lids and books – specifically those not meant for children, including ‘Parenting The Shit Out of Life’.
Skip the golden arches and any of the other fast-food spots and whip out the picnic basket instead. Load it up with a few sandwiches, drinks, and healthy snacks and spread out in your lounge. You’ll have a meal and play area in one, and combing the two makes for a double win.
Paint the town
Well, maybe not the town but the house. And before you get The Fear, no paint is involved. Just arm them with a bucket of water and a paint brush and get them ‘painting’ the outside of your humble abode with water. As one patch dries, it opens up another area that they’ve ‘missed’. I’ve managed to secure a solid 27 minutes straight out of this activity. I can’t take credit, though, it was my mum’s idea – I have fond memories of ‘painting’ for days in the summer of 1986 and I turned out OK.
At the point where everyone is going off the walls and you are about to enlist the services of the digital nanny (iPad), give it one last throw of the dice with a dance off. We tend to go with Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off because it somehow crosses all generations with its natty beat. The ‘winner’ gets a plate of food at the end. This is exercise and entertainment uniting in one song – forget Zumba, it’s all about Mum-ba.
Frankie & Benny’s is celebrating parents and their ability to keep the brood shtum while you manage a cuppa. If you fancy winning a trip to Disney World, enter the Parent Win Awards competition on Twitter, Instagram or on the F&B Facebook page by April 20. Enter using #Fbparentswin
Very excited to announce the launch of our first FREE non-panel, non-networking event. This event is not about mingling, hob nobbing, working the room or sealing the deal. It’s about talking and building on that conversation. Being held on 20 April from 9-12pm at soft play centre @kb02venue in North London, this is the first in our ‘Soft Play, Hard Talk’ series that centres on two things: 1) providing a space to let the kids run free (= no childcare needed) 2) providing a space where you can talk to professionals about everything from flexible working requests to the realities of setting up a new business. There will be @seedlipdrinks cocktails, @angesdesucre cupcakes, @parentapparel goodie bags and myself, @timewise_uk @steph_dontbuyherflowers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on-hand to chat informally to anyone who has specific career questions. The aim of this event (which will hopefully be rolled out across the U.K. if successful/ if we find ambassadors willing to help) is to get offline and start finding a way through the quagmire of inflexibility; to help empower the 54,000 women every year who are made redundant on maternity leave or are denied any flexibility. It’s equally to empower the men seeking flexible working only to be told it’s something ‘mothers get’. We fully believe flexible working should be available for everyone but there is no denying that the door is firmly being shut in female faces the minute the swimmers run free. To bag one of 50 adult spaces (no restriction on children) at this launch event please comment on Instagram with why you would like to attend; what questions you would like answered or any frustrations in the workplace you have faced or are facing. Individuals will be selected at random this Friday at 12pm. (You can tag a friend, too if you don’t fancy coming alone). The event will also be available on Instagram Live where you will be able to ask your questions as we go #flexappeal #flexibleworking #maternitydiscrimination #softplayhardtalk #motherpukka
I think it’s too late for me. I grew up in the 80s – an era when my Dad used to douse himself in olive oil and fry up a good tan on holiday in Corfu. SPF and UVA were unknown words back then, and I couldn’t tell you what they used on me. I think in those days SPF 6 was considered solid protection and I’m just preying I am the one person in the world who magically de-ages. 36, going on 24 would be a magical state of decline.
But in all seriousness, it’s not a case of slapping a bit of old SPF on and chucking the kids onto the beach a la 1987. Freakily, if your suncream contains less than a 5* UVA rating, you are exposing your familial team to damage that is unseen but is as permanent as a tattoo. Like, a huge, spotty irreversible tattoo across your face and body – across your children’s face and body. This is something – as a parent who isn’t keen on deep fat frying her family – I’m keen to stay on top of.
Basically when it comes to protecting your family, you’re either doing it or you aren’t – there’s no half-way house when it comes to UVA rating. It’s 5* or irrelevant. Boots Soltan is the only brand that offers 5* UVA rating across its entire range, so you know there won’t be a nook left uncovered. You know you won’t be left with sun damage for simply not slapping the right sunscreen on. Note, sunscreen NOT olive oil.
