Zara Oteng writes about the pain of family estrangement and the road to independence
On my wedding day in September 2018 I was the only member of my family present.
The day was a somewhat lavish affair, with friends, in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces and godparents in full attendance. But for one of my sisters stopping by the church service unannounced, no-one else from my immediate family attended. For the rest of my wedding day, my mother, brother and two sisters were conspicuously in absentia.
Summer 2014 was the start of the schism
between my mother and me. Periodic estrangement set in and we were on-again,
off-again like old lovers until October 2017 when we spoke for the last time. Still,
in my mind it wasn’t over until we finally tumbled into the abyss the following
year. The familial bonds between my siblings and me followed soon after.
I’ve been asked so many times what went
wrong. On the surface, what started as a nonsensical disagreement with my
mother snowballed until my siblings felt they had to pick sides, and
ultimately, they all decided not to come to my wedding. But if I were to try to
explain what really happened, I would say that 2018 wasn’t the beginning of it
all. If I were to sum it up, I would describe it as a death by a thousand cuts,
as the accumulation of years of hurt and deep, roiling resentments. Some had
begun small enough to go unnoticed for a time. Others I hadn’t even known existed.
But what was clear was that we as adult children revolved around my mother in
our own solar system. She was the biggest star and we orbited around her, like
planets around the sun.
Stories like this are rarely ever the
work of a single grievance. Blood ties aren’t the stuff that can be cleanly
severed, all clinical and neat. Instead, they become undone over time in a
slow, immutable process. Infractions, big and small, harsh words and cruel gestures
loosen bonds until love ebbs away and you’re left with coldness in its place.
Some families are just like that.
biting sense of shame set in. I felt that people were looking at me as some
kind of abomination. Often their eyes narrowed or their backs stiffened when
they heard of the estrangement, and I couldn’t blame them. What kind of person
is unloved by their entire family? What kind of twisted strangeness pushes a
person away from their own herd?
I felt unprotected, exposed. I’d been in therapy for a while and kept going, week in, week out. I fell apart and then slowly began to piece myself back together. My husband was steadfast and gentle and by observing his family, I learned with awe that there is another way. Through conversations with his father, I found clarity and acceptance and my mother-in-law was also quietly supportive. She didn’t talk much, but I knew they were both in my corner.
woman close to me told me to go where I am wanted. She offered me her arms and I
sank into them time and time again. I borrowed her love, her daughters’ love in
cupfuls. In many ways I was a child again, learning things for the first time; I
hadn’t known that family could be like this.
I found out that I was carrying twins last
September and although I was brimming with excitement, I was also terrified of perpetuating
the same legacy of alienation that had made its way down to me through my
mother and before her, my mother’s mother. And what if the things my family
thought about me were true? That I was unworthy, fundamentally flawed, disrespectful,
unkind. I so desperately wanted to be a good mother. “But you don’t even
really know what a mother is,” my therapist pointed out.
from one’s family of origin leaves an empty void that is impossible to fill. After
losing mine, I unconsciously looked for replacements and for a time, found
pretty good stand-ins. But appointing a friend – no matter how close – to become
your sister or your surrogate mother comes with impossibly high expectations. After
yet another disappointment, I realised with a start that no one can ever
replace my mother, nor my sisters, nor my brother.
was bereft once more, but I knew the rawness would lift. With the distance from
my birth family, I stood a little taller, spoke a little louder. After a while I
started to feel lighter. I slept better at night, and the recurrent nightmares
I’d had since I was 17 stopped. Every now and then something triggers the hurt
and it comes flooding back. There are still times when I feel that I don’t
belong. But I no longer look at my friends or even complete strangers laughing
with their loved ones, thinking that they possess something that I don’t. I
look at my husband and my two children and I know that everything I ever really
wanted I now have once again: a family to call my own.
Oteng is a budding writer living in London with her husband and two children.
You can find her at @zaraoteng on instagram and www.zaraoteng.com
the Mic is a series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other
voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible
and contributors are paid the going editorial rate.
The mental health of babies is too easily overlooked, writes Sally Hogg of the Parent Infant Foundation, especially in a time of lockdown
Last week was Infant Mental Health Awareness Week. There’s an awareness week for everything these days, but this is an issue where awareness-raising is needed. Infant mental health is not widely understood, and as a result, it is not valued or invested in. This needs to change.
Infant mental health describes babies’ emotional wellbeing and development. Like all of us, babies experience a range of emotions, which are influenced by what is happening around them. Although they cannot recognise and describe it to us, babies can feel happy and secure, or stressed and distressed.
At the heart of infant mental health are the relationships that babies have with their parents or carers. Young babies need sensitive, responsive adults to help them to learn how to manage their emotions (for example, through soothing them when they cry). Early relationships also set a template for how babies begin to think about themselves and others. When someone picks you up when you cry, you realise you matter to someone else and can rely on them. (Don’t worry, guilt-ridden parents, the evidence shows that babies’ need ‘good enough’ parents – not 100% perfection).
Because infant mental health is fundamentally about early relationships, parents must be supported to give babies the nurturing that they need. Parents are most able to provide this care when they have positive relationships themselves, when they are emotionally, financially and socially secure, when they have family-friendly employment, and when they are in families and communities that nurture them and attend to their needs. Campaigns like Flex Appeal are not only about enabling work-life balance and creating more equality in the workplace; through supporting parents to be parents, we also give babies the best start in life.
Improving infant mental health can put children on a more positive trajectory, better able to take advantage of other opportunities that lie ahead. Children with good early emotional development start school ready to play, explore, learn and make friends. They are more likely to have a happy, healthy and successful life. Of course, children’s futures are not determined by the age of two, but as the saying goes, it’s “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”.
