Muddling Through Motherhood

Women at work: lawyer

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Continuing my series on women going back to work after having a baby, this week we meet an ambitious lawyer who is refreshingly honest about wanting to get back to work and showing a strong work ethic to her son.

 

How did you get into law?

From a young age, my dad always told me he thought “law was a good job” and I basically followed his advice (and am thankful for it). I took the traditional route of studying law at university, then onto law school for a year followed by a two-year training contract with a law firm, before eventually then qualifying as a lawyer (which I have now been for almost 13 years).

Briefly, describe a typical day at work…

No day is ever the same – which is one of the many things I love about my job. However, typically it might look like this: Early morning tends to see some form of management meeting (maybe a Business Development meeting, firm strategy meeting or a Graduate Recruitment issue – I am also the firm’s Training Principal and Graduate Recruitment Partner). Then it’s client work, which can be anything from meetings, calls, document reviews, drafting, court applications and hearings. I am a private client lawyer and specialise in a mixture of contentious and non-contentious trusts and estates work. Lunch might be a training session or another internal meeting – or it might actually be lunch! The afternoon will be back on client work, which will see me through to the early evening and then it’s either home or it might be a networking event.

What is the best part of your job?

I absolutely love the variety of my work and the fact that I am challenged every day. I knew early on that dealing with pure transactional work was not for me, but working in a large corporate city firm means I am very fortunate with the type of clients I have. By way of example, I can be looking at succession planning for high-net-worth individuals who might hold large companies or landed estates, negotiating deals with national heritage bodies to save estates for the nation or I might be dealing with applications being brought against trustees of multi-million-pound trusts. I also feel very fortunate to work with some of the brightest lawyers and barristers and not just in the UK.

And the worst?

The hours are long and clients’ expectations are high – but then so they should be, as ultimately I work in a client-service industry. As a partner, there are also a lot of demands on you that come from other areas, such as the need to build your practice. This involves not just doing the work on your desk, but going out searching for the work too and investing time in other areas for the firm’s growth – in my case Graduate Recruitment and the development of our trainees. Juggling the demands of a busy career and making time for the important role of business development, and ensuring we recruit and retain the best talent does have its challenges and very often I feel there are not enough hours in the day!

How many children do you have?

I have one delightful little boy who is almost 21 months old.

How old was your child when you went back to work?

My son was 10 months old. I started my maternity leave three days before he arrived (which wasn’t planned, although in fairness I hadn’t left myself much time as was aiming for a week of feet up on the sofa before he arrived). Part of the reason in leaving it to the last minute was because I had decided early on to take 10 months and return to work full time, so I wanted to make sure I used all of my maternity leave with him.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?

The honest answer is that I was actually rather desperate to get back to work. To some, this might sound horrific, but that does not mean that I didn’t find it hard leaving my son, nor do I find it easy that I don’t see him as much as I did. But I have got my own identity back and I also truly believe that it is important for my son to see me working and understand the importance of a strong work ethic.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?

I went back to exactly the same job and never considered doing anything but this.

Who provides childcare for you?

We have a nanny for three days a week and our son attends nursery two days a week. I work from home on one of the nursery days so I can do the pickup and I sometimes leave the office before 5pm on a nanny day so I can do bedtime. This allows me to see my son one or two nights during the working week and my hugely-supportive husband is responsible for all the other days in terms of getting home on time to do pick up/relieve the nanny.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?

I was in a very fortunate position, as being a partner I am ultimately responsible for my own practice. Of course, going back full time meant little was changing, but I was able to make the decision about working from home and if I want to leave early I just do – but if I do I am then in the study after bedtime logging on and catching up on emails for a couple of hours.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?

I still have the same career aspirations I always had and, in that regard, my career has stayed very important to me, but I do work more efficiently now and I do say no to things. I can’t go to every drinks evening (and lawyers do find themselves at a lot of these!) and I have to think carefully about travel that takes me away from home for a few days as I have other responsibilities now. However, I believe in balance and sometimes there is something in the work calendar that is very important and I have to prioritise this, and other times I cancel things to make sure I see my son.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?

