“No no, no no no no, no no, no no, no no, there’s no limits.”
The glorious lyrics from that aptly-named 90s band 2 Unlimited – a sterling member of Now 23’s line-up. (which included the confusingly great Super Mario Brothers club anthem).
Those immaculately-penned words never really sunk into my grey matter until literally four minutes ago. I was too busy in 1993 trying to sidle up to some acne-riddled youth in the village town hall disco; a melting pot of frustrated teens in search of Pogs* and snogs.
But I realised as I started slobbering on a good mate (@emilygrayphoto) today that I have a somewhat persistent Achilles heel: doubt.
The snot started bubbling when she perkily asked the simple question: “All OK with you?” Well, yeah it was until you asked that question and made me think about it and unleased a veritable Alton Towers log flume of tears. We were in some achingly hipster Shoreditch brunch gaf; there was a general sense of worry from all moustachioed patrons in the air: “Why are there mother people here; this is not a mother people place. Savages.”
I’ve nattered with intent on seven panels in the last three weeks about confidence and ‘going for it’, grabbing that ‘something’ when ‘having it all’ seems like the equivalent of bagging the Golden Snitch. (The Harry Potter thing in Quidditch; thought it was ‘snatch’ but J.K. wouldn’t have been so crude).
I’ve taken on a sort of vaguely Trump-worthy faux confidence myself, brushing over any fears I have of being a massive bell-end in the hope of instilling something, anything in others. Same gurning coat hanger smile, mildly more secure hair.
But that itself has ignited debilitating levels of doubt on my side of the raggedy fence; sparked up massive cause for momentary reflection. Because it feels dishonest talking about building the veritable Trump Tower of self-belief without referencing the iceberg of self-doubt lurking beneath those seemingly calm waters.
Doubt is a cruel mistress. She’s a wily sort who edges into your thoughts at 3.14am when there’s nothing but an irksome ‘Hater’s gonna hate’ cat meme for pixelated company. It sidles up to you in the dairy aisle of Asda and queries (oh so quietly, never judgementally but ever-so clearly) if it’s lactose that’s causing those painfully feral toddler tantrums.
‘Parenting the shit out of life’ and ‘survival of the ginnest’ is all well and good but is there something bigger at play here; are you ignoring digestational warning signs for a quick What’s App laugh. “Gawd, child splayed on floor again in Asda, hashtag blessed [insert crying-with-laughter-potential-sadness emoji]”
Doubt cheapens your brand, product and decisions. Despite knowing you can climb that goat-embellished, hulking great Himalayan mountain – nay range – something edges over and whispers: “what about the mortgage poppet chops? This isn’t a vanity project.”
Stay at home? You are doubting if you’re spending too much time with your kids – what about you? Is my rendition of Wind The Bobbin Up even on-point? Work away? Worrying if you spend too little time with them. The moment when Mae started calling for my Mum (@grandmother_pukka) in the night over me chopped me in two.
Sure, we all know Instagram isn’t real life (although it’s definitely not just fantasy) but when feeling like a crumpled snot-crusted tissue that missed the bin it’s hard to see the Valencia wheat from the Amaro chaf.
Ultimately you doubt if your milkshake – whatever maternal flavour – will, in fact, bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard.
Doubt feeds off the big stuff, the fun sponges of life: bricks and mortar, grub, frankly shabby broadband, a raincoat that doesn’t have your kid resembling a bloated Michelin Man. And then all the whispers, side notes and quiet concerns amass in one snotty bubble and push you over the immaculately-pruned edge.
You’re in hipster central with a slug trail of snot meandering down your ‘fun time Frankie’ top that felt like armour enough but was really just a playground slide for your doubt to come careering down, landing in an ugly heap on the wood chip floor.
It’s only when that snot bubble has burst that you can see doubt for what it really is. A flea on a fly on a rat on a cat on a rare Siberian snow leopard. You are the snow leopard.
No doubt about it.
*If you don’t know what a Pog is bless your youthful façade and fresh wisdom.
It was a comedy of errors/ terrors: I contracted a gastro bug while on-watch (parenting) and had to navigate my way home from central London with a feral toddler, an abandoned scooter, a mouth brimming with saliva and a nappy bag bulging with irrelevant life tat.
The journey usually takes 21 minutes, this onslaught took two hours 14 minutes.
It was how I’d imagine the urbanite’s Duke of Edinburgh Award. You’ve ransacked your 4G, you’ve got a raging 3-year-old mainlining Cheetos, a vomming bug that requires access to a receptacle (or wee-infused park bush) every 15 minutes and a veritable O2 stadium’s-worth of people to quietly judge along your merry way.
Well, I cashed in the gold accolade; Hand over that emoji trophy.
The 55 Bus to Leyton was our chosen vehicle. Fearing being contained on the Tube with a veritable gastro tsunami brewing, I thought the bus was the safest route for all parties concerned – I couldn’t face being the person who ignites the ‘we’ve got a code 23 on platform 3, a code 23 people’.
By this point I’d lost the will to not only live – no different to anyone else at 6.01pm in London, really – but had decided to succumb to the post-Cheeto comedown toddler beating. I’d essentially handed over the reins to the rest of that poor commuter-rammed bus and relinquished any hope that I’d come out of this with a Richard and Judy parenting rosette (if there was ever one; feels like there should be). It was survival of the shittest.
It started with some light planking. You know the sort: the kid arches away from the seat in protest. A protest about sitting down is, as always, a tricky one to empathise with. I did nothing. Just sat there, staring ahead trying not to explode; My focus mainly sphincter-related.
Things escalated quickly for both of us – she decided to empty a Tupperware of grapes onto the bus floor. I didn’t flinch, I couldn’t – any sudden movement and the maternal volcano could blow. I saw a fleet of those little vine fruits pinballing from foot-to-foot until one pinged off the immaculate LK Bennet heel of a body-conned-up-to-the-eyeballs city girl.
The air of united disgust was palpable. Another grape gently nudged her Michael Kors tote as we took a bend with a little too much gusto.
There was a collective sigh of relief as Mae and I stampeded off the bus at the next stop so I could decorate a nearby alley that was usually reserved for 3am ‘ladz’ pissing and abandoned Chicken Cottage debris.
We alighted our 55 autobus once more – a fresh sea of commuting comrades/victims.
“I don’t love you mama, I love papa”. The final feral nail in the coffin. She absolutely does love me but when I’m a weakened parental vessel, she knows that’s the one quip that will get a rise – that’s the one that will kick some life into the old girl.
A lovely middle-aged lady wearing a silk paisley scarf (and a delicate scent of Cussons talc) looked at me with the ‘it’s tough isn’t it?’ face. My thoughts edged once more to the wildly uncontrollable rectal arena as my gag reflex started to spark up – please can it not be the double; not the double.
I didn’t respond to the lady’s kind eyes with even a flicker of eyebrow recognition. She must have thought I was lacking soul.
Then for the shame crescendo – and as parents we are not shame averse when you consider how the lil’ scamps come into this world. I had to press the emergency button. The yellow one. The one that I’m constantly telling Mae not to touch because it’s for world-altering police and fireman SOS Armageddon emergencies.
I pressed it. Her faith in me was restored. There was the maternal pioneer, the mothership returned from the brink going full ‘code yellow’.
The bus came to a shuddering halt just in time for me to explode from both ends in the privacy of some Coke can-embellished bush that had definitely seen it all before. I had no phone battery, no food for Mae (we’d aimed to get back for 6.30pm dinner) and I’d shat my undercrackers in some stabby part of East London. This was parenting on the front line.
By this point The People Of London had abandoned me entirely; I was one rung down from bag lady as I was staggering around in an area that’s neither up or coming. And, of course, the rain came down; it seemed wetter than any rain I’d encountered previously – the sort of rain that has the relentlessness of Simon Cowell’s belief in the X Factor.
“Mama why do you smell of poo?”
But while tears were an obvious option (I couldn’t trust myself in a pristine Uber) at this juncture, I did what any parent does – offered up my last shred of dignity to get us over the final hurdle. “Squidge, you are the mummy and I am the baby. You need to help get the baby home.”
The world as I’d known it for the past two hours 6 minutes transformed into a navigable arena. Buoyed up by her new parental status, she took that abandoned scooter from my numb hand and gently edged me out of the park towards the bus stop.
We got onto that all-too familiar 55 once more – I placed a Sainsbury’s bag on the seat to save soiling – and we got home. We made it, we bagged that golden accolade, we staggered triumphantly through that domestic finish line.
And that’s what ultimately counts with The Parenting; it’s never the meadowy white cotton dress-swathed, skipping scene from off Little House On The Prairie and you sometimes feel like a sardine out of a tin (fish out of water sounds too perky). But how you get from A-B is where it’s at.
As long as you come through that door at the end of the day with everyone vaguely alive, you’ve won – even if you’ve defecated in public.
Then the patronising back pat from my new madre: “Well done baby, you did very well.”
I’ve had a rocky past when it comes to dying the barnet. We’ve seen every vaguely blonde shade – from blinding platinum to eye-wateringly brassy ‘strawberry’ hues – known to man at some point in the last decade
So when I was asked to try out Garnier’s new Olia range, my concern levels were high. There was a flicker of reflection, remembering the fateful time I went for pure bleach after a Koh Pang Ngang Full Moon party circa 2002. Think Big Bird-meets-Hungover-Barbie with frizz-inducing humidity thrown in for comedic measure.
But I boldly went in, feeling that a decade has passed and, perhaps, those uncertain times were no more. Surely the science folk have worked this stuff out by now?
The big plus with Olia is that there’s no ammonia – it’s the world’s first ever oil-powered home hair dye and the absence of that tart vinegar-ey smell is a big fat relief (Already I felt more at ease after Thailand’s Bleach-Gate). In the past I’ve squirted the dye on and it’s generally ended up splashing all over the shop – I still can’t bring myself to think of my favourite hoodie that perished after a distressing dye collision.
Olia is delightfully creamy, leaving no possible splash-back and badly tie dyed hangover garments. I left it on for 20 minutes on the roots and 10 minutes on the lengths – all as instructed; I didn’t dare go off-piste.
Hopping into the shower, I hosed the barnet down and whacked on the intense conditioner – even before slipping this on, my hair felt softer than previous dye jobs. That’ll be the 60% flower oils; power to those blooms. The conditioner stayed put for ten minutes before revealing the slick tresses ready for the blow drier.
I’m not going to lie, I did fear the worse as I dried those tresses. Many years of experience had informed me the great reveal is sometimes not that great. But as my tresses dried up good and proper, that elusive (almost chinchilla soft) Scandi blonde started to appear. It wasn’t in-your-face platinum; just a soft, natural creamy blonde that had a hint of Heidi Klum to it. I’ll take that over Big Bird any day.
I found my perfect colour B+++ Maximum Bleach through the shade finder tool on the Olia website that matches you to your perfect hue. With 100% grey cover and 35 shades to choose from, you’ll be coloured happy in no time. Try it yourself – just search for ‘The Olia Effect’ and find your happy hair place.
This isn’t going to be a willy-bashing exercise; if it didn’t sound so wrong, I’d say it was a willy-raising endeavour. Power to the willy, if you will.
But the time has come for our male comrades and business oracles to think about flex over sex.
In 2016 – a time when you can eat cheese out of a can; or perform keyhole surgery with a really cool robot – the burden of childcare remains heavily strapped, nay haphazardly masking-taped, to female shoulders. The official government stat:
Nearly one Dad in five who requested flexible work in 2015 was denied permission, while only one mother in 10 was refused.
“There’s still this reaction that when men have a child they’re a bread-winner so they need to earn more, whereas when women have a child they’re a carer so they need to work less,” says business psychologist Rachel Short from leadership consulting firm YSC.
It seems we are living in the 1937 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. What was all the brave, new world blather of the 50s about? The reality is a mad old world – think a spangled Keith Richards – where someone’s extremities determine their career path. (No doubt bra-burning powerhouse Emmeline Pankhurst would be keen to grab some suit lurking in the House of Commons by the short and curlies and query the sitch).
So you have a spunk gun? That’s ace. I’ve got a cracking pair of norks. (Massive lie: they resemble a spaniel’s pillowy-to-the-touch ear). Hurrah for our biological quirks; celebrating difference is what the horizontal Hokey Cokey really is all about. But when those fun bags/ love rod comes to determining if someone is ‘allowed’ to continue a career they’ve sweated a lifetime’s supply of Red Bull over, then that’s the 21st century line crossed my friend.
It’s the branding of flexible working as a ‘women’s issue’ that gets my goat – a feisty lil’ fella who doesn’t take kindly to people (including women) being dicks. It’s a people issue – whatever is, or is not, dangling between your legs.
People make babies. I’ve even asked my sister who is engaged to a woman if I’ve gone of piste here with the LGBT community and she assures me, they’re people too and can, in fact, make babies. We’re all just lost little souls who bump uglies and are genuinely surprised/occasionally aghast that a human came out of places that shouldn’t see the light of day.