Nobel Economist James Heckman has shown that the early years are the best time to invest money in services for children. Effective early action prevents other services from being required later in the child’s life. Yet Government spending is weighted towards older children. Rather than creating strong, resilient children, we wait until the breaks appear before we take action. Children and young people’s mental health services in 42% of areas in England will not even take a referral for a child aged under two years. This statistic should shock and anger us all. Imagine, for example, if this were cancer services or orthopaedics who refused to treat the youngest children? Why should mental health be any different?
The theme for Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is 2020 Vision: the world through babies’ eyes. This works on many levels. As parents, it can be helpful to take time to tune into our babies’ feelings and to think about how they are experiencing the world and what they need. As citizens and campaigners, we can look at our policies and public services through babies’ eyes to see if they are giving all children a good start in life.
It’s time for action on infant mental health. The future depends on it.
Sally Hogg is head of policy and campaigning for the Parent-Infant Foundation and co-ordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement.
Paula Rhone-Adrien on how to tackle one of the most difficult parenting questions
Racism may just not be an issue for you. It simply isn’t something you regularly discuss. Or at most, it may be a topic that requires a nodding acknowledgment from you when it arises, but that’s it.
So when the alarming killing of George Floyd occurred on 25th May, with the subsequent fury that enveloped thousands of people around the world, you must have had questions yourself about how or why this has all happened. What if you have a child who was also asking you questions? What could you possibly say to explain the anger, hurt, and destruction that was being beamed into your home?
If your child is asking questions because either they have seen or overheard something then please don’t shy away from answering, be brave and tackle the question head on.
If you don’t have an answer then admit it. Children have a sixth sense for sniffing out a response given to either shut them or a topic down. If you give them that impression; that there is something to hide, shy away from or be embarrassed about, then that is the impression that they will be left with. This would be wrong, particularly when history tells us that it is those who fail to question or challenge wrongdoing that permits such wrongdoing to fester.
In any event, if you don’t give them an answer, they will look somewhere else and who knows where that will lead!
So what is racism? Basically, it is the belief that members of other races are not as good as the members of your own race. You believe that your race is superior and that you should be treated better than those who are not of your own race.
Children are being taught about race all the time, even in nursery they are taught to describe themselves; their family and their community. They watch tv and will notice differences far more than we give them credit for.
However, what they don’t understand is why those differences should create feelings of hatred and anger and this is where you come in. Ultimately there is no right answer to my headline question. However, you may find that you need to challenge yourself first and your own views about what you understand racism to be. What do your network of friends look like? How do you express feelings about other races when at home? Do your children, for example, possess books that reference those from other races in a positive light?
If you do care about your child understanding and appreciating other races, then take responsibility for ensuring that they get clear positive messages from you, or that you are able to reinforce that positive message if they challenge you with a negative one.
Remember racism is not innate, but learnt. This means, the power to eradicate the unfairness that results from this bias is very real and attainable through education, information and communication, be that with your child, those in your community, or with society as a whole.
You should also be conscious that racism isn’t just about the tragic loss of George Floyd, but can cause just as much harm through; for example, negative stereotyping which leads to a skewered view of how others should be treated in society, from the type of jobs they obtain to how they may obtain justice. It is just as important to tackle that bias because in failing to address this, those who suffer the unfair treatment will become disaffected, angry and turn away from the more conventional methods of seeking redress due to the fact that they no longer trust in the system. Those protesting the death of Mr Floyd no longer trust that the system will protect them from injustice.
Children know all about life being ‘so unfair’, from having to go to bed at 7.00pm to not getting to eat sweets all day every day. Helping them to identify and understand unfairness, that some adults get it wrong and that some adults are trying to make it better is a starting point on what will be a long journey for them understanding why some mistreat others, purely on the grounds of their race.
Paula Rhone-Adrien is a leading British barrister and mother of four.
Jade Sullivan on George Floyd, racism, why a murder in America is affecting black people worldwide and why Black Lives Matter is so important
I am of mixed heritage: my mother is white English, my
father is black Jamaican. My mother is very pro-black and taught me my black
history, alongside my father. I choose to describe myself as black, as that is
the way the world sees me, and I believe as long as there is racism in the
world, the shade of my blackness shouldn’t be separated into a box.
Mixed heritage people are the fastest-growing group of people in the UK. Within 30 years, white people will be the numerical minority in the USA. Racism in England is different to the overt segregated racism in America: it’s very subtle, alongside the class system. The two are used daily and work hand-in-hand to wear black people down. It’s a dismissing of racism: ‘you’re too pro-black’, a disapproving look, a stare, the way you are spoken down to, how you’re treated in the playground, disowned by white families.
When the parents of your best friend since you were five years old – staying at each others houses constantly – tell her when you become teenagers that she can no longer be your friend, for fear that by hanging around with you she will end up with a black man. Or going to Norwich when you were aged nine to visit your white school friend who had moved there from London, and being called a nigger at the swimming baths.
Yes, as a mixed, lighter-skinned woman there is colourism, and I am afforded privileges over my darker hued brothers and sisters. I choose to always stand in solidarity with them, due to my family sharing of knowledge and stories, the way my dark-skinned black grandmother was treated totally differently to her light-skinned, blued-eyed sister. I have educated myself in world history, and have BA and masters studying fashion, style, black culture and the social construct of race.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King 1967
Dear white people, your silence was deafening.
But there’s something different in the air this time. Maybe it’s the coronavirus effect, but there’s something very different going on here. This time all locked in our homes has given us all a chance to reflect on what really matters. We can see more clearly, can observe more closely than when we were rushing around in the rat race.