Make the most of the time, as it goes so quickly. Try to get out and about as much as you can. Meet new mums and make an effort. Maternity leave can be lonely and you need to have at least one person that you can be open and honest with and call on for a coffee. I would also say don’t feel guilty if you pine for the office (or equivalent). Having a baby and how that changes your life is very personal to you – my own view is that I don’t believe motherhood defines you. It certainly adds a new layer to you and brings a new element to your life that brings so much joy. But for some (and I absolutely accept it’s not for everyone) being a working mum can make you a better mum and don’t be afraid of accepting that if you fall into that category as I certainly did. If you miss work while you are on maternity leave then do whatever you can to keep in touch. Take the baby into the office, log in and check the odd email – do whatever keeps you sane! Quite frankly, maternity leave can be really hard work and yes there is coffee and cake (and sure I miss this now and again) but it’s not a breeze by any stretch.

 

 

 

Me and my fussy eater: a daily battle I’m never going to win

Photo by Providence Doucet on Unsplash

 

I’ve never understood fussy eaters – whether child or adult. I absolutely love food, as my waistline has started to reveal now that I’m in my 30s and have birthed a small person. There aren’t many foods that I won’t at least try and I am one of those sad people who looks forward to every meal. I think that this is due to my own mother’s amazing culinary skills and the fact that she was (and still is) a ‘feeder’ and shows love by politely forcing food on anyone who comes to her house. Today, it was home-made chocolate brownies – typically I am on a health kick (see above comment about expanding waistline) so had to sit and watch Grump eat one… smug skinny bastard.

Whenever I’ve seen people being fussy with their food, I’ve always silently judged them. So when I thought about feeding my own children, I knew that, of course, they wouldn’t be fussy at all and would follow in their mother’s (and father’s) footsteps by loving food. How wrong I was!

I should have cottoned on that the J would be a fussy eater from the start when she was a difficult feeder. As a smallish baby at 6lb 13oz, she was always on the lower end of the percentiles and, while I was breastfeeding, I was constantly worried that she wasn’t having enough milk. After four months of stress and pain, she started refusing the breast and seemed much more content on formula. When we moved onto purees and finger foods she seemed to be doing ok and I felt like I was on the right lines. As you do with parenthood, I thought I had it sussed and then everything changed.

It’s only a phase

Since starting our weaning journey, the J has thwarted me at every turn. Here are some of her food-fad phases, past and present:

► After enjoying my home-made pureed vegetables and fruit, I moved on to proper meals and the J decided that she hated my cooking and would only eat shop-bought pouches; this lasted for a good six months. I kept on trying her with my cooking and ended up throwing away so much rejected food and then felt like a terrible parent for giving up and using pouches.

► The J’s appetite can sometimes be almost non-existent. In the past, when I tried to encourage her to eat and she didn’t want to she started throwing her plate on the floor. A low point was at a BBQ at my parents’ house when she threw a bowl of pasta in tomato sauce and it landed on my chest. I don’t know if it was pure shock or anger, but I sat completely still caked in tomato sauce. After about 30 seconds, I got up and calmly walked away. Thankfully I was not wearing a white dress and my Mum is a similar clothes size to me. After that we bought those special plates that have suckers on the bottom – luckily that phase didn’t last too long and I soon learned not to push her if she’d had enough.

► She constantly changes her tastes. She loves blueberries one day and will consume almost a whole punnet, but a few days later she hates blueberries and won’t eat a single one. So frustrating.

► She won’t eat anything with a sauce. I spent hours making different sauces for her to try, but she still likes plain couscous and pasta. She also went through a phase of only eating one or two things, such as peas and sweetcorn or Thomas the Tank Engine tinned pasta.