And life is messy for humans. Whether you’re in the gut-wrenchingly sad position of looking after a parent with Alzheimer’s or suffer from the misdiagnosed IBS. Whether you’re a productivity machine after a quick Downward Dog with requisite ‘Namaste’ happy ending; whether you’re a mama, a papa, a dog walker, a Facebook ex-stalker or someone who really likes taking time over the making of their cheese and pickle sandwich, it’s none of my business, really as long as the job gets done.
And that job can be done by anyone – regardless of the gender pool they splashed into. Men don’t instantly lose a chunk of their manhood/ business acumen the minute they look after that life spawn for a few more hours/weeks/months/years, so why aren’t their requests for flexible working abandoned like a soggy cucumber in the underbelly of a fridge? Why aren’t they then wanging that soggy legume in the faces of the HR directors who said no?
Flexibility in the workforce isn’t just the decent thing to do, it’s the eye-wateringly right thing to do. I’ll blast on about all the ways it benefits businesses in a separate post to give it the full, stat-focused attention it deserves.
It’s plainer than the need for X Factor to just stop warbling away on ITV; it’s clearer than Trump’s need for a proper coif; it’s clearer than Mary Berry’s Alpine-like crystal eyes.
But we can’t forge equal paths with mammaries alone. Because this is not a revolution, it’s evolution and for that we need all the people bits we can muster.
Willies, can you please stand up.
Let’s get digital
For a bit of light reading, here’s some stats from Digital Mums’ latest report on ‘work that works:
Almost 7 in 10 (68%) stay-at-home mums (SAHMs) would go back to work in some capacity if flexible working around childcare was an option
Over a third (37%) of working mums living with children would work additional hours
Businesses embracing flexible work could benefit from a total of 66 million hours more work a week – the equivalent of 1.76 million additional full time workers
This would provide the UK economy with an annual £62.5 billion boost to output
6 in 10 UK working mums still don’t have access to flexible work.
Of those who do, over half (55%) feel they’ve had to compromise their work skills and experience in order to find work that works around family.
In total, over three-fifths of mums (64%) felt that their skills and experience had been compromised in some way in order to find a flexible job that fitted around childcare.
Only 14% of mums felt their skills hadn’t been – or wouldn’t have to be – compromised at all to find a flexible job
I am a DisneyLife Brand Ambassador and this post was created in partnership with DisneyLife who have provided me with a free 12-month DisneyLife membership. AD
I love a ‘happily ever after’. Mae, less so. At the moment she has the attention span of a gnat; she’s able to get through approximately three pages of any story before declaring a need to play ‘Mama horsey’ (a shame-drenched game where I adopt an equine persona and cart her around the place; I won’t lie, it is fun after a day of tax returns).
So we’ve had to dangle a carrot to get her to story finish-line lately. I want her to get used to seeing a project through to the end so I’ve downloaded the DisneyLife app to bring her favourite characters to life – in a sense to use Toy Story as the carrot. It’s simple, all your kid’s favourite characters have their own reading matter on this app. Elsa from Frozen? You’ve got it. The story of Belle (from Beauty and the Beast)’s Tea Party? That’s a can’t-put-it-down-read right there.
While I’d love to say I allowed Mae to choose the reading matter, I went straight for Buzz’s (of Lightyear acclaim) Space Adventure. Quite simply, what’s not to love? And, to be honest, I still delight in Disney and refuse to accept it’s aimed solely at kids. Big reveal: I was given Bullseye (from Toy Story) for my 31st birthday by my own Dad.
And Buzz’s intriguing story didn’t disappoint: on page one, it reads, ‘One night, the peas-in-a-pod couldn’t sleep. They asked Buzz Lightyear to tell them a story about space rangers.’ There’s just so much in once sentence that made me want to read on, I hadn’t even noticed the heavy breathing from Squidge. (The heavy breathing only happens when she really wants to know what’s going on.)
If you don’t believe me (and I am so tired, I can barely trust myself to cross the road at the moment), then just try is out for a month – for free. This isn’t just a kiddie app that gets banished to the toy graveyard once that attention span wanes. DisneyLife has numerous reading levels that enable your kid to be challenged, intrigued and ultimately eyes on the reading prize as they grow.
On a mildly sentimental note, you can also just listen to these stories instead of reading them, which gives ample opportunity to cash in one of those ever-elusive toddler hugs. Last night Mae fell asleep in my arms to the nail-biting adventures of Buzz, Woody and those little peas unable to sleep in their pod.
She might not have quite made it to ‘Happily ever after’ (there was a steady row of z’s around page 10) but the attention span definitely went beyond ‘gnat’.
Plus ‘Mama horsey’ had a much-needed night off. Treats, indeed.
I am a DisneyLife Brand Ambassador and this post was created in partnership with DisneyLife who have provided me with a free 12-month DisneyLife membership. AD
I’m not sure what it is about the word ‘influencer’ that bothers me. It just feels a bit sinister; A bit like the time I realized Google was selling me stuff they knew I wanted on little pop-up ads. Google, you bastards, you won, I bought ALL the stuff. (Including a vintage My Little Pony Apple Jack off eBay).
But having worked on both sides of the coin – purchaser of the influencer talent and now purveyor of the supposed influence, I’ve found a few things that can help small brands wade through those murky waters.
When I was approaching the influential foghorns of the fashion world, I always whacked in a paragraph on something specific (like: ‘I frickin’ adore your rainbow pony hair as much as my prized vintage My Little Pony Apple Jack) I liked about them. The number of times the same old line, ‘Hi, I really like your blog [subtext: GIVE ME YOUR AUDIENCE]’ is wheeled out means your brilliance gets lost in the white noise. There are few people in the public eye who don’t love a bit of all-singing, all-dancing ‘all about me’ fluffing – wield that to your advantage. It’s no different to starting any other relationship – why would you go in with the clichéd ‘is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?’. (The latter is a terrible example because it’s actually brilliant and worked on me once – but you get it; get personal).
No comment? No way
Following on from my one errant liaison with Dean from Abbey National (there was, indeed, a ladder in the hosiery), you’ve got to back up what you’re saying. Now I’m lurking in influencer waters, the people you want to work with are the ones who give a shit about you. The best way of showing the love? Simply like and comment on their stuff. An influencer/pixel foghorn seeks appreciation of their content – that’s their currency. When Emma from the kidswear brand Little Hotdog Watson started liking my posts, I started checking her out – in the non-creepy, non-restraining order way – and then when she joined in on my Flex Appeal campaign to fight for ‘flexible working for people who happen to be parents’ she was well and truly in the nook. Sure, you’ve got to genuinely like the goods (often established with the email equivalent of a fumble in the pub carpark) but often that comes from holding hands through the pixels. If I get someone saying ‘I LOVE your blog’ and they’ve never popped up on your feed, you think, ‘babes, you need to chuck some emojis at the situ.’ Engage and then prepare to be engaged or summat.
Let’s get visual
Streams of blather is off putting, while photos are the digital equivalent of a rainbow-drenched hug. Embed the best photo you have of your product in the email so there’s no need to click on an attachment. It’s a bit forward, perhaps but flash a bit of digital leg and you might get a Weatherspoons beer and a burger date out of it. It’s the journalism equivalent of the ‘Who, what, where, when, why’; Get all that combined in a pretty high resolution photo (that they may want to regram) and you’re gold.
I hounded Victoria from In The Frow when I was working in the creative solutions department at Stylist Magazine. Like, it was a torrent of intense questioning akin to a drug intervention at a full moon party in Koh Pan Ngang. “Did you get the products? When are you going to post about the products? Are the products your friends? Can I stroke your hair at night and whisper about the products in your ear?’ My desperation to get the product feature on her blog bypassed the simple fact that she’s only human and not working to my crazed deadlines (which aptly autocorrects to ‘dreadlines’). Make sure to give plenty of time – there’s no point scuppering a long-term relationship with heavy breathing and night vision goggles. Victoria is only human so step away from the pixels for a moment and edge back in with a chatty, breezy ‘hey, no rush at all, just checking you got everything? BTW, I like pizza, do you like pizza? I have eyebrows, do you have eyebrows?’ Playful distraction is everything and endears the foghorn to you and your cause.
Bang on brand
The scattergun approach is best to be avoided. Pick your influencer/foghorn team – the ones who fit what you’re trying to do. So, for example, there’s no point going to gamers Dan & Phil with a batch of pastel-hued cupcakes; the boys just want to play with their toys and there’s no way in for such glorious confections. List your 10 bang on the money influencers and follow the above steps. Nurture, like, comment with an occasional DM for good measure. Then go in for the kill with a knock-out press release (with high res images attached) and a one liner on why your cupcakes bring all the boys to the yard.
Good things come in small packages
All hail the micro influencer! It’s a word I’ve heard bandied about of late – the influencers with millions of followers aren’t always the ones to deliver the goods. A smaller influencer with a more targeted audience is going to offer up a more fruitful jazz hands exercise than someone who is followed mainly for their perfectly-formed norks. That laminated list should be split between the two: turbo influencers and the small but perfectly formed. Think Mariah Carey and Stacey Solomon. The latter are also easier to get in touch with – also good to get in with them early in case they go off the charts big and remember those who supported them when they were doing bog roll ads.
The minute someone posts about your product might not be the windfall you’d hoped for. It still takes a lot to convince someone to press a few buttons and part with the mullah. If you don’t sell out in 24 hours, all is not lost – this is a brand building exercise. It’s about planting the seed in people’s minds and then keeping a close (but not night vision goggle close) relationship with that foghorn. Think outside the Instagram boxes – Adelle Smith from BKD sent a personalized biscuit with ‘Mother Pukka’ on it shaped into a pair of red lips. It was such a personal, immaculately thought-out gesture I have no choice but to go large on that. You don’t need to whip up some sultry cookies but gentle, personal reminders that aren’t in word form often have a bigger impact because they’re outside of the inbox of doom. That inbox takes a beating – everything from slug pellet press releases to very reasonable Viagra offers.
From Queen Bey to Daddy Pig, we all need to take a dump. There is literally no beating around the unruly bush here – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go and it’s so nice to know there’s this common denominator across mankind. (If someone is ever being a prune to you, just imagine them on that porcelain chalice and all harmony will be restored).
So to training the urchin up for the main event. How to go from nappies to bog without any catastrophic/ traumatic spillages along the way? I am no parental pro and am basing these tips on my own experience – a solid 33 years – of using a toilet. From wazz to flush, here’s how I got the life spawn to go with the flow:
Don’t use complex language like ‘it’s good to not to poo your pants’. Dangle the carrot: “if you don’t poo in your pants you get three orange M&M’s”. Literally worked a treat. (I’m still using this principle on myself after a jolly night out on the Aperol Spritzes.)
Power play is a biggie here. No kid wants to actually be a kid. Elevate her/him to parent and tell them to show their mangled favourite toy how to hit the potty jackpot. “You show Tilly the dinosaur how to go on the potty. Silly Tilly not wiping her bottom. Tilly is such a baby – show Tilly how to treat that porcelain chalice with respect.” Meanwhile you can recline with a cuppa knowing Tilly and the urchin are self-pottying with aplomb.
Love is all around
We’ve all been in a situation when a partner has sleep walked and started peeing into a wardrobe (or some other domestic receptacle that isn’t a toilet). So we must keep in mind that accidents happen – even at the tender age of 33. Any hollering or furrowed brows from your side when your kid misses the target won’t help with bog training. A bosomy hug, quick change of the under crackers and a reminder of the burgeoning M&M stock will get you back on track. (Still works a treat with my other half).
Roll with it
Those prized bum cheeks (we call them the bongos – each to their own) deserve a premium bog roll. (Noone enjoys chaffing in that arena). If you splash out on anything, surely it’s got to be on a clean, soft sweep for those little hillocks? Our bog roll of choice (a sentence I never imagined penning but am delighted to be revealing) is Cushelle – strong and soft-to-the-touch with cushiony micropockets, the wipe on this roll is like no other. It’s like taking a goose down duvet to your undercarriage and when it comes to my kid, only the best will do. Just roll with it team.
Think outside the bog. Their little bladders can’t always cope with chugging back the orange squash. So if they need to go and there’s no bog/potty to hand, don’t be afraid of going a bit rural – any tree or nearby park is a good enough peeing ground. Relinquish control and accept that you might be ‘watering the flowers’ with your kid in the drizzling rain, wondering how your life choices came to this – but very glad that they did.
If you are reading this, you’re IN for our flash dance this Friday 9th September at 12pm in Trafalgar Square (North Terrace) to support ‘flexible working for people who happen to be parents’. Below is everything you need to know:
In this digital era where folk can work from their bog if they want to, it’s time to stop the bums-on-seats mentality and work towards productivity in the workplace. The current inflexible system punishes people – the hardest hit are mothers who are dropping from the workforce like flies – who happen to have big life commitments like growing a person. This includes those looking after old relatives; those who happen to be budding artists and work better with an hour of sketching under their belt and those who simply can’t make work work shackled to the 9-5. This is about businesses increasing productivity and not losing talent. This is about businesses making more dosh. Businesses, this one’s for you.