Watching governments lie and contradict themselves, on a daily basis. Worldwide chaos. Then we see the brutal murder of George Floyd by a policeman. Held under the knee of a white policeman for 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds, whilst clearly stating “I can’t breathe” An independent autopsy concluded he died of asphyxiation from sustained pressure. The digital technology is such that this horrific murder was shown across the globe on all mobile phones, that are now glued to all of our hands, all of the time.
I’m probably the only person I know that follows 7,500 people, the maximum you can follow. I like to watch observe social media, the digital advertising and marketing world I worked in pre the birth of our twins + 1. I have watched people grow from nothing to huge stars, with sponsorship and book deals galore, all selling us stuff, left, right and centre on these little squares. Now with live stories, everybody effectively has their own TV shows.
Yet checking my Instagram feed in those first few days, I was horrified to see no white women with huge followings, so-called influencers, mummy bloggers, celebrities (unless they have mixed / black children or family) showing any acknowledgment, or enraged about this horrific public murder. The same women that proudly posted about outrage on women’s rights, flexible working, feminism & LGBTQ rights. What about this #blacklivesmatter, cold-blooded murder, we are sick-and-tired of everyday racism issue? Silence.
So I’ve watched you post about everything, I know when you’re on you’re period, your dog’s name, I’ve seen your husband’s ass. Now why haven’t seen is you speak up and be in unity with Black Lives Matter? A man being killed by a policeman on film, is murdered saying he can’t breathe, and no one says anything? Why? What is it? Is a black post going to dirty your squares? Or do you just not care? Do you enjoy the life our racist society affords you to get ahead? To make money. To keep flogging me products I don’t need and can’t afford? Is it going to detract from the pretty, perfectly manicured squares, where you dress up to look like a Vogue model? Unfortunately, life isn’t a pretty picture for us black people. We face injustice and inequality EVERYDAY based on the melanin in our skin. I’m scared for my children, but your children aren’t black so you don’t care? Silence.
We see you. Why has it taken so long to post? Two days too late. Although better late than never. You’re actually like sheep, what now you feel you have to, because that other influencer has posted? It’s a square on a page! Are you more worried about the look and feel of your page, rather than to really care about what’s going on in the real world? Or I’ll post something on my stories, but it definitely can’t have a square. I mustn’t pause or distract from the brands I’m trying to get you to buy. Seriously, please get over yourselves! I don’t get it. Are people just so selfish, self absorbed, with no empathy compassion, for humanity?
If you are
white, you can choose to ignore this because it doesn’t directly affect you in
your everyday life, your children, your husband, your family, your friends.
When you are black you are five times more likely to die in childbirth due to racism – five times more likely to die, simply because of the melanin in your skin. Four times more likely to die of Covid 19 than your white counterparts – the silence from the government and prime minster on this is also deafening. Imagine if those statistics were white people – definitely front page news and a press conference – Nada! You are four times more likely to die from Covid 19, as you haven’t got the leisure of a middle class job, and can work from home. When you are black, your work prospects are poorer due to institutionalised racism, the education that you are taught about world and black history at school is inaccurate, I could go on, but I’m tired and angry. Black people have had enough. Your silence speaks volumes.
white people do not care, because the way the institutionalised racist systems of
this world are set up to benefits their lifestyle, to have all the money and
the power. Too much, for too long, we need equality NOW, this has been going on
for hundreds of years. We are now in the digital era where everyone on
Instagram literally has their own TV show, so speak, find your voice. Educate
yourselves, show up, speak up, stand with us please, for the sake of humanity.
Your ancestors created this system you benefit from, it’s your time to
deconstruct it NOW.
Race is a
social construct made up by white men to put black people in boxes. There is
one race, the human race.
why are we all still playing this race game? It’s like a dance we flirt with.
Why? because it suits the worldwide system of institutionalised racism, based
on colonialism. Which needs to be upheld to drive consumerism, economic wealth
and power, capitalism.
let me get this straight: you love our music, our fashion, our style, our food,
our skin tone, our lips, our dancing. You love Beyoncé you went to her concert,
was at a drunken zoom call last night dancing to Diana Ross, Tina Turner,
Michael Jackson and you can take all the colour and joy that our culture brings
you, but yet you’re ignoring our pain?
Michael Jackson sang ‘All I want to say is that they don’t really care about
feels like same shit different year, but something about this feels very
different. Time to wake up, people. We are angry, heartbroken, exhausted, and
in severe pain. Scared for our children, our husbands, our partners, our
brothers, our sisters. This is a war of the people; your silence is not an
option. The vision for 2020 is that you need to wake up and change. We are not
the racists; the change is up to you.
Yesterday, on Tuesday 2 June 2020, the music industry and black people
we are observing ‘Black Out Tuesday’. We used this day to reflect and plan
actions to support black artists, black creators and black communities. Jay-Z,
the most powerful black man in the music industry has released an album, ‘Songs
For Survival 2,’ on Tidal, the company that he bought and sold and he and his
wife Beyoncé own equity in. I urge you to listen to it, it has old songs by
different artists and new songs and Beyoncé talking.
We are not just hashtags and singers; this racism is a daily struggle that keeps us oppressed. This is war of the people. Everyone need to stand up and be heard. The time for silence is over.
If you want to educate yourself and listen to one thing, watch Jane Elliot, American anti-racism educator since 1968, and her ‘Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes’ race experiments below, and all her tireless work. Visit black Briton Nova Reid @novareidofficial – a Tedx anti-racism speaker who runs courses to dismantle racism. ‘Change your channel’ by Mallence Bart-Williams at TEDx Berlin Salon will teach you all you need to know about racism in relation to Africa – The Motherland where all humans originate, and the white charity we do not necessarily need.
