Sunday, 31 January 2016
Single Plus Baggage… Plus Job!
One thing that still gives me the odd sleepless night is worrying about my future financial security (see The Fear). I know that as a fairly bright and resourceful woman with more qualifications than stretch marks (and believe me I have some spectacular stretch marks!) I could find myself gainful employment if I put my mind to it. However, there are complications…
Twelve years ago I stopped work as a lecturer to bring up my kids. I had a great job, good salary and was well respected among my colleagues. However the six-day weeks and long days weren’t conducive to raising a family. My husband, at the time, and I preferred the idea of me being at home with the children to employing a nanny so I took the plunge. Bye-bye commuter trains, hello Thomas The Tank Engine.
Fast forward through the baby, toddler and pre-school years and I find myself now with two primary school age children. Somewhat unexpectedly I also have a soon-to-be ex-husband so it’s time to go back to work. A few years earlier than planned but apparently things change and I have to roll with the punches!
But I can’t really see myself going back to my old job. Imagine my letter of application…
I think it’s unlikely I’d hear from them ever again let alone in the near future!
But I’m not one to throw my hands up into the air in defeat. Oh no! Instead I find myself starting again with work too. I’m going self-employed, trying to build up a business to support me in the future. It’s flexible enough for me to be able to fit it in around school and I can still work some Saturdays when the kids are with their Dad. Plus I’m fortunate to be working alongside the most wonderful team of people!
Don’t be fooled into thinking I have this all sorted. Far from it! I still spend much more of my day working out logistics than actually working. And I spend a lot of my time running from house to car to school to car to client to car to Sainsbury’s to car and so on. And there’s still rearranging to do when childcare falls through at the last minute, the kids are unwell or there’s some other school emergency to deal with. And I’m not really making much money yet. But other than that it’s all going swimmingly well!
When it comes to getting back to work, we’ve got to start somewhere. The question is…where?
So, here are my top 10 pointers for anyone, single or married, thinking about going back to work whilst still trying to do their best by their kids:
1. Look Forward Not Backward
Don’t waste your energy longing for the old days with the job, salary and reputation you once had, unless of course it’s still workable in which case yipedy do! Otherwise, it’s time to look forward not backward. Think about who you are now, what you enjoy, what your skills are and what role you’d like. Just because you haven’t been working for a while it doesn’t mean you haven’t learned a thing or two along the way. And I don’t mean how to purée vegetables.
2. Retrain Today For A Bigger Tomorrow
If your kids are in primary school you’ll still be fairly limited to the number of hours you can go out to work. If you have some funds to fall back on in the short term it’s worth looking at taking time out to get a qualification that might help you towards your end goal. Distance learning is great and fits in well with looking after even pre-school kids. I managed to do a degree in Psychology with the Open University and didn’t forget to pick up the kids once! If you don’t have that luxury, consider working part time doing whatever you can by day and studying at night. It’s hard work but it’ll be worth it in the end – a job you want and financial independence!
3. Research Childcare Options
Not having the cash to afford a nanny doesn’t mean calling it a day. There are other options. A live in Au Pair can be a more affordable solution if you’re happy to share your living space. Otherwise you can still share childcare with another working mum, take it in turns to do school runs to free up time, use childminders or breakfast and after school clubs, investigate crèche facilities at work or consider help from friends and family. Otherwise, you’re looking at working around school hours.
4. Research Work Options
Not all jobs require you to be in an office 9 ‘til 5 with a commute either side. It’s time to think outside the box! The most obvious option is training as a teacher or teaching assistant. If that suits you that’s great but if not don’t forget to look into other school based roles too – office, administration, special educational needs, marketing, bursar etc.
There are plenty of other jobs you can do based from home too. I’m not just talking about becoming an ironing or cleaning lady, although both are in high demand. Female driving instructors are sought after as well as a host of other roles – keep an eye out for local adverts. Plus there’s a range of sales opportunities (think Tupperware parties for the 2010s!) including books, make up, kitchen supplies, greetings cards, intimate personal items…!
On that subject, I suggest you steer clear of some of the more suspicious mailshots telling you how much you can make working from home with just a telephone. Unless talking dirty whilst emptying the washing machine is something that interests you. And I don’t mean how to get grass stains out of white PE shorts!
If you’re thinking of a meatier self-employment option, using your skills to freelance in your chosen area is definitely worth considering. It may not be exactly what you’ve done before but break down your previous role into its constituent parts and see where you can apply them.
5. Plan, A Lot
Planning is essential. Anyone who knows me will tell you this is indeed my forte! I love to plan. I love spreadsheets and lists too. My favourite gifts have included a clipboard and vouchers for Paperchase. Anyway, work out when you need to be around for the kids and where they’ll be when you’re working. It’s important to be realistic about what’s achievable in terms of working hours so you don’t set yourself up to fail…
6. Accept That Plans Fail, Regularly
Despite all your planning, things will still go wrong. Babysitters don’t arrive, trains get delayed, kids get sick and schools close for snow days, burst water mains and viral epidemics! Don’t stress, ride the rollercoaster and go with the flow. This isn’t a skill I’ve perfected but I’m working on it. Other than that, contingency plans are good. Having the phone numbers of other mums on speed dial for emergencies is definitely advisable.
Working out how much money you need to make can be useful, or scary! But at least you’ll know what you’re working towards. If you’re taking the spreadsheet approach, firstly, welcome to my club! Secondly, make yourself three columns – what I need, what I’d like and what I can do without. I need to pay my electricity bill and I’d like to have the odd meal out but I could definitely ditch the weight watchers magazine subscription! Seriously, check your direct debits for things you’ve signed up for that you no longer need like insurance on now obsolete appliances and deceased pets!
8. Being Good Enough
Don’t beat yourself up trying to work and be the perfect mum at the same time. If your kids are fed, clean and clothed you’re doing a good job. If you generally get them to school on time with most of their homework done and some of their clothes labeled you’re doing a great job. If you also manage to organize their birthday parties, put together their Victorian/Roman/Chicken costumes and get their hair cut occasionally then you’re doing an amazing job! Give yourself a break.
9. Plan time for you
In order to maintain your sanity, or limit how far over the edge you go, it’s important to make time for you too. Life isn’t just about work, kids, cooking, tidying, cleaning, washing, ironing and finally sleeping. You need to have a life beyond that. Have dinner with friends, maybe go on a date, start a hobby… do something! And if you’re too shattered to go out, pamper yourself at home when the kids go to bed with a candlelit bath, gentle music, face mask, manicure and whatever else you fancy.
10. And Finally… Do The Lottery!
Well someone’s got to win!
So, going back to work is possible when you’re single with kids – you just need to be open to new ideas. The work you find yourself doing may not be what you had in mind when you were at school, it may not even be where you see yourself in ten years time, but it’s a start. Some of the most fantastic careers and inventions have been built on beginnings that took an unexpected turn. Who knew that the not-so-sticky adhesive accidentally developed by Spencer Silver at 3M would six years later become the basis for the Post-it Note?!
I told you I love stationery. I know a lot about it. Maybe a little too much…?
Get list-making ladies!