In one of the largest global workplace surveys of its kind (February 2016), 83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity. Results from the research with 8,000 global employers and employees, conducted by Vodafone, also showed that 61 per cent said it had helped increase company profits. The report, titled ‘Flexible: Friend or Foe?’, found that companies had been overwhelmingly convinced about the business benefits of flexible working.
12pm Meet Trafalgar Square North Terrace. Nearest TUBE: Charing Cross
12.15pm T-shirts handed out and ‘practice’ with resident choregrapher Holly Skinner.
12.30pm Dance the shit out of inflexible working
1pm Ends. Chat and natter with us in the sun with a beer?
The dress code
80s flash dance. Think Lycra, think colour, think scrunchies. Bring a hoodie/jumper so we can do the reveal. There will be no refreshments so self-refresh!
Check out our Instagram page for the dance tutorial and lyrics. You can have the coordination of a drunken sloth and still WIN here. Our resident choreographer will be there to hold everyone’s hands/ sweat bands.
This is not school assembly; we will not be limply warbling out Morning Has Broken, preying for Mrs James on the piano to stop tickling the ivories. This is a bunch of people who are here to be heard. So limber up, warm up the vocals and blast this out with the gusto of a E-colour fuelled toddler at a Frozen-themed karaoke party.
The legal stuff
We have permission from Westminster Council to film between 12-1pm. We also have public liability insurance up to £5,000,000 and will require you to sign release forms on the day. We have passed all risk assessment for the shoot. Thanks to everyone who made the permission-side of this seamless (and possible).
If you have any issues or just want a natter, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my number 07903 088819
I’m not good at apologizing. My viewpoint is generally right, whether it’s my choice of paint colour (it’s lilac; like that of a teenager’s room circa 1991) in the lounge, or my feelings on Brexit or burkinis. On this analysis alone I am, in the (urban) dictionary definition of the word, an occasional ‘wazzock.’
I have an unwavering belief that I’m on the right track, punctuated by an occasional, embarrassing stumble in front of a packed bus stop.
I came a bit of a cropper yesterday.
I posted on Instagram that “I struggle with the word ‘feminist’”. My stance was mildly antagonistic: that the word itself distracts from what it is trying to achieve. The post was founded in a socially needy place and articulated in the manner of a sloth asked to pen a thesis on War and Peace under Master Chef time constraints (complete with Greg Wallace’s heavy breathing).
From Instagram, emails, What’s App and all other pixelated realms – I hoped for a carrier pigeon to offer some respite from the iPhone – there was a deluge of informed, immaculately articulated and insightful opinion.
(And this isn’t some arse-licking exercise; if anything it’s more a wound-licking exercise).
Even my Aunty Janet got stuck in – offering up her belief that ‘this is not some kind of Duke of Edinburgh Award, darling, where the gold medallion is in sight – we are far from even getting a map here.’
But what was my point? Well, it was off-point: a pedantic argument around semantics that detracts from talking about core issues like FGM, breast-feeding, trafficking, flexible working and shattering glass ceilings.
And my point now is that it was a mistake that merits an apology – one that I hope is accepted. And that a moment of flippant thinking and weakness can always be repurposed as strength.
Because ultimately that’s what feminism is to me – it’s strength, it’s powerful conversation. It’s keeping both going.
It’s scraping someone off the floor if they’re submerged in a post-natal fug.
It’s building others up with no personal agenda.
It’s bashing the shit out of gender equality issues until they wished they’d never crashed the party.
It’s being chucked the same wad of cash as a colleague who happens to have a willy.
It’s not having your job pulled from under your feet – often for worryingly vague reasons – when returning from maternity leave.
It’s lipstick, it’s hairy nips.
It’s OK Magazine, it’s Not OK Magazine.
It’s, in the words of Caitlin Moran: “Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge? Then congratulations, you’re a feminist!”
It’s gender equality. It’s, without a doubt, feminism.
Out of the 213 messages I received yesterday, only one was hate-fuelled. Only one tore me apart as a person, as a women, as a mother – the latter at a tear-fuelled breaking point.
And through any sloppy commentary on my part, that’s always been my focus here: to show my daughter, Mae that you can scuffle like a Rottweiler without being a bitch.
Less chat more action: we’ll be filming a flashmob dance next Friday September 9 in Central London (exact time and location TBD). The video will be for our ‘Flex appeal’ campaign – fighting for flexible working for people who happen to be parents. The aim is to publish the video ahead of our meeting at the House of Commons on September 14 to push the subject further.
The lyrics you will need to sing run thus (to the tune of Salt ‘N’ Pepa’s 80s triumph ‘Let’s talk about sex’): “Let’s talk about flex baby, when you’re on the PAYE. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things of productivity. Let’s talk about flex, let’s talk about flex.” If you can remember the above, have some Lycra and can email me at email@example.com to register your interest, I’ll send you the full details personally. This may not be a movement, but at least it involves moving.
I’ve been told I’m a bit of a test case for a few folk out there… to see if I sink or swim working as a influencer/encourager on the Internet. I’d say at the moment, six months in, I’m neither sink or swim, I’m more ‘floater’ – if my latest paid gig with Cushelle bog roll is anything to go by. (For anyone who didn’t see the ‘Mother Pukka Goes Potty’ vlog, I was nestled on that porcelain chalice literally parenting the shit out of life.)
But while I was perched on the crapper (being paid, mind, so no violins), I did wonder if this was, in fact, a sinking (or, perhaps stinking) moment. I’ve got a law degree – from Reading, so it’s a bit Tesco Value according to my husband – and I worked really hard in my GCSE’s securing an A* in Religious Studies – all ‘love thy neighbour’ principles still being fully administered when raging in a turbo queue at Nat West.
I think I assumed in those heady Mmm Bop/ Smirnoff Ice years that I’d end up swathed in a Hobbs suit somewhere with unlimited access to Pukka notepads. As it stands, the ‘Pukka’ element is there but I’m sat on a shitter in my pyjamas flogging bog roll, doing my best Stanislavski performance of Tilly the dinosaur. Oh life plan, you wily mistress.
But reading a feature in The Sunday Times Style mag (The New Testament in many ways), it’s all about ‘The Pivot’. It’s not about reinventing the wheel entirely but shifting it a bit here and there – akin to releasing a rusty old lock with an unravelled paperclip – to make work actually work for us.
Whereas a £27,000 salary and my own Biro was a big focus pre-splash down, the ideal line-up for me now is control, time, then money – in that order. I want to be able to linger maternally in the homestead with Mae when she’s got the lurgy without having to ‘send an email by 9am to my line manager’ to explain my basic need to keep the nipper alive.
I want more time to be with her; still a negative there. And I want some coppers to buy kale and the occasional Curly Wurly as a Friday afternoon treat.
I was told never to say ‘I want’, but to always say ‘please may I have’. Well, I’ve asked nicely and no one gave me what I wanted (a flexible working life that fits in with a family; we’re talking same output, flexible vehicle), so I resorted to the toddler tantrum – complete with bowl of spaghetti on floor – where ‘I want’ is hollered out repeatedly in a Ribena berry-faced rage. That obviously didn’t work either, so here I find myself on the toilet.
But what we want doesn’t have to correlate to our hopes and dreams circa 1997 when our norks were perky and our minds set on shagging to the irksome, lingering beat of Morcheeba. Much like my derriere, things shift, people change and ultimately what you want heads to a town a little south of ideal. For all The Stuff that you thought you needed, perhaps it is just being at home, working on something – anything – embellished by yoghurt trying to Sellotape remnants of a career together that’s the true happy place.
(Equally, it might well be smashing through glass ceilings with the gusto of Penelope Pitstop in the final lap – complete with commuter bead-on. My feeling is right now the latter is nigh impossible in the constraints of an eyewateringly expensive daycare system and the majority of companies offering the sort of flexibility that can only be compared to Gordon Brown attempting rhythmic gymnastics.)
For me, it’s been a re-branding exercise, really. Because what I’m doing here – and most days I’m not even sure – is never going to be a test case for anyone else. Whether staying at home, working away, flogging T-shirts/bog roll, building bridges, making teething/anal beads, it’s the mess you get into along the way that’s truly where it’s at.
It’s the ‘I blinded my newborn with my spouting breastmilk’; it’s the snuggling up next to your partner pyjama-ed up to the eyeballs with a Fisher Price toy as a primary-hued third wheel and it’s working out how you – only you – want to live.
“I just hope the baby is going to be OK” – that was the funniest comment on last week’s Daily Mail feature that showed us with a bottle of wine strapped to the buggy.
OK? She’s more than OK, she’s an A-grade human with a love of Octonauts and really kind eyes. She’s the kid that corrects me when I say, ‘that’s a bad man over there’ [pointing at a spitting angry drunk worrying she might be kidnapped] and she says, ‘no he’s not, he’s nice.’
A bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja 2011 nestling next to her left lughole is not going to suddenly negate all my parenting toil; it’s not suddenly going to catapult me onto a Social Services list. The biggest error in that photo is that the bottle is uncorked.
But the focus of the piece was not to encourage the parental ranks to slug back a bottle of nice ‘middle class’ (thanks Daily Mail for clarifying) red to get through primary-hued Baby Bounce in a community hall that smells of feet. The simple, clear message was that there is only one way to parent: yours.
What goes on outside of your mammaries/ mangled undercarriage is not just irrelevant, it’s no fun. Allowing my mind to wander towards someone else’s way of keeping the small humans alive is the equivalent of watching water dry on a breeze block. I’d choose 13 minutes (no more) on the Daily Mail sidebar of shame over considering Bella from NCT’s choice of nipple teat. (Bella, for the record, your nipple teat is a triumph.)
Oh and I was a serial offender. This is no holier-than-thou-bleat-fest. I would quietly seethe as one mate’s kid started sleeping through the night as mine was a procreational fog horn from 2-6am. I was so tired I couldn’t see the judgemental wood from the friendly trees and my only solace was thinking I was somehow OK because my Medela breast pump had a better sanitizer system than Natasha from Little Sprinkles Dance Class. Lord; dark maternal times.
(I also blame older ladies at bus stops quietly judging your manhandling of child into buggy – you know when they’re planking and screaming in tandem.)
But it’s more than just batting the judgement out of the playground/ bus stop and boldly parenting your own way, it’s about holding hands with the person next to you in Baby Bounce, as you inhale the smell of feet together.
It does not matter if you swathe your life spawn in paisley Laura Ashley print and have a deep love of 80s stalwart, the vol au vent. Fancy taking your 18-month-old to a Steps revival gig? Good to go; delighted ‘H’ is still banging out the tunes. Macchiato? Prosecco? Babycinno? Go for your life.
Equally if you’re into breastfeeding/ bottle feeding/ Instagram feeding who cares as long as you can look someone in the twitching peepers and feel less alone in this veritable minefield. (A minefield that you’ve had no formal training to navigate, with no colleagues and no stationery cupboard. Way harsh)
Alongside a group of women who have literally lit up my all-over-the-shop life with their grotty chat and unrelenting support, my maternal lifeline has been Clemmie Hooper (@mother_of_daughters) – a woman who has four kids to my one.
On paper the media would pit us against each other. In Top Trumps lingo: brunette midwife loved by all and gracefully navigating life with four daughters and a really great taste in lamps (bonus ball: exceptional sense of humour and killer fringe). My card would be more: blonde, slightly sweary maternal catastrophe, seeking attention and making one child look like the toughest gig in the world (bonus ball: ignites trolling comments like “your kid’s hair is really shit” which makes people laugh).
We are in the same game, blogging/ flogging/ Instagramming; we are approached for the same brand deals. We are – and it has been mentioned to me before by media folk – in competition with each other. But on paper. Paper is nothing when plonked next to a What’s App chain that starts, “I’m freaking out a bit. There’s blood; I can’t look at the forums. I think I’m miscarrying. Send me an emoji sequence to distract please.”
What ensued was not reams of emotional blathering as we tried to understand my reluctant lady parts. It was a conversation between two women who happened to be parents. A conversation that, through the pixels and emoticons, was founded on wanting to make each other feel a little less shit. We called it ‘fanny gate’; which led to us filming a series of vlogs called ‘fannying about’.
Because that’s what we’re ultimately all doing here, together – fannying about. And yes, the kids really are alright.
Clemmie’s book ‘How to grow a baby and push it out will be published February 2017’. More info to follow.
I’m all over the place – physically and mentally. My grey matter has been through the life mill. It’s The Stuff – renewal of driving licenses (that seem to require more forms than an application to be Prime Minister), the Ocado shop monster that never seems sated and things like crossing the road that I don’t trust myself with.
At this point I would love a reassuring squeeze on the upper arm and a packet of Hobnobs but alas, I am the one administering those things because I am a parent. I need to repeat that occasionally: I am a parent.
But when I’m a bit shambolic and someone edges over and says ‘I can help, I can make The Stuff easier’, I am all in. Cue DriveNow – a car hire service that knocks Uber out of the park and puts Hertz in the shade.
In it’s simplest form: You sign up (a process that takes 5 minutes; it’s almost relaxing, like a parental mini break), you locate your nearest car on the map (in the DriveNow app) and you literally drive away.