You have a world of knowledge
at your fingertips on your phone, please use it.
The Silence is Deafening
The inequality is there The silence says to me, that you do not care ‘The Angry Black Woman’ finally someone owned it Like the elephant in the room, it’s out for all to see You see no one is speaking, and to me that shows indifference Why aren’t you enraged like me? Because your skin’s not black or brown like me? Because this world, it suits you In your white nuclear family This is not our problem We cannot fight this alone Because I’ve woken crying For my golden children And all the shit I’ve faced I don’t want it for them It’s everywhere we go It’s schools, it’s jobs, it’s hospitals, the streets The danger, every corner of the globe You’re the only ones that can change this We’ve been waiting years So here we are still waiting for you all to feel enraged Yet I still hear nothing, let’s not rock the boat You don’t know what to say Dig deep and find the words
Pass the Mic is a series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid the going editorial rate.
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.
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 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 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.
With funding secured for a major new piece of work, Matt wanted to get down in pixels exactly what Flex Appeal is and answer some common questions…
A little bit of background In December 2014, Anna stepped out of journalism to accept a senior copywriter job with a large beauty brand. In January 2015, that brand announced plans to move its office. She put in a flexible working request, which was denied as it would ‘open the floodgates’. She was left with a choice – quit the job or only see our daughter asleep and at weekends. A month later, Mother Pukka was born. Since its launch in 2015, Mother Pukka has been campaigning to encourage the adoption of flexible working across the UK. It’s seen us run flashmobs in town centres across the UK, lobby 10 Downing Street, give evidence to the Welsh Assembly, run free legal advice drop-ins with employment lawyers and be quoted in a July 2019 Ten-Minute Rule bill brought to make flex a legal default in all jobs (the bill didn’t get beyond second reading).
What’s the goal? For flexible working to be the norm in all jobs in the UK. Our eldest daughter will be joining the workforce in 12 to 15 years. When she gets there, we don’t want her to be forced to make a choice between earning a living and having a family. But it’s not just about parents: it’s something for everyone – young, old, carers, those living with disabilities, those in factories or finance, or anyone who wants to work and live a little bit better.
How do you define flex? Anything that doesn’t fix people to a 9-5, five-day week in the traditional way that excludes so many from work. It could be more creative shift patterns, flexi-time, job shares, part time, compressed hours, core hours, or as simple as allowing some employees to work different patterns. It is NOT unpaid overtime, getting four days money for five days work, or zero-hour contracts.
overwealming evidence suggests that flex is good for everyone:
For employees to
improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier, and be better able to
provide for themselves and their families.
For employers to
help boost productivity, talent attraction, staff retention and save on site
For society to
help tackle the gender pay gap, address the issue of 54,000 new mothers being
forced out of work each year, and keep more taxes and skills in the economy.
What are the three strands? As Flex Appeal has developed, we’ve come to realise that we need to work slightly differently for different groups, and Flex Appeal now has three clear strands.
For employees or those seeking work: This is still the main bit of what we do. We shout about flex wherever we can and encourage employees to ask for it and employers to try it. The thing that has kept it going from day one has been the response – couples who have said their relationship has improved now they see more of each other, parents who have been able to work when previously they couldn’t, managers who’ve been encouraged to try it and seen great results. This part will be what we continue to do whenever we can – on social, in the media and on street corners if we have to.
Lobbying – FlexForAll: Getting the law changed would be a major achievement, but it’s likely to take some time. So we have been working with others who know the lobbying world better than us, in a coalition called Flex For All. This includes: TUC, Fawcett Foundation, Pregnant Then Screwed, The Fatherhood Institute, Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute. Our goal is for a law change for ‘all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one’. Flex Appeal is politically neutral and we’ll work with any party to try and get this done.
For employers – ‘Flexmakers’: This is the part that has been lacking, but we hope to tackle that with our Flexmakers project (more on that below).
Do you get paid for Flex Appeal? The vast majority or our flex-related work has been pro-bono since it began. Sometimes companies ask us in to give talks or to appear on panels. This takes time and requires preparation and we don’t believe work should be given for free. In the past we have worked with McDonald’s to fund free employment-law drop-ins for anyone who needed advice. Regus helped fund some of the early flashmobs (filming, logistics, giving people a space to meet before hand). But the vast majority of things we do for Flex Appeal are for free. There are several reasons for this, but mostly, we don’t want to be answerable to any single organisation. Our income comes from our work as authors and journalists, brand partnerships on Instagram and Anna’s role as a broadcaster. If you want a simple way to help us with Flex Appeal, buy the book, like the #ad, tell your friends about it, push for it at work, and try flex out if you’re an employer.
What is the Flexmakers project? For years we have been asking employers to be more open to flex. We have quoted all the stats about why it’s a good thing. But resistance remains. Now, we want to make a more human case and help employers understand how they can do it themselves. We want to create a community of people who are willing to trial flex and report back on how it works for them, so that others might be inspired to do the same. We want managers and bosses from tiny shops to massive corporates who will be involved in changing the very fabric of working life in the UK. The first part of this project involves finding the people who are currently doing flex well, across various sectors and organisation sizes. We’re calling these ‘Bright Spots’. We want to find those who have taken on the challenge of flexible working and done it well. It’s not just those who have paid to enter awards (though they’re welcome too): we want examples from every size and sector that we can investigate in detail and bring out the stories that will convince others to try what they have.