► She often refuses to eat her own food, but will eat exactly the same thing from my plate. This means I have to eat dinner with a child on my lap and with one hand. She also drops a lot of food on me and the floor. She also picks up our cutlery and waves it around with gay abandon. The other day, she almost took Grump’s eye out with a knife. I’ve been forked in the face more times that I can remember.

► Recently, she started refusing to sit in a high chair. So off we went to Bluewater and got her a booster seat. She sat in this happily for a few weeks and then decided the grown-ups’ bench looked more fun. A bench is the devil’s work, as there’s no back support and she can easily stand up, climb on and off it, and up onto the table, fall back and generally cause us stress at mealtimes. However, at the childminder and the grandparents’ houses, she sits in a high chair…

Live and learn (or not)

My life lesson learned is that you cannot control whether or not your child is a fussy eater. I followed all of the advice re offering vegetable purees first and then fruit so they don’t get a sweet tooth (the J asked for a mini-milk for breakfast the other day… sigh). I tried her with a range of different flavours and tastes from a young age, and have done my best to cook her a range of nutritious and healthy meals, most of which have been hoovered up by myself or Grump or have gone in the bin. You might be reading this and thinking that maybe I am a terrible cook, but my husband and friends tell me otherwise, so I’m not taking the blame for this one.

Some children are fussy and some are not. If you have a non-fussy eater then lucky you. I will continue to cook for the J and try different recipes, but sometimes it will be a chicken nuggets and baked beans dinner with a fruit corner for pudding and I can live with that. (Oh and sorry for judging fussy eaters… but seriously what is wrong with you? Food is the best.)

Second-best blues: how it feels to be the least favourite parent

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I was inspired to write this post after the J had a crying fit because she didn’t want Mummy to put her to bed. She only wanted Daddy. And I have to say, it hurt my feelings (I may have the beginnings of PMT today, but I still feel this is a justified response).

We as Mothers don’t often have to play second-best with our children. In the traditional family model, it was the Mum who primarily looked after the kids (and so got to be the favourite) – it was certainly like that when I was growing up. These days things are very different and have certainly changed for the better in terms of shared parental duties etc. I always wanted Grump and I to have equal responsibility for the J and he is a very ‘hands on’ dad (I don’t like this phrase, as it implies that being ‘hands on’ is extra special and not just part of his job as a father, but you get my gist).

As Grump is a teacher, he has more time off than the average father to spend with our daughter. This works well for me, especially with freelancing, as it means I can take on more work in the school holidays, with free childcare to boot!

However, I have noticed that during those times when I am working more and Grump is in charge, the J goes off me. She constantly asks for Daddy, runs to him for cuddles and just seems disinterested in me.

She did this once before at around age 1. I vividly remember being at a friend’s son’s 1st birthday party that had a children’s entertainer. All the Mums were sat on the floor with the children, singing and joining in and the dads were stood at the side chatting. I tried to sit with the J, but she wasn’t having any of it. She wanted Daddy. And so I took on the role of a spectator with the other Dads and felt really left out. It hurts when you are not wanted. Granted it was nice to have a break and scoff down some party food, but I was embarrassed when every time I tried to pick up or cuddle my child she cried. I had spoken to a friend about this problem beforehand and she came up to me after the party and said that she had no idea how bad it was. Of course, over time things got better. Grump went back to work and Mummy was favourite again. But that party always sticks in my mind. I wonder if this is how many Dads feel on a regular basis?

As she has got older (now almost 17 months), the J has become more confident and now has close relationships with Grandma, Granny and her childminder. She is happy to be left with them, as well as myself and Grump. As her affections are split between more people, she tends to be happy with whoever is happy to play with, feed or cuddle her.

Over the last week or so, Grump has broken up on school holidays and he has become the firm favourite. I think this might also have something to do with the fact that he gives her more treats (fruit juice from his glass, chocolate etc), whereas I am perhaps a bit more strict (water only!!).