There is no key, no secret, it just works. I had five meetings in East London last Wednesday and I managed to bound seamlessly from one to the other without so much as seeing a Tube sign. No sweaty armpit in my face, no ‘signal failure’ (read: biscuit fell on the line) and no need for a key. I reiterate: no need for a key. (It blew my mind; you literally swipe in and out and press a ‘start’ button to fire her up).
Oh and talking cold, hard cash, it’s 29p a minute (until October), which means it’s around 20% cheaper than a comparable Uber ride. We’re talking a 15-minute trip around London costing £4.35 – that’s less than a Tube ticket with the guarantee of no armpit nuzzling. If you don’t believe me, more than 20,000 are already signed up so I’m not alone.
Channelling Penelope Pitstop – while obviously paying close attention to the DVLA green code – I hopped from meeting to meeting in a brand new Mini (there are also convertibles and fully electric BMW i3s) with radio blaring and packet of Haribo on the passenger seat. Parking was a dream because DriveNow has an agreement with select London Boroughs to allow parking without restriction: you can end your reservation in any residents’ parking or pay & display space in the area.
The brand’s strapline: ‘Find it. Drive it. Drop it.’ There really is nothing else to add. This is one of those services for when you really are all over the place. Which, for me, is every day.
DriveNow is available in Islington, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Haringey with big expansion plans in the pipeline. DriveNow also has half a million users globally, and is currently available in ten European cities; London, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna and most recently, Brussels. You can now pick up a DriveNow car drive it to London City Airport, fly to Berlin and then just hop in a DriveNow in Berlin and explore the city that way. No need to faff around with expensive car rental or public transport. Sign up for free here
I’m Sister Pukka. Not in the nun/religious sense; more best friend and rival to Mother Pukka and the unstylish, buffoonish one of the Pukka family. I also happen to be a butch bad ass lesbian. (Well actually I’m a bit of a girly wimp and was straight until two years ago when I happened to fall in love with an incredible woman. But I quite like the gravitas associated with being a butch lesbian. I’ll get there one day. Just need to experiment with a few haircuts.)
So I’ve decided to jump in on this blogging Instagram malarky (on a strictly non-pouty basis) for a few reasons. Primarily because it gives me the opportunity to ridicule and terrorize my older sister to an audience of thousands. What younger sister wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon?
The second reason is to support my pea brain of a sister (really her head is abnormally small – she just hides it well under cunning hair styles; check it out). Because she’s my buddy, and the Mother Pukka cause is something wonderful. With dollops of self-deprecation, the odd parrot costume and heaps of tenacious desperation to keep the urchin entertained, she helps people to smile through the parental madness. And, incidentally, causing me not only smile but howl with laughter when she tried to explain the Mother Pukka concept to our super-educated Grandfather. (He misheard and thought the name was Mother F****r. I didn’t correct him – Aunty’s prerogative)
But I witnessed how hard it (the baby thing) is first hand when I lived right next door to my sister in Amsterdam. While excelling as an irritating 3rd wheel in her and Papa Pukka’s relationship, I soon came into my own as an integral pillar of maternal and paternal support: namely swooping in just as the babe had fallen into a cherubic sleep, sipping a margarita and wittering on about my latest Tinder escapades while my sober sis was hooked up – complete with sleep deprived eye twitch – to that horrifying lactation machine. You know the one – looks like two upturned funnels and leaves the mammaries looking so very sad. So, so sad.
I like to think I helped sis out during that first mad year. And while Mother Pukka and Papa Pukka soon learnt how to “parent the shit out of life”, I soon also realized the importance of shoe-horning myself into their lives.
I developed my unique role in this family affair as “silly Aunty Daz”, doing whatever demeaning act I could to make the urchin giggle. Whether performing a tap dance in public in a reindeer outfit, or letting the urchin sit on my shoulders and steer me around the British museum by my hair (like Ratatouille does with the chef – guaranteed entertainment for hours), I’ll do whatever it takes to offer Mother and Papa Pukka a moment of respite and see that beaming toothy smile from my niece.
But personally for me, when it comes to the subject of love, life and family, I’ve done a bit of a 180 in the last couple of years. I was SO close to settling down with a nice successful man, doing the whole marriage, two kids and a Labrador thing when (much to my parent’s dismay – the poor, poor people), it all changed and I met my amazing my wife-to-be. So I now find myself engaged to a woman, living on a houseboat in the middle of Amsterdam, still wanting to have kids but without that pesky sperm close-to-hand. (Please don’t read this as a creepy cyber plea for sperm; just stating the biological facts).
I wished there was a voice out there to normalize what it is for two women to be together: from the process of falling in love to “coming out”, getting engaged, having children and just generally having a ball together and fannying about (there she is). Because from my experience, while everyone pretends to be “down with the kids” and all cool with lesbians and shit, a lot of people – lesbians and moi included – still struggle with certain aspects of it.
So that’s the aim of the Sister Pukka game: to ridicule sis, inspire the world with a new level of Aunt-related silliness and to be a voice for those people out there who believe that love is love, no matter the gender.
It’s been 14 days, 23 minutes and 34 seconds of one-on-one time with the urchin. We’ve recently returned from two weeks of holiday – one week in Devon, the other in Menorca – together and while it was pure familial bliss for 74% of the time, that remaining 26% of papering over the tantrum cracks was tough going.
The stuff I learned:
Never answer the ‘Are we nearly there yet’ queries. This opens a can of worms. Answer ‘nearly’ and expectation is HIGH. They believe a swimming pool replete with inflatable Mickey Mouse is about to magically appear around the next corner. Best avoided at all costs.
Answer ‘not yet’ and spirits deflate like the aforementioned inflatable Mickey Mouse at the latter end of a holiday – the point where he’s been manhandled to within an inch of his life by the entire clan. Again, best avoided.
Instead go with stealth diversion tactics. Download the DisneyLife app and all your kid’s fave Disney films ahead of travelling – this restores all familial harmony in one click.
Then there’s The Stuff. The toys; the games; the Play Doh-embellished kitchen sink. I never forget my sister packing for Disneyland in 1995 – she packed an actual horseshoe. Yep, an iron horseshoe that caused all manner of bother for the airport scanner (and my parents whose withered look stays with me.)
That’s where the joy of the DisneyLife app unveils itself. After 12 minutes of Mae relentlessly asking if we were ‘nearly there yet’ (when we hadn’t even made it out of our street) and me wishing I’d allowed her to pack her entire room, I unveiled the secret weapon. The fact she could watch Mickey, Pumba, Aladdin et al. at her leisure was entertainment gold. Kid happy; mama happy.
Throw in some of her favourite Disney characters – need I mention Anna, Elsa, Olaf et al.? – and this was a holiday game changer. DisneyLife, we salute you. This is the epitome of Hakuna Matata, which basically equals no worries for the rest of your days or, at the very least, for the rest of the journey.
I am a DisneyLife Brand Ambassador and this post was created in partnership with DisneyLife who have provided me with a free 12 month DisneyLife membership. Watch DisneyLife video here.
This was the moment I became a parent. It was 32 degrees and I was trapped in a stifling Amsterdam apartment. I was crying, a 3-week-old Mae was hollering – the sort of squawking that has Social Services perking up – and Douglas our dog was whimpering about his life choices.
Hyperventilating, I called my mate down the road who was bed-bound after a tricky birth and she simply said: “grab something [booze-based], anything, and get your pillowy ass over here.” This was the photo I What’s Apped her as I headed over for a bosomy maternal squidge. I remember thinking, it’s not going to be easy, this parental thing but there will always be a way forward. (Even if it’s not what Bugaboo’s brand team had in mind.)
And that was it. I stopped trying to be a “Yummy Mummy”, a “Mombie”, a “Mum even; anything I was supposed to be. I put the tomes down, I eased myself off the Netmums forums and reasoned in that snot-embellished moment that I wasn’t going to be one of those lucky ones wafting about in a white kaftan, however much I ferociously pinned to my lacklustre Pinterest board.
I’d find myself ricocheting between Gina Ford-championing capable mothership one minute and screaming irrational mangled undercarriage-toting banshee the next. Every day was a hormonal roller coaster with a wobbly lower lip always lurking, ready to go full codfish.
Whether you’re a lean, green, eco warrior machine, strapping that life burden to you as you Downward Dog the madness away or a manic cupcake baker, hoping that each pastel-hued confection baked will piece together a little of your mind, the only thing I (and Fred Astaire rather astutely) know is, there is only one way: yours.
This isn’t school where you are duty bound to buy a Pog (Google it if you’re under 30), the minute cool girl Nicky smugly brandishes one about. This isn’t University or college where you feel the need to do uncouth things like funnel a vat of cider, beer and blackcurrant, resulting, often in demeaning results (and, quote often, errant relationship decisions with Dean from Abbey National). This isn’t work where there’s an Excel spreadsheet to navigate and potential stresses of being the fire safety steward.
This is a level playing field.
A place where you can walk into Tesco, sweat gathering on your upper lip (when you weren’t even aware you had the beginnings of a tasche), child resembling a Ribena berry and making a noise akin to pterodactyl in a tumbledryer, with one escapee grape rolling away into the tinned goods aisle and there’s someone among a bunch of strangers who gets it.
There’s those who slap Mac’s Lady Danger lipstick on, detracting from the blood shot eyes and pneumatic eye twitch. There’s others who pretend their lives haven’t changed a jot but are a veritable weeping mess behind the scenes – complete with spiky hair regrowth; that cruel, ever-so wily mistress. (The former is my preferred survival route). Then there’s the turbo maternal ones who try and help everyone else before helping themselves because they are part Mother Theresa, part Fem Bot.
But once the ebb and flow of gifts and flowers eases off and the attention disappears post-splash down, you really are just a girl standing in front of a mewling infant wanting it to love her – or in darker moments, wanting to love it.
How you go forward at that moment is yours for the taking.
I will never forget hollering to my Mum aged 17: “Sex is, like, the most natural thing in the world. You need to chill out about this stuff. It’s nature.”
So much cringe in one sentence, I can’t bear it.
How the tables have turned: I’d like to think I’m going to be a breezy, Missoni kaftan-wearing, Bolly-swilling mother who points a perfectly Shellac-ed finger to the dedicated teen loft space and say, ‘have fun kids, I’m going out OUT” as Mae’s teenage mates gawp at my effortless coolness and want to be me. I’d draw the line at MILF references – too crass.
But now I’m fully ensconced in Project Procreation, I am more likely to be the frenzied seagull in Finding Nemo: “Mine, mine, mine, don’t you-dare-even-lay-a-finger-on-her, mine”. I might even ring up potential beaus and explain I’m a Roman Catholic and that sex before marriage is generally managed in our family with a quick Tweet across Mother Pukka socials about how small your pecker is. (Too much.) But in short, it will be less Eddie and Pats, more Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
It’s much like those pre-splash down months where you say things like, “I don’t want to be one of those parents who [insert patronising comment that soon gets banished within seconds of urchin arrival]”.
Like all things where we get a bit smug, there’s always a moment where you come crashing back to Earth and realise that you are just another dung beetle hauling that prized turd up a hill.
So there I was, a mildly twatty teen/twenty-something who ‘didn’t need parents, really’ – a smugness that was eradicated the minute Mae entered centre stage like a mewling little vole in need of EVERYTHING. Within minutes, I realised that I was a parental shambles, a massive sham and went crying back to my Mum with two leaky boobs and an insatiable appetite for her chocolate roulade cake.
Had I listened to her back then (the not having sex thing), I would not have been in this pickle, of course.
But here we are and from her showing me how to whack the kid on my Jaffa cake-like nips early doors to taking charge of child-min like teeth/ hair/ doctor and forms (ALL the forms), I not only need her in my life, I want her in my life and after two decades of fighting it (and her), it’s a relief to be able to admit that.
So here she is, my Mum, Dutch-born Lucia Maria Cornelia Josephina Whitehouse. (Roman Catholic name – middle names all nuns at her convent, natch). She’s a woman who never had brakes on her bike and a woman who always serves up the shitty, crusty, burnt bit of lasagne for herself, leaving the rest of us with the best slabs.
I have much to learn.
Wall: by artist Atma at The Northcote Arms, Leyton
This isn’t going to be a pity party (if anything it’s a shitty party, with stale party rings, soggy napkins and shrivelled ‘cocktail’ pork stuffs). I’ve talked, blogged, vlogged, flogged enough about miscarriage and there’s no denying it’s utterly shit. I’ve done the festering under a duvet on a beach of chocolate Digestive crumbs, I’ve administered Netflix and I’ve cried a Justin Timberlake river (it was actually more of a murky stream). I’ve also decided my womb is a bit of a twat.
But with this being my second miscarriage this year, relief has come from an unlikely source – the urchin.
I didn’t mean to tell her I was pregnant this time – there was a primitive sense that this could be a tricky one to navigate if the bun decided to scarper from the oven. But I was like a kid in a (pre-bankruptcy) Woolworths pic ‘n ‘mix aisle.
The excitement was palpable and out it came: ‘Mama’s having a baby’.
Then the questions. ALL the questions.
“How did it get in there?”
“Can I keep it?”
“Is it my brother or sister?”