Flexmakers funding This work requires money and expertise that we don’t have. So we are working with behaviour change communications agency Claremont Communications. They will work on planning, production and day-to-day management of the Flexmakers project. The first phase – the Bright Spots project to find 10 to 20 of the best flexible employers in the UK – is being funded by the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine. All the fees go direct from McAlpine to Claremont. We don’t get paid by either of them or any third parties on their behalf.
Why McAlpine? Firstly – those people we have been speaking to seem to firmly believe in Flex Appeal. Secondly – we see some strength in this being sponsored by an organisation in such a traditionally male field, when flex is often dismissed as being ‘just for mums’. Thirdly – they have the money to help us make it happen. Often, this kind of agreement comes down to personal relationships, and the people that we have dealt with most closely are, we believe, fully committed to using flex to shake up the industry (and the company itself). They will also hope to gain some PR benefits from this and improve their ‘employer branding’. I’m comfortable with that. McAlpine have made an important financial commitment that means this work can begin. Without it, we would continue to bang our drum hopefully on Instagram. With it, we hope we can reach (and convince) more employers. I have no doubt that, like every organisation, McAlpine doesn’t do everything right and they are open about being a long way from where they’d like to be on flex. But we’re yet to find an organisation that does it perfectly and see something strong in having an organisation from such a historically male industry do something to support a campaign in an area that is too often dismissed as being ‘a mum thing’.
How can my organisation get involved? If you think you might be a Bright Spot, have a look at the form here.
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.
So if you’d like to come and say hello (and get a signed copy), we’ll be updating this page with new info as we get it.
Sat 1st February, Edinburgh Edinburgh Wellbeing Festival Tue 11th February, Twickenham WeGotThis Thu 13th February, Norwich WeGotThis Thu 5th March, Leyton Phlox Books (link to come) Tue 17th March, Central London Henley Literary Festival Pop-up (link to come) Wed 25th March, London Southbank The Tate Modern (link to come)
Maybe you’ve just had a first date with ‘the one’, maybe you’ve been married for ten years. Either way, it’s hard to know if they’re really meant to be by your side until you both wear dentures. So in this book, we set out to discover what it takes to make it to forever, by asking our greatest questions about love.
We asked a former sex-worker and her ex-gigolo husband, celibate monks and free-loving hippies. We asked people who never wanted kids and people who have loads of them. We asked porn-makers and feminist academics, neurologists, psychologists and romance novelists. A whelk fisherman and a lollipop lady. We spoke to couples, throuples and singles; gay, straight and anywhere in-between. And, we had to have a fairly stern look at the things that were going wrong in our relationship too.
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.
Vesna Gudgin shares her experience of a childhood in the former Yugoslavia as it slipped in to war
I was born in a country called Yugoslavia. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was a breath-taking country, full of natural beauty: mountains caressed by ancient forests, stunning valleys, crystal clear rivers and lakes, and all tumbling in to the Adriatic Sea.
was a communist country. It consisted of six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. A country full of life,
enriched by a diverse yet suppressed culture.
comes from Bosnia. Out of all Yugoslavian republics, Bosnia was the most
ethnically diverse. It was made up of three regions; Bosnian Serb, Bosnian
Croat and Bosnian Muslim. I come from the Serbian part; it is now called
Republika Srpska, within Bosnia Herzegovina.
When most western
people think of Bosnia, they think of the Bosnian Civil War. When I think of
Bosnia, I think of my home. My whole being floods with calm, confidence and
belonging. I think of my loyal, passionately kind, loud family, who will
support and love you no matter what. I think of Bosnia’s breath-taking nature,
of its beautiful, kind people: the unsung heroes who often risked their lives
to help others.
I think of
childhood and of our family farm, nestled high up in the hills, where I was the
happiest. I often close my eyes and imagine this majestic view stretching out
in front of me. I see and feel our beautiful mountainous valley enveloping me,
holding me tightly in its arms, making me feel protected and content. The view
is always there as a reminder of natural calm and continuity, through peace or
childhood was wild, happy and free. I was brought up in a non-communist, open-minded
family. I was loved, nurtured, empowered and educated by the strong-willed
women and men in my family. I spent my days either dressed as a boy, climbing
trees and playing soldiers. Once a week, I would polish the family’s books – the
works of Ivo Andric, Sigmund Freud and Tolstoy – wearing mother’s finest
dresses and her very high heels.
I started school when I was seven and quickly learnt that the wild ones were few and far between. I had to withstand the wrath of communism and the cast-iron rules of my school. However, I was fully armed with my carbon weapons of mass distraction. My voice was loud and my will unbroken. At the age of nine, I accused our school of using us, children, as free child labour, in the name of communism. My school punished me by caning my fingertips and by making me stand in the corner of our classroom, facing the wall, in front of the whole class. I stood in that bloody corner so many times the kids named it Vesna’s corner!
My life from then on changed forever. Soon, nationalistic graffiti started appearing on buildings: flags and slogans. Overnight, the nobodies became dangerously patriotic.
They were the non-achievers, the village idiots. They had never achieved anything in their lives before, but suddenly they had power: they had illegal weapons.
They used to set things alight at night and they started shooting at people’s houses at night too. They would fuel their little adventures with alcohol.
Each village had their own nobodies: in Croatian parts of Bosnia, in Muslim parts of Bosnia and in Serbian parts.
One night, an explosive device was thrown at our neighbour’s house. This family had three young children.
When mum and dad built our houses, they built them to sustain any form of weather or attack. Perhaps my dad always suspected that this war would happen. Our house was deemed the safest structurally, and because some of the nobodies feared my dad, we knew that we were as safe as we could be. However, our father knew that there were Muslim members of our community whose lives were at risk.
