My card got declined in Tesco Metro yesterday. I’m not sure what was more traumatic: the 17-year-old youth informing me with faux sympathy that I’m out of dosh or the abundance of people behind me collectively wondering if I should be in charge of a small human.
Either way, I was out of mullah and my cheese and pickle sarnie was put back onto the shelf of financial dreams. Mae was fine; I had a lukewarm Babybel in my back pocket.
But as I salivated, watching a lovely lady eating a rosemary-infused focaccia with fresh tomato soup outside Pret, I wondered how the coffers could have come to this; how had I adulted so badly that we were on a street corner (not in the bad sense) with nothing but a globule of processed cheese to our heavily-branded Pukka name.
I’ll say at this point, I realise we are, of course incredibly lucky. This isn’t meant to bemoan our fortunate position of having bricks, mortar and a small potato patch at the bottom of the garden (it makes me happier than any human can). This is no poor little rich girl blather.
It’s more that the pixels (Facebook, Instagram – whatever your social comrade of choice) can offer up a distorted reality. For all the girl power, mum bossing and dancing girl emojis, the one thing that’s not being talked about in this caring, sharing forum is money. Cold, hard cash.
And I get it. I didn’t want to discuss the bottom line. It’s ingrained in the grey matter that money is a personal thing (much like our age – Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette would be distressed for me to reveal I am a sprightly 35 with a face that hints at ‘had a good time in the 90s’.)
But when the personal becomes your lifeline – I make a dime sharing my often droopy nork-related chat on the Internet – then it feels like transparency needs to step up to the plate. One can’t be wafting about in Louis Vuitton (I lie; they won’t let me in) one minute and be slobbering over a stranger’s focaccia without a penny to your name the next.
While I love Mother Pukka with an intensity akin to Bouncer and Mrs Mangle’s relationship in Neighbours and am properly chuffed seeing everyone building their businesses one Instagram post at a time, for me, that achievement isn’t always monetary. The number of followers you have doesn’t correlate to cash-in-hand.
To make it alone as a blogger/vlogger/flogger/mum boss (or mum-don’t-give-a-toss) takes the energy of a Red Bulled-up-to-the eyeballs cheerleader with the gusto of a starved mosquito. I did some vague maths the other day and I’ve spent £10,453 on keeping Mother Pukka going over the last 18 months. That’s, like, a really good pony with all the equine trimmings and Zara Philips as your personal stable girl.
I’ve earned £27,678 so far. A light bit of maths and that’s first jobber-worthy.
I’ve seen parents setting up businesses – kid’s clothes, teething necklaces, consultancies, achingly cool nappy bags and even a brilliant sock puppet company – working harder than they ever did in the 9-5. The minute their brood is snoozing and has been read the fast-track (skipping out the fox and snake) Gruffalo, they’re straight onto the Gmail of doom – like a knackered rat out of an aqueduct.
You’re wide-eyed and staring at a list of things to do – most of which won’t translate to paying the mortgage because to have something to sell you must ‘build the brand’. Build and they will come! But stacking up those Instagram bricks takes graft; it involves hair loss, eye twitches, marital discord, peaks, troughs, wearing the same Petit Filou-stained jumper three days in a row because you need to build instead of wash.
The reason I fight like a rabid dog to a bone for flexible working is because setting up your own business (the seemingly obvious and wondrous alternative) is not parental mecca. It’s brilliant in so many ways – mainly control over when you eat a Hula Hoop multipack in one sitting; not office behaviour – but it’s certainly not the easy way out.
There is no easy way out.
When you’re the boss, there’s no stationery cupboard and when your computer crashes there’s no Bob in IT to allay your overwhelming fears that you’ve broken the Internet – in a non-brand building way.
But we are fuelled by a primitive maternal instinct that this will not fail. It can’t. I am a mother and I have mouths to feed. I am a mother and I need to work around my family. I am a mother and I need to show my children that women can make shit happen too. I am a mother and I want you, Squidge, to be proud of me.
There’s an undeniable pride in ‘going it alone’. But for all the brilliance of building something yourself, there’s a period of two to three years (perhaps more) where you might be rifling around in that Asda bargain bin preying for a 12p Hovis loaf. Success certainly doesn’t come overnight, regardless of how it seems through the pixels.
And in sharing my life, transparency is part of the construction process.
If you love your job, fight for it. Make it work for you – push the flexible working boundaries. Be the one who brings the government’s Working Forward pledge to your HR director and pave the way for other women in your company to continue on their chosen career path.
If you choose to stay at home with your kids, don’t feel the pressure to set something up because everyone else on the Internet seems to be doing so; own motherhood, it’s a choice I would give my last Curly Wurly for. The stay-at-home versus work-away debate is as dated as Simon Cowell’s elasticated waistline.
And if you’re thinking of setting something up, know that for all the dancing lady emoji joy it brings, you will go through a significant period of time when your hair falls out a bit and when, starving in central London, you try to buy a cheese and pickle sarnie and your card – and pride – gets declined.
We are currently compiling all flexible working research we have gathered over the last few months to create one blog post that helps you navigate where things stand. This post will be a clear overview of how you can push for flexible working and the official bodies that can support you in doing so. Thanks for being flexible with us.
Photo: Miles Aldridge