“Will it come out of your hoo ha or line [from my last C-section]?”
“Is it black?”
The questions were fast and furious and I navigated them as I do with most tricky toddler probing – 63% honesty and 37% diversion.
So when things didn’t work out (I can’t stand the medical terms ‘not viable’ – it was just a case of right womb, wrong time), my thoughts weren’t self-pitying, they were self-critical. Why had I told Mae? What a tool. Surely if there was a Debrett’s guide to procreational etiquette, telling your three-year-old they’re having a sibling before you’re even out of the starting blocks is a maternal no-go.
So I left it. There was a feint, vague hope she’d forget about it like one of her Paw Patrol canines in the ever-burgeoning toy graveyard. I really did hope the rogue bean would just be set aside – for both of our sakes.
“Mama when’s your baby coming out?”, she hollered on the Central Line Tube as we were on our way to watch Disney’s Finding Dory. I felt a swathe of eyes dart towards my stomach. Mae was trying to lift up my top to show Mike (of Monster’s Inc. acclaim) my belly. I went all in: maternal cards face up and answered honestly. Not 63% honest, the full house: “Squidge, Mama doesn’t have a baby in there any more.”
Then THE questions.
“What happened to the baby? Did it fall out?”
“Yes, sometimes babies don’t stay in. Hopefully another one will be in there soon.”
My Mum, who was sitting opposite us offered up a reassuring smile: it was the kind of smile that’s like a bosomy hug. Then there was silence as Mae continued playing with Mike and sticking Dory stickers across my knockers.
I never expected to inform my three–year-old (or an entire London Tube carriage) that I’d lost a baby. That was never in the maternal plan – but, then, neither was leaking milk into a grey marl T-shirt at Mae’s christening (there’s photographic evidence: I look like a FemBot). Equally, I never expected to have to handle a code-red nappy situation in TopShop’s Oxford Circus bog with lithe, doe-eyed teens wafting about in cut-offs just outside.
Motherhood isn’t great with planning (birth plans are a case in point – I ditched mine within three minutes of entering the hospital) and I have learned I don’t always have the answers – or even need them, really.
Mae piped up excitedly again: “Will the doctor put the new baby in your hoo ha? Can the next one be black?”
“Look, squirrel!” I confidently chimed, before laughing for the first time since the “baby fell out”.
It was first a drunken Topshop Lycra-embellished post-GCSE jaunt to Magaluf in 1997, then onto Tuscany with a bunch of mates for a more bourgeois affair of bruschetta scoffing and frizzante necking, which brings us up to the current day where I’ve more-or-less ditched the group mash-up in favour of going away with Mum (resident Nanny McPhee), Dad (resident sommelier), my husband (resident chef) and the urchin (resident life burden).
Quality family time I believe it’s called. Gosh, who’d have thought after years of trying to skitter away from the homestead, I’m in the nook once more.
Holidays are no longer for whiling away the early hours discussing the merits of Love Island (side note: SO good). No more – I’m in this for shut eye, R&R, QT and inhaling extraordinary amounts of Lays ready salted crisps; the taste of summer, no? I’ve made peace with this anti-social behaviour and the focus now is on location and ensuring there’s relentless sunshine as I recline for a week, allowing Mum infinite ‘quality time’ with the urchin.
Cue James Villas. If you are after the sort of holiday that only requires you to leave your cloud-like sanctuary in a fire emergency, then James and his top notch pads (we stayed at Maitreya in Son Bou) are where it’s at. Think 5 star hotel – complete with daily maid service and a friendly concierge on-call – without the additional faff of having other humans around you. (We’re talking turbo anti-social behaviour here and I feel no remorse.)
The thing that James gets is space. The fact that while families are built on pillars of love and vague respect, ensuring there’s a private nook for each member of the clan is essential for mental survival. Our Menorcan villa had a private balcon for each room; this equates to alone time with a Mills & Boon tome and absolutely no judgement abounding. Win-win.
The pool was all crystal clear azure waters and sofa-like loungers with an in-built bbq nearby for the primitive men folk to grill the life out of some meat. Each of the bedrooms was like something out of the aforementioned Mills & Boon novel; all plush surrounds with a Jacuzzi dotted here and there for romantic measure. Needless to say I was conked out and pyjama-ed up to the eyeballs at 9pm every night but for those seeking amour, this place offers a fruitful Mills & Boon-worthy backdrop with requisite ochre sunsets.
The key to a stress-free familial villa holiday is ratio. James Villas gets that; they understand that for every one child you need approximately four adults to keep the peace and ensure everyone gets downtime and an interruption-free cold one. Everything is set up for the full clan – there’s no missing chairs or weirdly matched crockery. Everyone has their own bathroom to save the potential catastrophic moments of accidentally walking in on your Dad in the shower. There’s Nespresso coffee makers for a sterling morning brew and things like egg poachers for the avocado toast crew.
All in all it’s a veritable familial palais and I never thought I’d say it, but Magaluf, you were a fruitful (apart from Dean from Abby National who never called) escapade, but I’d prefer to hang out with Mum and Dad.
Team Mother Pukka – that includes Papa Pukka, Grandmother Pukka, Grandfather Pukka (ever-elusive on Instagram) and the urchin – travelled with James Villa Holidays to Maitreya Son Bou in Menorca for four nights. James Villa Holidays has knock out parent-friendly collection of top notch pads or stand-alone villas that sleep up to 20 people – perfect for big clans. www.jamesvillas.co.uk. 0800 074 0122.
I was standing on the junction of a main road, grappling toddler (making noise like a pterodactyl in a tumble dryer) held under one arm like a rugby ball, over-burdened buggy hurtling towards traffic and a packed bus stop of people quietly (ever-so quietly) judging on the sidelines. I had a bead-on and then a grape escaped from my bag as a grand finale to this sorry parental scene.
Needless to say I was not on it; But like Johnny Wilkinson in the final minute of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, I steered that procreational car crash back on track. The rogue grape was even recovered and deposited into a bin so as not to have the ‘litter bug’ guilt hanging heavily over my maternal shoulders.
But it was at that bungling moment I realised we’re stronger than we could ever have imagined pre-splash down. Navigating public transport with a mewling newborn on 1 hour 13 minutes sleep with a mangled undercarriage and a relentlessly leaky boob? Nothing; c’mon offer up a challenge. Answering emails, sorting orders, growing businesses, wiping noses, drying tears with teething toddler slung around your neck? Just another day in the office.
We are made of nails. Nay, we are made of molten nails reformed into one giant nail that makes a chainsaw look positively timid. Motherhood itself is a strong, utterly powerful word; it’s the umbrella term for a bunch of women who’ve for numerous reasons – time, exhaustion, priorities, love, life, self-awareness – given up all the excessive blather of our pre-child years. The jealousy has been tossed aside like a limp, soggy nappy; bitchiness doesn’t cut it in the playground and there’s a realisation we’re totally, absolutely, 100% stronger together. (Mainly because you need someone to laugh/cry with through the mastitis-addled mammaries).
But that strength, while primitive and instinctive, is actually more powerful than the sum of its maternal parts. That strength is what our brood sees in us; the mama who can sweep up their little heaving body after a nasty run-in with a see-saw. The mama who manages to breast feed while taking an important call that might mean more food in beaks or twigs in nest. It’s a mama who rattles through a list of ‘things to do’ with the prowess of a SWAT team taking down a ruthless, MK50-wielding mob. It’s a mama who is tough through the tantrums but soft with the cuddles and a mama who realises that her strength is what gives them strength. And a mama that realises that strength came from her own mama.
And no rogue grape or low-level public judgement will ever get in the way of that.
The reason I’m penning this? Because there’s one mama that is both physically and mentally ON it. Jessica Ennis-Hill and her mother Alison Powell are ambassador’s for the P&G Thank You Mum campaign (for brands Olay, Venus and Pampers) and they underpin all my ramblings. The P&G Thank You Mum campaign is all about a mother’s strength in helping her children to achieve their dreams – something Ennis-Hill has arguably done as we head towards the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It’s a moment to look at yourself (or your own mum) and just think, ‘we’ve got this… The kids are more than alright.’
As we launch our FLEX APPEAL – a campaign encouraging companies to loosen the 9-5 shackles and realise we can all be trusted to work remotely – we pin down mother-of-two Claire Bingham. A graduate of the Digital Mums course (a programme that trains up mums to run social media accounts for businesses) Claire, 41, might be one click closer to finding that elusive balance
Does 9-5 office work actually work? What’s your opinion on current flexible working in the UK? How has Digital Mums shifted this inflexibility?
To quote Nikki (co-founder of Digital Mums) in a recent interview: “Work should be a thing you do and not a place you go.” Advances in technology mean we can work from anywhere, yet so many businesses don’t seem to have moved with the times! There still seems to be this expectation that you need to go in and sit at a desk all day.
How do you now make it work?
I’m a freelance social media and marketing manager. I trained with Digital Mums last year and work for a talented interior design agency called Furniss & May. I also work for Digital Mums themselves – I currently run their Twitter and Facebook channels.
How many hours of the working week (not weekends) are you with your kid(s)?
I’m with Jake three out of five days, Maia goes to pre school now but I’m with her 2.5 out of five days. I’m very much hands on… chief negotiator, play date host, entertainer, taxi service to ballet & baby gym, storyteller, you know the drill… but I feel lucky that I get to hang out with them both loads and do a job I enjoy. I definitely don’t feel like I’m missing out on them being small and hilarious/mental.
Do you have this elusive balance? If not, why? if yes, how? Does Digital Mums play a part in this?
Ah the infamous work/ life balance! Digital Mums has basically helped reshape my career, which has had a really positive impact on my family life. I can work from home, or pretty much anywhere, 100% flexibly and by upskilling, I feel digitally relevant and much more confident to get out there to find work that works for me. Don’t get me wrong its still a juggle, but an enjoyable one.
What do you want from being a working mother?
It’s all about balance for me. Work is an important part of who I am and I want to be able to contribute to supporting the family BUT I want to be there for the kids and in the future, take them to school, help them with homework as well as be there to do the fun stuff and not feel guilty about missing bedtimes. The way things are right now I feel I have both – career and family.
Tell us one of your darkest moments balancing work/ parenting…
Both kids were at home poorly, one of my clients was keen to still do our planned call, so I stuck on back-to-back Peppa Pig and got on with it. I thought it was all going pretty smoothly, as I hadn’t heard a peep, however I found them in our bedroom; Maia had cracked out my BRAND NEW relentlessly red Mac lipstick and made herself and Jake into ‘pretty princesses’ by covering both their faces in said lipstick. Jake decided to top it off by using the rest of the lipstick to draw all over the wardrobe doors. GREAT! I was actually laughing so hard I had to call the client back…
Do you miss your previous work? Tell us what you did and why you decided to leave? How have things changed?
I have 15 years experience as an Account Director working for large branding agencies and smaller boutique design agencies. They were fun times, lots of amazing travel and lots of late nights working on pitches which was full on, but (kind of) do able when you don’t have a family, but I struggled to make this work once the kids came along. I knew I wanted to find another way of working, that would be more flexible and work around my family.
I definitely do not miss the stinking commute, boring office politics, last minute meetings, ranting clients… in this new guise, I’m back in control and it feels bloody brilliant!
What’s your biggest tip/s for other mothers trying to make it work for themselves; mothers looking to go it alone?
At the risk of sounding corny, I would say have the confidence to believe in yourself, be brave, take the initiative and the results will come. The Digital Mums crew call this #DoTheHustle. I was actually really laughing at your #DoTheRustle post on Instagram the other week!
What are your thoughts on the term ‘stay-at-home-mum’ (do we ever really just stay at home?) in 2016?
‘Stay-at-home-mum’ does feel like an outdated term… I’ve met lots of Digital Mums who have not worked in 5-10 years, they have struggled with confidence around how to get back into the workplace before starting the course, yet within a week of starting, they are just flying, everything changes, the combination of peer to peer support and the live learning format means you feel totally supported through the course. I think it’s very empowering.
What tools are essential for you to make it work?
A decent iphone (I recently upgraded to an iphone 6 but still have to carry a charger around), a scheduling tool like Hootsuite or Buffer so you can pre-schedule content through out the day, a good sprinkling of self confidence + a large gin for late night workin
Work or play?
Stay at home or stay at office?
I love working from home! God I am WAY more productive and focused than I ever was in an office! Also, it’s actually really nice to be quiet sometimes…or play music I want to listen to ie; NO Frozen! It’s definitely not lonely, as you have the whole Digital Mums talented community to bounce ideas off, sharing their advice and support.
What’s the big plan? Or is it every day as it comes?
I’ve never been brilliant at planning the BIG stuff…if you would have told me a year ago that I would have a new career and be in the position I’m in now, I would have never have believed you…
To enrol on the Digital Mums course or to find out more, click here
I wanted to pick up on something the ace Charlotte Philby from Motherland mentioned in a post a few weeks back: the pressure of ‘creating something for yourself’ outside of parenthood. For all the swathes of mama-run businesses springing up with the nous of a less curmudgeonly Deborah Meaden and with the media flinging about phrases like ‘Instamums’ and ‘Mumpreneurs’, a new level of guilt is, perhaps, slowly rising to the fore like a slug heading perilously close to a salty chip. A guilt pinned to a need to do something – at times, anything – that isn’t ‘just’ parenting.