For a while, he went out at night and brought some of our neighbours’ children to our house, to keep them safe. He would pick them up at night and drop them back off before dawn. My brother and I loved this. We had regular sleepovers with our friends: we did not for once think that our father was putting himself in danger. We were too young, we didn’t understand the enormity of it all.
I was, and still am, immensely proud of our parents. In their mind, there was no question about it. They had to protect these innocent children. Even after my father lost his dear friends, who were killed by the same nationalities that our neighbours were, he still had enough love left in his heart for these children. He protected them from the nobodies.
But as our parents watched the news more often, their serious faces scared me. In April 1992, Yugoslavia fell apart. The war was born out of ideological suppression. A war is a complex, lucrative endeavour, a grand affair, full of political strategies, egomaniacs and their manipulative games. A profiteer’s playground.
I was in a permanent state of fear. I feared the silent but beautiful shapes the tracer bullets made at night as they bounced off our roofs, followed by explosions and gunfire. I feared for my loving dad who had to leave us all, to defend us.
wealthy, we were now poor, yet incredibly resourceful. We made our own soap and
instead of toothpaste, we used salt to brush our teeth.
very dark times. But kindness always overpowered darkness.
One day, we were
at school, sitting in a freezing classroom without any heating or power. Our
teacher had a special announcement: each child had received a small charity box
from Canada, a perfectly wrapped shoebox. Our little faces lit up with anticipation.
We kept looking at each other with silent smiles on our faces and with sparkles
in our eyes. Our little fingers were numb, from our hands being firmly tucked
in underneath our legs on our benches: we were so cold.
cautiously opened our shoeboxes and squealed with joy. I loved it all, but one
small, precious object I will never forget, was a small tube of toothpaste. I
still remember the smell of it. I looked after this little tube so well, like
it was made of gold. My family and I shared it between us for months. We barely
touched it with our toothbrushes.
Once it was all gone, we were back to salt.
Pass the Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid.
AD| After the gender pay gap comes the pension pay gap, with women retiring on average with £78,000 less than men. So I asked Scottish Widows what we can do about it
hide from scary things. Spiders, dental appointments, tax returns, anything
with forms: they all send me scuttling away behind a metaphorical sofa. And
there are so many forms. From the
moment our first-born arrived, I feel like my main role has been filling out little
boxes in BLUE INK and BLOCK CAPITALS.
attitude to pensions has been the same, and perhaps I’m not alone. According to
new research from Scottish Widows, the typical young
woman today could retire with £78,000 less than her male counterparts. That’s
about £3,000 less a year to live on in old age.
We’re short-changed with a gender pay gap around 20%, and then we’re short-changed when we retire too.
The likely reasons are as predictable as you might expect. Women earn less, even when in similar roles, than their male colleagues. We have ‘career breaks’, during which we often gestate and expel a human life, then lose a little bit of mind, body and soul (hair too, typically), keeping it alive for the first months.
More than a third of women end up opting out of an auto enrolled pension scheme of other financial priorities like childcare or transport or food. And the extra sting is that they lose out on pensions contributions by doing so.
Things are slowly getting better: 57% of women are now saving
enough to retire, the highest figure in the 15 years that Scottish Widows has
been running its Women and Retirement report. But that still means that nearly
half of us aren’t, and most of those are in lower paid roles. Just 47% of women earning between £10k and £20k are saving
enough, compared to 65% of those earning £40k or more.
So, yes, we should be saving for our pensions. But we kind of know that, like we know we should recycle more and consume less and probably do more exercise than occasionally running for a bus. But how do we make sure we save enough when we have a nursery to pay and small people in constant need of things. We decided to sit Scottish Widows down and get them to answer some of the big questions:
What sacrifices can really be made to save for a pension? (Especially for those 53% of women on under 20k who aren’t saving enough)
We used to have an “indulgo-meter” tool online that allowed you to pick a vice such as coffee or chocolate or buying shoes. It asked you how much you spent on that vice each month, then showed you how much you could save into a pension if you reduced your spending on that vice by a third and redirected it into your pension…so my answer would be what vices do you have? A lot of people say they can’t afford to make savings or don’t really want to make sacrifices to enable them to contribute to a pension but when auto-enrolment came along people didn’t opt-out in large numbers. Saving into a pension was more affordable than they thought.
What’s the lowest entry point for monthly saving to make a pension worthwhile?
You can buy a stakeholder pension from as little as £20 and in terms of workplace pensions we have minimum payment so we will take as little or (subject to your annual allowance) as much as you wish to invest. There’s no amount that’s too small – no matter what size of contribution you can make, even if you are a non-earner – you will be eligible to get a government top up to your contribution, so it always makes sense. The challenge is being willing to lock the money away until age 55.
How have you calculated what is ‘enough’ and how can women work out what they need to save each month?
Scottish Widows has calculated the amount that someone earning an average wage when they retire, would need in addition to the State Pension to have a moderate standard of living. We then calculate the size of the pension pot that would be required to purchase that level of income each year. Finally, we look at the average wages applying to people in different age groups and calculate what percentage salary would need to be invested in a pension plan to have a reasonable expectation of building up a pot of that size. If someone saves 15% of their salary for the majority of their working lives, they have a good chance of securing a moderate standard of living in retirement, including the State Pension. A lifetime contribution rate of 12% would have a good chance of securing a more basic standard of living in retirement.
Given that women usually earn less, what can they actually do to get pension parity?