Tonight, it was me who spent 20 minutes singing songs with her, throwing balls down the hall way, and getting splashed during bath time. When we tried to get her ready for bed she kept running off and wouldn’t get dressed. Grump was unsuccessful at getting on her PJs and he admitted to me that it had taken him half an hour to get her dressed this morning. I decided to show him what I normally do, which involves firmly holding her down and putting clothes on her.

She cried a little, but nothing major and then Grump put his arms out for a cuddle and said “Horrible mummy”. Now I know he was joking, but the J is taking everything in at the moment and understands a lot. She looked at me with a heartbreaking stare as if to say, “I don’t like you”. Then she wouldn’t come to me for a cuddle. I had to tell Grump to leave the room and force a crying child to be cuddled until she had her milk and settled down. Not fun at all.

The only way I can describe that feeling is when you were younger and you fancied/had a massive crush on a boy, and you found out that they didn’t like you back. That sad sinking feeling. Your affections are not returned.

But when you’ve carried a baby for 9 months and gone through labour, you expect to get the best cuddles and kisses from your child – not Daddy who didn’t go through any pain (apart from a squashed hand). It’s not fair.

Now I’m sitting on the sofa, feeling put out. The answer…?

There isn’t one, except the knowledge that at some point the tables will turn and I will be her favourite again. Although it makes me sad to think that Grump will feel like this at some point, or has done in the past. Being number two just isn’t fun. A big shout out to all the Dads or Mums out there who know how I feel. But when they do run to you for a cuddle or desperately call you name, that feeling is so amazing and special that it makes all the other tough times worthwhile.

 

Women at Work: copywriter and author

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This week we have an experienced mum with three kids at school. She currently works from home and has done a few different jobs throughout her career before sticking at, what sounds like, her passion.

 

Name: Nicola Young

Current profession: copywriter and author

Town or county you live in: Sevenoaks

How did you get into copywriting?
I’ve been writing copy since I started my first job following university. I worked for the Food Standards Agency and wrote articles for trade magazines, text for leaflets, speeches and q&a’s for parliamentary question time, and answered enquiry emails. Every job I had after that always saw me gravitating towards anything involving the written word, so moving into copywriting was a natural step for me.

Briefly describe a typical day at work…
I work from home so there is no typical day for me. I have an office in the garden, so once the kids have gone to school and I’ve walked the dog, I’ll make myself a strong coffee and take myself down there for a few hours. What I do depends on what I’m working on, but generally, I do a lot of business blog articles, product copy and website pages. If I get time, I’ll do some editing, writing or planning for my fiction work.

What is the best part of your job?
I like the flexibility of what I do. I can go from meeting mode to mum mode within five minutes and back again. That’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

And the worst?
Some of the things I have to write about aren’t of any interest to me, but it’s the nature of the job. I also find that some people aren’t prepared to pay very much and don’t appreciate how much research you have to do before you even begin to write the words.

How many children do you have?
I have three children – 13, 10 and eight.

How old was your child when you went back to work?
I first worked part-time when my eldest daughter was just a few months old. I trained as an exercise-to-music instructor when I was pregnant! And ran a few classes in a local hall.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?
It was hard because she didn’t particularly like being left with anyone else, but at the same time, I enjoyed those few hours of free time.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?
This was a complete move away from the market research job I had pre-children. I didn’t start freelance copywriting until I’d had my third child.

Who provides childcare for you?
I don’t need childcare because they are all at school now.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?
My children are my priority and the older they get, the more they need me around for support. I would always make sure I work around them.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?
If you think you might like to continue with your current career, I would advise you to keep your toe in the water. The longer you are away, the more difficult it is to get back into work mode. On the other side of things, don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, if that’s what you think you might like to do. Having time off is the ideal opportunity to think about where you see your future career going.

Nicola Young is a freelance copywriter at Nicola Young Copywriter.

She writes children’s fiction under the name Nikki Young and runs a food and health blog at www.afreefromlife.com