I only got my pea head around it a few weeks ago when speaking to a really good mate who, in my mind, had the ‘luxury’ of staying at home with her two kids. We’ve been stellar mates for years and it takes something akin to her eating the last Frazzle on a hangover for there to be trouble in the ranks.
But as with the more irretrievable breakdowns, this one was like Japanese water torture; it happened gradually over a year or so. An all-out row about a misjudged Facebook photo upload of her face-planting a Weatherspoon’s bog is manageable, while a trickle of irk here and mild frustration there can slowly build into something that leaves you wondering if you would, in fact, offer up that last Rolo.
The reason? I felt hard done by. (On a side note, I don’t think we as parents get enough empathy – the kid falls over, you’re on it like a bonnet; we take a tumble there is, in fact, tumbleweed – so here’s a gratuitous moment to self: “pooooooor us”).
But I was a bit hacked off. I was hacked off at not having enough cold, hard cash; hacked off at not having enough time with my kid who was, at times, becoming a bit feral; I was hacked off with the guy on the Tube who routinely got his briefcase trapped in the door, leaving me 1 minute 37 seconds behind schedule. I was as hacked off as a 1960s-era hack on Fleet Street realising they’d missed last orders at the bar and there were no dry roasted left.
Needless to say, I was a JOY to be around.
But I never once thought my mate was edging into choppy waters, too. She was the#blessed one – the one who could actually pick her kid up after a fall, instead of relying on someone at Daycare to offer up a limp hug as 24 other children vie for their attention. A glimpse of one of her powder pink Le Creuset pans would, without realising, ebb and flow in my mind – “Bet that wasn’t a TK Maxx knock off”. We’d got to a point where this could be monikered ‘Pan-Gate’. How depressing, how middle class, how childish.
For someone who’s the ‘grown-up’ 24-7, I’d allowed my Cbeebies-addled mind to assume. Assumption is the human equivalent of dry rot – seemingly inconsequential at the time but potentially catastrophic long-term. I’d assumed she ‘had it all’ and wasn’t scrabbling around in the Internet coffers for some loose change with the sole aspiration of having a functioning toilet. (We must always call a spade a spade: one’s Instagram life is 12% reality and 88% Sellotaping over the cracks).
But like a post-toddler party balloon that must be burst to save relentless ‘MINE’ tantrums, we had a hearty natter. Not over dinner, not over something frothy ending in ‘ccino’, just on the ‘ole dog and bone – because if we’d waited to align our procreation-filled diaries, we might have been facing irretrievable breakdown. (It could have gone a bit Heidi ‘n’ Seal.)
As with any relationship – husband / boss/ woefully under-qualified plumber – I’ve learned not to lead with the, ‘you’re being a massive bell-end’ approach. While relieving at the time, you often end up looking like a turbo prune.
Luckily, we were both emotionally aligned and it was agreed gargantuan assumptions had been made on both sides of the maternal fence – a fence that we fast realised divided the working away/staying at home mother troops.
She saw me pioneering this elusive, perfectly balanced world where I had it all; a multi-hued realm embellished with Lady Danger red lipstick and ‘jazzy’ trainers. For all my self-deprecation (which she increasingly assumed was faux), it was a world where Mae and I were merrily trotting around London, only pausing to grab an ‘in-the-moment’ shot of us reclining against a brightly-hued wall.
It was a world that persistently bleated: “C’mon, don’t rest on your laurels, make shit happen – DO something – the Internet is your oyster.” She was beyond happy with her lifestyle as – what the media pegs – a ‘stay at home mum’ until I started tap dancing away to the tune of Build me up Butter Cup. That’s not to say she wasn’t delighted for me and brilliantly supportive (an extra emoji here, a penis meme there – the pillars of modern friendship).
But my choices offered up a seemingly stark contrast to what she was doing – ‘staying’ (or more playing/ washing/ key cutting/ doctoring/ wiping/ nurturing/ stick-back plasticking/ play-doughing/ arch negotiating) at home 24-7. Somehow, she explained, her choices seemed lacklustre; there was suddenly a lurking pressure to do ‘something’ else, too.
The reality is, money is the bitch here. Mullah, or more accurately bricks and mortar, is the cruel mistress that determines how much time you can spend with your kid(s) – what you have to do to bring in the top dollar. But the way I’ve rationalised it after pan-gate, is to redefine wealth as simply ‘choice’.
I had no choice in the 9-5 wheel of misfortune; companies I worked for were inflexible and financially, I had no choice but to chuck cash at that mortgage. I even set up a dog walking service (disastrously-named ‘Doggy Style’) in the vain hope of making a fast buck or two. It was confused canine branding – let’s leave it there.
My choice at the moment is to be poorer but to fight for more time with my kid and to try REALLY hard to get that functioning bog installed.
While I’ve missed key chunks – first steps, first words, the moment she pointed to a bowl of sludge and said ‘cous cous’ (as worrying as the Le Creuset reference) of Mae’s life, I’m pushing on, nay, bulldozing on, because if we are lucky enough to hoof another one out, I’d like to have 34 more minutes a day with that kid.
But if I can’t share the importance of those 34 minutes with a bosom pal; a kindred spirit (someone who has backed-you-onto-a-bog-in-your-wedding-dress kind of mate) then that’s sad times – 1986 film Beaches sad.
Instamum or living in a veritable Instaslum; mumpreneur or giving a Nigella casserole a stir; staying at home or working away, we’re all just Sellotaping/ UHU-super-gluing over the cracks and keeping the small humans alive through that relentless pneumatic eye twitch.
As to my mate; we’re back on track – until she sees I’ve posted this, of course. Then we’re probably back to something akin to Weatherpspoons-gate, which is infinitely better than bourgeois pan-gate and will, most likely, end with me at least getting the last Frazzle.
The most commonly received father’s day gifts in the UK last year were: socks, slippers, pyjamas. While the sentiment behind such gifting might be warm and fuzzy, the underlying message is clear: keep yourself covered at all times, you gnarled and wrinkly codger.
Giving a man socks for Father’s Day is slightly less imaginative than pitching up at a Shell garage to buy four limp roses and a chocolate orange on 14 February. It says: ‘I did slightly better than just buying a card and I can’t really be arsed to do any more thinking. But given that I’m your spawn, you’ll probably forgive me’.
There are few ‘special’ occasions more likely to underwhelm the nation’s imaginations than Father’s Day. And while the nation’s kids can be forgiven (people will forgive a lot when you’re carrying their DNA and potential spare organs around), there is the very real possibility that in many cases, these gifts have been bought, un-ironically, by a spouse. This is a domestic intimacy too far, and I am not yet ready to yield responsibility for my footgloves.
In the last week, my browser and Facebook have surged with ads from ‘cool’ sock companies, promising to restyle my unfashinable feet (along with this subtle number below: thanks Facebook! I’d forgotten that I will one day die! Keep sharing the love!)
But I have enough socks. They may not match, they might be wrapped in little balls, but I always manage to cover my plates and get through the day.
What I want is a private performance from Radiohead for me and 50 friends, in which Thom York asks me onstage to do backing vocals on Creep. Or a lifetime’s supply of Lagavulin single malt whiskey. Or 40 minutes in a parallel universe with the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team. (This is juvenile, and assumes that the Brazilian women beach volleyball team will be yearning for a 39-year-old English dad who looks a bit like a tired, portly version of Sean Maguire. It also assumes that I wouldn’t get to said parallel universe and think, ‘Hmm. That’d still technically be cheating, I wonder if the sandwiches here are any good). Even better, I’d like the gift of eight hours sleep.
So my new office is a little pink and orange box filled with about 400 million strangers. Bricks and mortar are so retro, so Microsoft Office 2001; the digital sphere of Instagram is good enough a place to plonk my derriere and try and make a vague dime.
But this little square of pictorial activity is anything but easy – she (definitely a she) seems simple enough: post divine photo (politely hoping it’s a plus 123-liker), wait for flood of love peppered with occasional spammer and sit back like a little gurning emoji.
But gosh she’s a cruel mistress; she takes and she turns on a sixpence – the wily sort – and she’s a little OCD (the ‘cleaning’ thing). It’s a bit like digital top trumps out there, too: your pixelated skanky laundry is hung out for all and sundry to see – “Ah poor lamb, she only got 23 likes on that one, bet she thought that was a 124-er”.
Instagram is not the squeaky-chaired, coffee-humming, nylon-carpeted office space I’ve been accustomed to in all my years of poverty-striken publishing. So I went to the HQ last Friday to work out what the dally is and how we can, perhaps, wield a slither of those 400 million lurkers to our profitable gain. Here’s some stuff from my grey matter, qualified by The Gram folk:
Don’t ignore the ‘social’ element
Liking, commenting and following is the digital equivalent of saying “you are great, so great I’ll tack on a dancing chick in a red frock”. If someone you want to work with consistently gets that vibe from you, you’ll get some lovin’ back – an email that starts ‘I REALLY love your Instagram. Help me now’ will only touch the sides if it’s backed up with a regular Instathumbs up. It’s vanity-feeding, sure, but that’s not too off-the-mark in real life too – ref. Tinder.
Chat some folk up
When it’s digital tumbleweed in your neck of the filtered woods, don’t just wallow forlornly, silently wishing anyone with an abundance of followers gets shat on by a particularly incontinent seagull. It’s time to act. Whack a DM (Direct Message) to someone you think is great. I got in touch with Fearne Cotton on one of my pitiful, feeling a bit cystitis-ey days and she ended up launching our parentfail campaign, which I reckon has bagged us approx 3,500 followers (and of course the charitable donations – **prepares Pride of Britain speech**). The great thing is, people can’t really escape on DM: it’s cruel to leave a DM with a solitary ‘seen’ message and no response. Use that to your advantage.
Follow until you have RSI
I used to do this in my old social media manager job at SuperTrash in Amsterdam and would like to add the disclaimer that Instagram hasn’t said this is a way forward. But if you are having desperate times, just follow as many folk as you can. For every 1,000 you follow apparently 90 will follow you back – not terrible odds. If you realise after following them, they’re not your bag, then unfollow. Not entirely sure on the ethics of this one but when you are looking for bums on seats, this does sort of work.
We are too old/knackered for competition
Do not fear if a rival sets up stall next to you; befriend them and grow together. When I launched, I saw that Zoe from Dress Like A Mum was doing some fun stuff; I initially was, like, whatevs, I’m cool with that, we’re totes different. But really, if I search deep, there was a hint of the green-eyed monstrosity back there. So that was quickly knocked on the head with a quick ‘n’ dirty lunch when I was working at Stylist Magazine and a squidge that ended up with us being friends and poncing about on camera for Mamas & Papas. Some mate of mine who went a bit Buddhist said: “where your energy goes grows” or summat.
The golden retriever principle
Your vibe brings/ elbows away your tribe. Be ever-enthusiastic, a little slobbery and always gonna get that ball. Focus on what you want, go for it in a nice manner – Instagram is more emotionally transparent than you think. Also people who don’t like golden retrievers are few and far between. Or Jason Donovan, apparently (he hated Bouncer; although he is a Labrador). So you are safe with this principle.
The power of three
Have three main USPs you always stick to in your posts. Consistency is key. So don’t be all smutty on one post and then angelic on the next; your audience will scarper if they aren’t sure where you are going or who you are. My USPs are: humour, colour and… can’t think of a third but you get it.
Get all appy
Do something a bit different to jazz up your feed. Reckon you are a shit photographer – do some research on apps that make your shittery look somehow passable. Not sure you have enough content for a post every day that depicts you enjoying avocado toast, sipping a soy latte while aloofly pushing your products, then whack a quote up that fits your brand. Get a library of content together when you have some reprise from the eye twitch and wheel it out as and when. Not everything has to be to-the-minute accurate. It’s a story – your story – told as and when you can.
Cross over the road my friend
A little bit of cross social channel referencing goes a long way. If you can’t be arsed to keep Facebook up, just link your Instagram posts to Facebook to at least people can find you and, perhaps, follow you.
Say it as it is
Instagram has seen a huge move away from perfectly polished images that require a ladder to be slotted above your porridge for the perfect shot. Real content is what sticks at the moment – that’s why I’ve been playing around with my feed at the moment; it all got a bit poised back there [insert bashful monkey emoji]. That doesn’t mean it can’t be impeccably shot – it’s just about capturing moments – good, bad and ugly. Life, really. There’s a reason Celeste Barber is gaining 20,000 followers a week.
Tick that off the list
If you are an influencer or blogger with over 10,000 followers and you reckon you’ve got some chat, some OK photos and, perhaps, an agent, then it’s worth hankering for the tick. The tick is a bit like the seal of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here; It means you’re vaguely Z list and serious about making a career out of your shambolic life. It’s also quite elusive – the only real way in here is through an agent or talent manager and few businesses get the tick, only humans. Be prepared to wait, too; It took me 6 months of enthusiasm and slobbering until I got that ball.