Woman sometimes earn less because of the differences in occupations that men and woman have traditionally chosen. However, women often revert to part time work later in life to bring up children or look after elderly relatives. Many of these part-time jobs pay less than the auto-enrolment threshold. Everyone should try to save as much into a pension at an early age as possible due to the power of compound investment growth over four decades. However, it’s even more important that women save as much as possible during their 20s to compensate for lower contributions or contribution gaps later in life. An additional 2% of salary into a pension during a woman’s 20s would go a long way to compensate for the effect that caring responsibilities can have later in life. If you are a woman working part time and earn more than £10k, you will be auto-enrolled and your employer will contribute to your pension – in addition to your own contributions. If you earn less than £10k you don’t get auto enrolled, but if you earn more than £6.1k you can ask to be auto- enrolled and your employer must then make a contribution to your pension.
If you want to work out what might be right for you, head over to the Scottish Widows Your Future Hub: www.scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture. This post was a paid partnership with Scottish Widows. But whoever you use, you really should be starting to plan for your future.
With school cuts and early closures across the country, 16-year-old student Aliyah York was prompted to do something. Here, she explains why (and what you can do to help)
The UK prides itself on being one of the most globally advanced academic societies: a place of prosperity, innovation and social equality.
But imagine for a moment an education system where going to school could mean being squeezed into a classroom of over 40 students, where schools struggle to keep teaching staff due to cost pressures, where the quality of your education could be dependant on your parent’s income. This is the reality that I and over 10 million other pupils across the UK face.
A total of 17,723 schools have suffered funding cuts. In one of the most globalised economies, in a place viewed as one of the ‘most powerful’, education is so undervalued that over the past nine years, 91% of schools have had their per-pupil funding cut, losing an average of £2.8bn from school budgets since 2015.
The truth is, funding cuts are making it impossible for our teachers to deliver a proper education and children are at a disadvantage.
All schools are struggling; there are no exceptions.
Yes, to what extent varies but the impact is the same and the recipients of
this fall out are “us” the students.
Across my years at secondary school, ‘cuts’ meant a lack of basic resources. During GCSEs I remember scrambling for two textbooks that had to be shared between the entire class. Teachers would often buy resources themselves, out of their own pockets, to replace anything from glue sticks to pens and whiteboard markers.
For me, funding cuts meant having to fight to keep my music lessons. I had no other option than to write a letter to my music department to persuade them to keep my drumming lessons as I expressed the personal value and importance in learning a new skill each week.
For me, funding cuts meant GCSE Media being torn away from me as an option. The subject that supported my passion was no longer available because ‘we no longer had specialised staff to teach the curriculum.’
In total, 71 out of a total of 82 schools in Newham are suffering and mine is just one. Valuable teachers are being made redundant. 70% of school buildings are unsafe because of roof leakages, crumbling walls and damp. And even worse, over 200 schools in England are cutting short the school week because they cannot afford to educate their pupils for a full five days. This could mean losing on average 365,192 lessons in one year across the country.
Every term, leaders make difficult budget decisions as pressures rise. What do we expect them to prioritise? Making buildings safer or squeezing more children into classrooms? With an estimated figure of more than 2,000 additional pupils than primary school places by 2022 (according to the Local Government Association) we can only imagine the sacrifices that will prevent children from discovering their ambitions.
We experience these consequences, yet still, so many pupils remain oblivious. It may be our reality today but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s. We deserve better. Until schools are funded properly, we will not rest!
So in June 2019, I passed through the huge doors of Westminster Hall for the NEU ‘Together for Education’ conference. Me, a 16-year-old among a room full of adults: teachers, parents, councillors, politicians and campaigners. My mouth seemed to be fixed permanently in an ‘o’ shape, aghast and utterly flabbergasted by the stories, speeches and presentations shared about the horrific state of our schools. I was prompted to take action.
Pupil Power was born: a platform where pupils can share
their stories about the impact of cuts in the classroom, and hopefully, be
inspired to join me on my mission to shift this nightmare into a happier ending
for our schools.
Awareness, Advocacy and Action!
The campaign is providing #PupilPower ToolKits to schools to educate and engage young people on the dire situation in our classrooms. Enough is enough. We can no longer sweep issues of such gravity under the carpet, instead, we are raising them to the surface, encouraging the discussion and finally, moving forward towards making tangible changes. It is our economy and future that is at stake and nothing is more important.
How can you get
It’s simple. You are part of the solution!
A driving force, using all voices to expose the plight facing our schools. All schools! (Early years, primary, secondary, SEND and post 16 schools), our campaign is calling for those of all ages to join us as we take a stance against this social injustice. Whether you request a toolkit, share your experiences or follow us to keep updated, you are joining a movement that is challenging the system and proving that the power is truly in the hands of the pupils, parents and people!
AD| The holidays are here, and that means kids in pools, so Huggies® Little Swimmers® asked for our top tips for a warm-up dunk down your local leisure centre
The Little Swimmers: regular nappies can become an anchor in a pool, but Huggies® Little Swimmers® have stretchy side panels to stay light and still keep the bad stuff secure. Also: Finding Dory is on them, which brings me about as much joy as it does the toddler.
The Onesie: ease of access (and exit) is key here. You may have several children shivering from the cold or jumping with excitement, so the sooner you can get into or out of your swimsuit and past that pokey cubicle the better.
The Flip Flop: no laces, no stress. Just kick them off and rescue your toddler from the locker.
The Snacks: you know this already, but never leave the house without snacks. You can eat the best ones when they’re not looking.
The Quid: I’ve done it many times before. Kids ready, me ready, pound for the locker nowhere to be found, which means running the gauntlet of the pre-dip shower area with all your dry gear under your arm. Never forget your locker money.
And now you’re ready to go.