This blog post was written in partnership with Boots Soltan #BeCertainWithSoltan @BootsUK
The one question that keeps coming up here is, ‘what’s Matt [my husband] doing?’ From my social media pages it seems like – despite my bid to push for flexible working in the workforce for one and all – I’m still shouldering the burden of childcare as he heads out into the 9-5 (or 8-6, more realistically). And to a certain extent that’s right – my current job/career/Sellotaping words together means I’m entirely flexible so I’ve ended up in a world of galloping to school with Bat Girl (World Book Day?) in tow and scrabbling around trying to work with a baby on boob and Incy Wincy Spider on Spotify.
But that’s about to change. Matt works at a content agency and is taking up Shared Parental Leave so I can scramble back onto the editorial horse/donkey. While I understand our current positions are not reflective of everyone out there, Shared Parental Leave is an option for around 285,000 eligible couples every year.
These couples – possibly you? – can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby. In it’s simplest form, this means you can take time off separately or be at home together for up to 6 months. While I live for snuffles on Eve’s teeny tiny little head, I am definitely ready to edge away from trying to write to the beat of The Wheels On The Bus. Equally, Matt is keen to tackle those code red nappy situations in the cheese aisle of Tesco with full jazz hands.
But our set-up is currently fairly rare. As it stands, the take up of Shared Parental Leave is as low as 2% and around half of the general public haven’t the foggiest that it even exists for parents.
But why does it exist? (I mean, other than to edge away from that frustrating phrase ‘Daddy Daycare’ – he’s parenting folks and it’s an ongoing task that he actually – truly – enjoys at times. Who’d have thought?)
“This government is determined to tackle and ultimately close the gender pay gap. To do this, we need to support women to fulfil their potential in the workplace – and giving women the choice to share childcare with their partners is crucial to that effort,” said minister for women, Victoria Atkins.
Sure, it won’t be for everyone and sure, some mammaries won’t allow separation earlier than 12 months. There are many reasons why it wouldn’t be taken up – but choice is essential here. To give a woman the choice of going back to work earlier, knowing her partner can officially swoop in with that equally expansive paternal wing.
And there it is. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s campaign ‘Share the joy’ is simply about that – choice and sharing, well, the joy. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths says: Shared Parental Leave gives choice to families. Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle.
But this isn’t solely about offering up the parental unit an equal division of snuffles. Employers can cash-in the benefits, too. If I know anything, it’s that flexibility in work equals happier, more loyal and more productive employees. (From my experience flexibility makes people work harder and stopping employees from working – encouraging them to switch off – is the bigger issue).
That said, I’ve not yet ventured into sharing the burden of childcare; sharing those precious moments when I ask my eldest daughter, “how was your day?” to get a mumble of “I don’t remember, Can I have some Wotsits?” (I’m exaggerating; of course, because the gushing night-before-Christmas excitement I get at school pick-up is less easy to palate on page.)
But time will tell if it’s for us. One thing’s for sure, it’s a choice. One we made together. Matt reckons, “it’s fairly simple, really. I’m one half of the procreation equation so I should be able to enjoy (or endure occasionally) those first few months. I’m looking forward to some QT with both girls.”
I can’t wait to see Matt’s glazed eyes at 6.30pm every night as the Paw Patrol theme tune drills into his soul as he project manages demands for “the green spoon”, while Eve uses his index finger as a chew toy.
Let us know what you think. Are you sharing leave? Have you considered it but ducked out at the last? Let us know your thoughts.
Share the joy
Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015 to offer choice to eligible parents when it comes to childcare, and allow mothers to return to work sooner if they wish to. The policy benefits employers who can retain talent in their workforce and can contribute to closing their gender pay gap. Employment rights have been placed firmly at the centre of government policy, with Greg Clark, Business Secretary, taking responsibility for promoting the delivery of better quality jobs as part of a drive to boost productivity in the modern Industrial Strategy. As part of the campaign, parents who have taken Shared Parental Leave have shared their experience of how the policy has benefitted their families.