The technique was simple: elbow primed, head lowered and a quick bum shuffle 35 degrees to the right as you protectively shield that spelling test from an inquisitive, heavy-breathing peer. That was how to deal with a copy cat. If you were one, then kudos to you and your attempted time-saving ways – no doubt you got to watch more of 80s stalwart Fun House for it.
But on the Internet, an elbow emoji just isn’t going to cut the fiery mustard. Equally, one’s purpose on social media (my mate Toby calls it ‘social needia’; lame but distressingly on point) is to be a veritable foghorn. It’s where you say stuff about your under crackers (I speak for myself and no other) that you probably wouldn’t say to a stranger in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco. As a brand it’s where you get to set up your digital stall and holler, ‘C’mon geddit’ in, perhaps, an East End cockney accent.
But then someone likes it and sticks their own ring on it – or in Nor-Folk’s case (some ballsy Portuguese chap simply lifted their entire branding, including Instagram images of their son, Stanley without batting an eyelid) nick it. Squint and perhaps there’s a slightly different logo, but fundamentally they’ve started singing from the same hymn sheet, pedalling the same wares and asking the same folk to come trotting on over, purse strings flapping.
There’s competition and then there’s copying. For clarity, the former is ‘striving to gain something by defeating others’, the latter ‘to reproduce someone else’s work’. While I’ve not had any major issues – the odd phrase here and there lifted from my blatherings, but really I fear my goods are not fruitful pickings for those wily feline folk. It’s seeing someone like Retro Kids have their entire concept copied and pasted into another name. I’ve been following mother-of-two Joanne for a couple of years now and I, along with her troupe of dedicated followers were like rats out of aqueducts in our attempt to clarify that there was only one Retro Kids. (We were akin to those boozed-up 80s football hooligans after a particularly unfair referee decision; it got a bit primal.)
Why the witch hunt? Because each brand, each blog and each platform that launches has come from a deeply personal, highly motivated – often out of necessity; often to whack food in tiny chirping mouths; almost always for flexibility – place. This isn’t some vanity project; it’s a life project… A project that’s smattered with crippling doubts, moments of despair at another website crash or a rabid email from a customer who probably just needs a Wotsit and Skip sandwich (on Tesco Value white bread) and a cuppa. It’s a financial lifeline with often very little coming out of it in the first year or so. It’s a future that’s bright, not necessarily orange; it’s a dream of a fully-functioning bathroom or a non-dripping kitchen tap and it’s ultimately another life; your life – a life that enables you to be with your kids despite working longer hours and wondering why your face resembles a limp sock.
Then someone swoops in and plonks another nest right beside yours. The same nest with a slightly tweked logo. It’s easy to do and sometimes it’s not even intentional but having seen two big brands go through it and numerous smaller brands suffer in silence, it’s beyond just ruffling feathers. It’s shitting on someone from the tree tops and actually nicking their twigs in the process.
There will always be room for stonking great ideas, but making them yours is where the fun is; it’s where you find yourself among the familial rubble. And if we must quote Fun House’s host Pat Sharpe, ‘prizes will be won’. Just make sure they’re yours.
There it was: £10,000 on an invoice for someone turning up to an event. That was what a 24-year-old vlogger was paid at the leading women’s magazine I worked at. As someone pedalling away as a journalist for £150 a day, I was split between blinding jealousy and a dogged determination to be one of those ‘vlogging’ people.
Prior to that moment, money was never my focus – I ditched a fruitful career in law to become a junior reporter on Practical Caravan for £18,000 a year. I’m a doer of things (which bizarrely includes writing about tow bars) that make me happy; I’ve never stuck to a job if it isn’t working and I’ve always thrived on ‘the fear’ – those moments when the rug is pulled from under your feet and you’ve got to somehow relocate your foundations among the rubble.
But on that pile of invoices, there was a stark link between time spent with my daughter and money. That was the net gain; If I could get paid £10,000 for approximately two hours of work, that would mean I’d get the rest of the month with my daughter. It became a ratio in my mind; the ratio of vlog to sprog.
And like any mother, anything linked to your child takes on a slightly primal focus.
So here I am talking about money for money. In the name of transparency, this is a paid blog post and without it, I’d be spending less time with my kid. The ratio of vlog to sprog is ever-so-vaguely balanced today.
But with each collaboration, it does matter to me what I’m saying – that it’s firstly clear this is paid for secondly that it is not just a puff piece ending in tightly-tied purse strings.
When GetStocks approached me, I was wary – what is a stock? That exchange thing seems quite foreign to me and my meagre, americano-dented income. Why would I write about it? (Let’s call a spade a spade: The money obviously). But how does it relate to me and why would anyone else care?
I think it’s because I’ve always only made a half-fettered attempt to manage my finances and imagined there might be others out there, too. As long as I was doing stuff with words and there was food on the table – and we had a table, I didn’t care, really. Naively I lived in the moment and my finances were an afterthought – quite the wakeup call when looking into buying a house. I felt like quite the financially inept wazzock as we start considering living in a converted phonebooth.
But with a kid in tow, money starts to become more serious. It’s not just about lurching from bar to burrito. The pennies count; towards lessons in the triangle and towards a future that’s for someone far more important than yourself.
According to the Fidelity Investment report 92% of women want to learn more about financial planning and investment, yet the majority of women hold back when it comes to talking about money. Only 47% of women say they would be confident discussing money and investing with a financial professional on their own.
I’ve never considered investing in anything other than the Zara sale. I assumed that sort of thing was for people in suits furnished with a Rolex and an ability to use words like ‘fiscal policy’ with aplomb. But the reason I am writing about this is because if you are thinking of ditching that 9-5 to be with your kid, then this is a potential revenue stream.
There’s risks that need to be taken at every avenue of the ‘I quit’ decision; but this has become a genuine string to my slightly-less-lacklustre financial bow.
GetStocks is a social platform that not only allows you to see what others are whacking their money into but also shows trading trends. So for example, ‘traders that hold stock A in their portfolio also hold stock B, C and F”, which keeps investors in the loop of what’s happening and offers up new investment ideas that you can literally nick.
It’s basically Facebook for people looking to make a buck or two (million). A seasoned investor might be investing in a dinosaur footprint business – you can then piggyback that investment and potentially cash in.
Having played about with it (initially like I was on a Monopoly Board; but towards the end seriously), I got quite hooked. With a small investment, I was able to make a profit – nothing lifechanging, but certainly enough to make me realise that this app really does make it easy to trade stocks and make mullah.
It might not be enough for a caravan but if I’m with my kid more, I’ll settle for a new tow bar.
Go to www.getstocks.com for more information. This blog post was created in collaboration with GetStocks.
Editor’s note: Events and circumstances mentioned within this post are not current. @mrsmorganallen has since changed her handle to @morgan.e.allen
A woman @mrsmorganallen asked last night on a comment, ‘are you OK? You don’t seem your usual self lately.’ It’s a little strange and somewhat unnerving how it’s possible to pick up vibes through the Internet. I don’t even know what the Internet is made of (wires? Mice pedalling away underground? Mark Zuckerberg clones telepathically working out how intrigued I’d be if an Accutane for Acne sale popped up in a BBC iPlayer ad break.)
But it’s not made of emotions and stuff. For all the weeping emojis and virtual hugs that can be administered, it’s just pixels; it’s technically, not emotionally intelligent.
But Morgan (we’ll throw in her offline human name for good measure) was right. I’m attempting to build a brand on laughing through the madness; on parenting the shit out of life. Perhaps you sell rainbow-hued baby gros (@lilcubs), are pioneering an eco-loving blogging empire (@mamalinauk) or managed to pair up some rogue socks today (@brilliantlyordinary?).
I dance by my dishwasher with the smell of congealed Ketchup in the air in the hope of raising a flicker of a smile to a breastfeeding mum at 3am whose mastitis-addled left boob has packed up and whose undercarriage is an utter, utter shambles.
I started Mother Pukka because I was in a complete maternal pickle back then and just needed a bit of light relief from the parental storm, not a stream of consciousness on the merits of an Aveeno bottle teat.
But I also founded it on honesty. If you squint a little and oversee the irksome posing by brightly-hued walls, the common thread is life in the parental lane. It’s about requests for the blue bowl, then for the green bowl, only to have both bowls batted away in a plum tomato-faced rage, leaving a slurry of sludgy Cheerios slipping off the kitchen table and onto the floor. A floor that has seen it all before.
I am not my usual self – I don’t think any of us are 24-7, 365 days of the year. That would be creepy; like Jim Carey’s character off The Truman Show creepy. Whatever pressure you feel to trudge on and prove yourself, your worth, how Snap Chatty you are – all the while ignoring the fact everyone around you seems to be doing pioneering things for womankind and you’re getting left behind in a dusty, saggy-boobed cloud with the hum of Homes under the Hammer in the background and a mild bout of cystitis – sometimes you’ve got to just stop. For a minute, an hour, an episode of Escape to the Country.
Sometimes it takes a stranger to make you do so.
I won’t beat around this ever-unruly bush, I recently had a miscarriage. In attention-seeking terms – and I must admit to being a glutton at times – it’s no big deal. Shit happens. I’ve spouted enough on the subject and really should heed some of my own very well intentioned – although re-reading it slightly off-the-mark – advice.
We had three unviable pregnancies (as the officials peg it) before having my daughter and I think I just assumed we’d had our run of procreational dysfunction so this time would be different. It’s no different. Like a dodgy prawn in a vindaloo, it’s the same shit, different takeaway.
If anything, it’s magnified now I live with a pint-sized tsunami of a human; a force I love more than myself – a truly surprising revelation. The physicality of what’s been lost is far starker with my daughter nonsensically chirping on about seeing Aunty Daz (Kaz – no idea where Daz came from) and why she likes parrots (not penguins) at the kitchen table.
But my point is not to bewail my petulant womb and unburden the weight of losing a child. It’s more to say that I should have stopped the all-singing, all-dancing, emoji-embellished digital show when I was bleeding so heavily I needed to double-up on the Always Ultra.
Whether sleepless night-induced pneumatic eye twitches or a creeping emotional darkness, it’s not just about putting your phone down and digitally switching off; it’s more than that. It’s about giving yourself a break before you actually break. It’s about being honest and accepting that bag of digital Wotsits (or pickled onion Monster Munch if you’re Molly Gunn, founder of Selfish Mother) when offered up.
The Internet is a strange beast – it’s not somewhere I’d seek solace when the chips are down. It’s somewhere that I’ll share words but refrain from sharing too many moments for fear of actually missing the moment. But I do feel increasingly that Instagram has more heart than any other bit of the Internet.
It’s a place where @mrsmorganallen actually becomes Morgan.
I grew up in the 80s when anything graffitied was for ‘hooligans’ and tattoos equaled ‘trouble’. But having moved to East London recently with my husband, Matt and daughter, Mae, I’m delighted to say we live among graffitied walls, are friends with the tattooed and we are neither hooligans nor particular trouble – we gloss over the shop lifting of a fizzy cola bottle when I was nine.
So to come across a stroller that’s not judgmental equalled happy days. The Bugaboo by Diesel Rock collection is for parents whose identity hasn’t dissolved the minute project procreation launched. If you liked whiling away the early hours to a grungy band in a London sweat pit before you had your kid, the chances are that hasn’t changed.
Translate that to your kid’s stroller and you’ve got the idea. Everything from the wax-coated fabric of this special edition Bugaboo Bee3 to the studs on the canopy and ‘Only the Brave’ patches is pure rock ‘n’ stroll.
This content was created in association with Bugaboo. Go to Bugaboo.com for more information.
So I’m going to preface this with: I think we can (mostly) be trusted to not get blotto and start swinging our under crackers about while in charge of small humans. But a little nip of something here and there to take the edge off a tantrum-filled day is certainly not something to be frowned upon.
My motto is (other than not to get totally blotto): there’s room at the inn for all. We’re so beyond the breastfeeding/ bottle feeding blather… Who cares if you’re into cupcakes, beefcakes (check out Lucky Blue Smith… he’s 19 but happy days) or hashcakes? I truly believe there’s something of a collective sigh of relief going on in maternal ranks.
Ah, OK, I can love kale, eat deep fried Mars Bars, go to the gym, drink gin, laugh at myself or analyse my every move – dressed in Topshop dungarees or a pair of trakkie b’s from an Outward Bound course in 1996.
It really is OK to do what the frick you want. As long as the ratio of tears to laughter is balanced, you’ve/ we’ve got this. So it’s time to bring alcohol into the mojito mix; it’s time to discuss how happy that hour really can be. I have and will continue to be a firm advocate of booze. Certainly not in a white-lightning-in-a-paper-bag way; I eschew shots of After Shock for gently sipping a fruity little £7 number from the corner shop.
But I’m less shy about having a pint in a beer garden on a sunny day as Mae merrily plays with daisies. I had a fair bit of criticism early doors on this blog/ slog. One of my Mum’s best mates emailed me to say she loved what I was doing “but please stop advocating drinking around children.”
I posted about The Florence – a Herne Hill pub that has a dedicated soft play area. I didn’t build that spectacular fortress of parental dreams; but I’m sure as hell gonna broadcast that glorious message.