We’ve teamed up with Huggies® Little Swimmers® so you can get a free kids’ swimming lesson before you head off on your holidays. Whether you’re going to Bali or Bognor, or if you’re just looking for a fun family day out in the summer break. Follow this link to claim your lesson with Turtle Tots near you.
Do your daydreams shock you? You are not alone, explains psychotherapist Anna Mathur…
I could yank this steering wheel and cause a pileup. I’m going to chuck my phone over the balcony, pull that lady’s ponytail, strip off my clothes and streak through this wedding.
This isn’t an insight into the
mind of someone awaiting a court order; this is my mind. And according to 94%
of my Instagram poll respondents, it’s likely yours too.
These thoughts run unprompted through my head, playing out vivid scenarios from the humorous to the terrifying. Despite being an experienced psychotherapist, I’d long felt fearful of others knowing about these thoughts and worried that I could actually act on them: that I may throw the baby or pull the ponytail. But I now speak openly, because only by speaking about it can we shed the shame and starve intrusive thoughts of power they don’t deserve.
Why do they happen?
Our mind is creative, clever and wild. It constantly assesses risks, possibilities,
needs, fears and our own power, often without us noticing.
Until we hone in on one thought. Because it’s funny, or terrifying, or
so beyond our moral compass that we question who we are. Intrusive thoughts
feast hungrily on attention. Attention transforms what would be monochrome
thoughts into stark technicolour.
The challenge is that I’m not imagining aliens swooping down from Mars: I’m
hit with potential real-life scenarios.
thoughts are enflamed by tiredness, hormonal shifts and stress. And aren’t
these all familiar states of parenthood, hey? When our resources are limited, our ability to
rationalise is compromised.
come when your fears are based on your own experiences, such as losing a loved
one, crashing a car, rowing with your partner about ‘that thing’. Then, what you’ve experienced
gives intrusive thoughts more power because you you’ve lived and felt it
What can you do?
So what did I do about my intrusive thoughts? I decided to change the
way I interacted with them. I began to realise that while I can’t stop them
coming, I could starve them of attention.
Here are some of my go-to techniques. Practice them so that they feel
familiar for when you need them.
Counteract an intrusive
thought with a more mundane, statistically likely alternative. E.g follow a
thought of crashing a car, with one where you’ve arrived safely.
Use a breathing exercise. I
recommend the 4,7,8, which calms physical symptoms of anxiety, enabling you to
rationalise the thought more easily. Breathe in for four counts, hold the
breath for seven counts, and then exhale for eight counts.
Use a grounding
technique to bring yourself back into the present. Name five things you see,
four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing
you can taste.
If you find
imagery helpful, picture the intrusive thought passing through your mind like a
moulding leaf being swept up by a breeze.
Like any unwanted thoughts, there’s an extent to which they can be
disempowered. However, if your intrusive thoughts are reminiscent of trauma,
are traumatic in themselves or affecting your daily life, please seek further
support via your doctor or a local therapist. My ‘Reframing Anxiety Course’ also
offers techniques to deal with anxiety.
So, when a thought strikes you, leave it to pass and wilt. Know that
you’re not mad, you’re not bad: you’re normal.
donated the fee for this piece to Pandas, the pre- and postnatal mental health
Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to
other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as
possible and pays a fee of £250.
The word ‘pension’ conjures up images of Zimmer frames, blue rinses and losing dentures down the side of the sofa. There’s a vague sense of security attached to it but essentially, it’s a code word for: The End. I would say on my list of things-to-do, ‘sort pension’ has come somewhere below ‘get grease remover for oven hood’ but just above ‘go on run’. Either way, it’s not something I’ve had my head into until – and I will be straight here – Scottish Widows approached me about this brand partnership.
What do I know about planning
for the future? I can’t talk about planning for
the long term future when I’m not doing it. But that is the point they
wanted to make. Unsurprisingly 46% of men aged 22-29 are
saving enough for the future compared to 1 in 3 young women.
We’re lagging well behind in looking to our futures compared to our male
comrades. Much of that is down to the very reason we shout so loudly about
flexible working – more than 54,000 women every year lose their jobs through
discrimination and inflexibility. So the knock-on effect is we’re not working,
we’re not earning and we’re not investing in our pension pots in the same way
men are. Essentially, we’re not as invested in our futures because we’re so
investing in our children’s futures and the working world seems set against us
earning money around that.
At this point if you simply want to know more, check out the FREE information Scottish Widows provides on planning for your future. We’re talking no-nonsense guides and articles, pension calculators, films on the pension basics and a host of other supportive information to help you ease that head out of the sand and see The Future a little clearer.
But the big news is that from 6th April minimum contributions to your workplace pension have gone up from 5 to 8%, you’ll pay in 4% with the rest paid in by your employer and the taxman. What does this mean for you? Well, quite simply you might think like I did in 2005 when I’d started my first job and was focused more on the next hangover than my future. You might think, ‘nah, gonna opt out of this’. It’s easy to look at the money you’re investing in your pension and see it immediately as soft furnishings, nights out, takeaways in and more money in-hand. But the cost of that is your future. You could be the greying version of Bridget Jones in years to come but without the wine, in a shabbier flat and with no central heating. It’s your life you’re investing in and no one else is going to be there to top up the piggy bank when you’ve invested your 4% in Happy Hour, and missed out our your employer and the taxman paying in too! You can see how it works for you on the Scottish Widows website.
And this comes from someone
who had ‘pensions’ at number 46 on the list of things to do. I’ve still got to
sort that oven hood out but for now it’s looking a little
clearer on how I can plan for my future.
*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.
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.
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…
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