Cue Balans Soho Society in Shepherd’s Bush Westfield – one of the first restaurants to introduce a mama and kid mocktail and cocktail menu – aptly named Tipples & Tickles. Before I dribble on, this isn’t an ad or paid for post. I used to live near this spot and stumbled across the menu on a rainy day when mascara had sludged into my eyeball and Mae decided she needed apple juice with a straw to ensure life as we know it continued.
These guys have it nailed: ‘Mummy’s pick-me-up’ cocktail in an achingly hipster bottle is a gin-infused triumph, while the ‘Cheeky Little Monkey’ cocktail is glorified apple juice but ‘grown-up’ packaging alone ensured it was glugged in one fell swoop.
The food is miniature versions of the adult stuff. None of this fish fingers, chips and peas (although I won’t hear a bad word against that culinary stalwart), but in it’s place pitta bread and kid-friendly mezze (no spices or rogue ‘bits’) and anything else you think your spawn could palate. Perhaps the tuna steak and bok choi is a wish too far for the toddler crew.
And the waiters were on it. One guy said to Mae, “do you want to see Mickey Mouse?” My heart dropped – never over-promise a wide-eyed toddler ANYTHING Disney-related. But lo and behold he emerged 2 minutes later with two beer trays as ears spouting Mickey Mouse chat. Mae was ENTHRALLED.
More than anything, I’m mentioning this because it was a Wednesday at 1.15pm and perhaps a questionable moment to get on it with a 2-year-old. But it really was one tipple. We both said ‘cheers’ (no one batted an eyelid) and had a totally relaxed, ace time. The restaurant manager did ask at the end why I kept calling my daughter ‘mate’, though. (She misheard ‘Mae’). Now, that would have been a step too far.
Another place I have recently unearthed as parent-friendly is Godiva… the second floor of Harrods might seem an unlikely spot for some mama-daughter (read: E-colour-fuelled toddler) time, but these guys have it down pat. The Godiva Chocolate Café is a veritable cocoa haven – replete with every possible dessert you could wish for. The winner here is the chocolate crepe… Unlike any Nutella-toting pancake vendor, this is top notch nosh that might not win any kiddie nutritional awards but is absolutely spot on for pepping up that 3pm slump/ need for a quick sugar high. Oh and even when Mae went into turbo meltdown there was none of that ‘get the fun sponge out of here’ stuff. In all sense of the words, this is chocolate heaven.
I won’t beat around the unruly bush: I’m in this for the money. Blogging, vlogging, flogging is a bizarre, sludge grey arena of sponsored posts and lurking brand promotion that’s slipping through the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority)’s sweaty fingers – it’s murky fiscal waters out there.
One post of a polka dot teapot and pastel-hued cupcake can raise a sweet smile initially until you wonder if those paisley Laura Ashley tea towels really were just casually draped on the counter. That puts doubt in your mind as to how much the Gramee actually likes paisley. Or tea towels. More importantly, you ask, how much mullah was racked up for simply whacking some stuff on a counter?
Essentially it ruins your ‘user journey’. You feel used. You might even post a passive aggressive comment about paisley – embellished with an equally nonchalant passive aggressive emoji.
There’s something undeniably brilliant about actual humans (and not turbo A-list folk) being the clotheshorses of the 21st century. The likes of girl-next-door vlogger Zoella has 7.2 million Instagram followers – Cameron Diaz has a measly 2.9 million. And let’s also hear it for the slightly bumbling, non-media trained folk with something to say, extraordinarily wonky eyeliner and an eye twitch. (That’s my target arena… I’d hedge my bets vloggers Natasha Bailie and Grace Timothy from Mum Face are with me.)
But still it looms… How much did you get paid for that post? Much like magazines are forced to strap ‘promotion’ on any advertorials (although the line is getting murkier and murkier), posts that have been sponsored need to have the ‘AD’ or ‘sponsored’ tag on there. It’s non-negotiable and the collective eyes of the ASA are no doubt twitching at anyone who doesn’t. But how on earth do you police a 300 million-strong Instagramming community? There’s buff surfer dudes/ boys – fruitful 3am baby-won’t-sleep-fodder – casually reclining on RipCurl boards, while fashion bloggers pap a coffee with a Chanel espadrille casually lurking beneath.
I’ve worked as a writer on advertorials and on editorial. As a reporter on Horticulture Week, I was like a labrador to a vat of Pedigree Chum (non-sponsored plug for the record) when it came to bagging a hard-hitting news story on slug pellets. No ruddy-faced farmer with a grudge against Michael Heseltine – he owned the publishing house I worked at – would scupper that scoop. It was the purest, most naturally flourishing content I’ve ever churned out.
The landscape over on advertorials is entirely contrasting – sure words are of the essence in both, but it’s like comparing an episode of The Wire to Care Bears The Movie – the latter is undeniably fluffy and light; In short one sells the other doesn’t.
At times I’d want to read the selling because I’d been pulled in like a magpie to a neon pom pom or something equally fanciful but it was about choice. I knew I was being sold to. The key is clarity.
It has to be obvious to Instagram followers what content has been paid for (i.e. shoe-horned into a vaguely workable post) and what’s come from the heart/ whatever body part isn’t too knackered to have an opinion or ready to be papped.
I posted about Rimmel the other day – it wasn’t a paid post but I genuinely love the eyeliner. There was an assumption by a couple of followers that I’d been paid for it and hadn’t declared the sordid exchange. It made me sad (as sad as talking about eyeliner can make you) that a really handy, accessible £4.95 eyeliner wasn’t going to be seen as a genuine tip. Essentially it says that followers, who are simply readers seeking genuine content can’t sort the wheat from the sponsored chaff.
In the name of transparency, I don’t – and won’t – take payment from small start-up mama-run brands. (Don’t worry I’ve wrangled with a few when money was literally dropping from my pockets into the Mother Pukka ether and I wondered where my next meal/ bag of Haribo was coming from). But I want to make it clear to start-up businesses that we’re here to support and champion. That doesn’t mean we open the floodgates to everyone and anyone; offering up a veritable Instagram boot sale of goods. But we’re here, so drop us a line and like any blind date, let’s see if it’s a cheeky fumble outside the pub or a full-on Mills & Boon affair.
Anything else will have ‘AD’ strapped onto it; please don’t hate the AD. To keep churning out bat shit crazy vlogs of us prancing about in our kitchen with the smell of congealed Ketchup in the air, that AD is the yin to my organic content’s yang. It’s like the adverts for a Stana Stairlift in The Sunday Times – you can easily gloss over it – or ponder it wholeheartedly in a post roast fug.
Y’see, this is not some whopping great vanity project, either. Pummelling out words into the Internet ether can be one of the most soul-destroying exercises. It took me 67,589 words and £8,450 of investment to get any significant traction on Mother Pukka. That was 365 days of graft to no return; a heart-on-sleeve post about miscarriage would garner 3 likes, while a photo of a guinea pig dressed as a jacket potato would go viral elsewhere.
So after a year of hair loss and a stress sniff (I sniff repeatedly until someone on the Tube makes it clear it’s really very annoying), my feeling is the AD isn’t all bad when it’s clearly labelled and there’s not an undercurrent of gifted Chanel espadrilles lurking under the marbled tables of the avocado toast-scoffing Instagram elite.
It’s just essential not to beat around that bush – however unruly she may be.
I love working (I need to work). I love parenting (I need to parent). The two HAVE to work together. If studies f – 54,000 mothers feel pushed to leave employment every year – from pregnantthenscrewed.com are to be believed and the swathes of women (who happen to be mothers) being forced out of jobs are not to be ignored, we’ve hit breaking point. It’s packaged differently, sure, but in terms of women shattering that glass ceiling, we’re not as far away from Emmeline Pankhurst’s bra-burning days as she would no doubt have hoped.
But Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart MBE, founders of Timewise – a business focused on unlocking the jobs market for the millions of people seeking flexible work – are grabbing the workplace by the balls. Here we speak to Karen about businesses making it work.
You are GREAT. What you are doing is GREAT. Fill everyone in on how you are pioneering a new way of working…
I’m the joint CEO of Timewise, a business completely focused on unlocking the jobs market for the millions of people in the UK who want and need to work flexibly or part time. At the moment, although half of us work flexibly, we can get trapped in these jobs because when we look for a new one, only 1 in 10 quality vacancies are advertised in this way.
We have a job site www.timewisejobs.co.uk, which only promotes vacancies that are part time or flexible, and we support women who need extra help getting into work through our social business Women Like Us.
Emma – my co-founder – and I launched our businesses after coming up the against the same brick wall ourselves as candidates. The only jobs we could find that were openly advertised as part time, were low skilled, low paid and few and far between. We are working hard on building a better marketplace for the brilliant people out there who need such jobs. We now have an incredible 80,000 people on our books looking for part time work. Many, though by no means all are women looking for good quality jobs – and careers no less – to fit with family.
We are also campaigning to change the market and this week we have launched our most ambitious campaign to date: Hire Me My Way (www.hirememyway.org.uk).
Hire Me My Way calls for the opening of 1 million good quality part time and flexible jobs to part time and flexible working options – by 2020. To give you an idea of the scale of our ambition, this involves trebling the current ratio of such jobs in the market.
It’s all about trying to create a fairer, more transparent and more up-to-date jobs market for everyone. And we need all the help we can get… so if you like what we are trying to do then please help us by signing up and backing the campaign. If you are looking for a job right now you can also get some really good practical help on how to get a part time job in this difficult market. Because we know that you can’t just wait for things to get better!
What’s your work schedule like?
I work 4 days a week, and have always worked flexibly since having the first of my three sons 18 years ago. I have done every type of flexible working – school hours, 3 days, some from home etc. Now I have settled on a routine that feels like it works for me and for the business. I usually I typically work from home on a Wednesday, and take Fridays off. Emma, my co-CEO works a similar pattern. We have around 30 employees and many of them work part time and flexibly too, for a whole variety of reasons.
Do you have this elusive balance?
I think the concept of Work Life Balance is a bit of a funny thing… sometimes you think you have it, then it slips between your fingers. Sometimes the business needs more, sometimes the kids do… but I try and see it across the year or the month or the week rather than judge it too much day by day. I hope that when it really matters I can prioritise the right things.
So when my first son did his GCSE’s I wanted to take him to his exams so I planned ahead and organised my schedule around it. This week when we are launching this big campaign the kids know why and they know why I’m out more. But I promised to get home and watch Britain’s Got Talent every night this week with my 9 year old, which is important to him! I have found the whole thing easier as the kids have got older as I can talk to them about the week, about what’s going on for them and what’s going on for me.
Tell us one of your darkest moments balancing work and parenting…
More than 10 years ago before I set up Timewise I was doing some consultancy for another business and working from home. I was much less confident then than I am now about being boundaried and clear about what I can do and when. I was working for a client and they called me on my ‘non-working day’. Instead of just asking (as I would now) if what they needed could wait until the morning, I locked the study door with my young son on the other side. He didn’t understand what was going on and was banging on the door. I was too embarrassed to say what was happening. I thought there must be a better way and a way for us to be open about the tightrope we all walk… and I found it when I launched Timewise to have a more honest and open conversation about flexible work.
What’s your opinion on current flexible working in the UK?
At the moment I think there is a big block is on the career progression of flexible workers in the UK. So you are more likely to find flexibility you need in an existing role and the legislation supports. The problem comes when you want to move jobs… Yet for many of us, the flexibility we have (working from home or working part time) is as important as our salary in making life work. BUT it is hard to know how to talk about this with a new manager or employer. That is what people get trapped in low paid part time and flexible work. In some research Timewise did a couple of years ago 77% of people who worked flexibly said they felt trapped. They wanted to progress – whether in the same company or a new job – but were hitting a wall. THAT’s why I’m completely focused now on opening up the flexible jobs market through the Hire Me My Way campaign – and that’s why I need your support. Join the campaign here: www.HireMeMyWay.org.uk.
What’s your biggest tip/s for other mothers trying to make it work?
When I had my kids there was no right to return to work flexibly so that has changed and that’s great. But far too many people are finding they return to ‘part time’ jobs that actually still have full time requirements – because the role hasn’t been redesigned and the goalposts have stayed the same. IF you are returning to a job you did before and you want to go back for less days, I recommend you are proactive and begin an honest and open conversation with yourself and your manager about how this is going to work. Too many people accept the part time role without discussing how the role needs to be redesigned. And that’s setting everyone up to fail. IF it was a busy full job in 5 days, then you won’t be able to do it all in 3 days so take the time to redesign it with the business… don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best
And the other tip is not to try and be a superhero. You can’t do it all and there are some things that your kids really want you to do for them and others that it doesn’t matter if others do or if they slip a bit. Work out what is important and just do your best. One friend once said to me that it is enough to progress stuff on the personal to do list…. you don’t need to finish it! I used to worry that my kids didn’t seem to be doing all these activities and classes every after school – they just played football. Then I relaxed a bit and remembered that after school when I was young I just ate crisps and watched tv – and things worked out OK in the end.