Week 3 – Why WFHMs should be honest about having children



How do you distract the children when you’re working from home?

How often does someone tell you they can’t join a conference call because they’re looking after the children? Not often enough in my book – which is why we all need to start being a lot more honest about having kids.

So three weeks in and it’s all trundling along nicely. I’m doing the pick ups, the boys are having friends over and I feel far more connected with what’s going on at school, so the reasons for taking redundancy seem to have been the right ones. We are less stressed, less frantic and I’m enjoying having the extra time with them all (but not the clearing up and cooking!).

But what about the other side of the equation – you know, the job side. Well I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to get a couple of freelance gigs that I can fit around my schedule. I’m also lucky that at the moment I have semi-flexible childcare that allows me to add extra hours when necessary.

I’m free to talk a week on Tuesday…

One of my jobs involves interviewing people on the phone. This naturally involves scheduling calls at a time that is convenient for both of us. With only one day of proper childcare 9-3 I do find myself sounding ridiculous saying – ‘I can’t talk today, but I can speak next Tuesday between 10 and 12. The rest of the work I can do in the evenings but the calls obviously need to be done whenever possible.

So what happens if the person is only available on the days you have the little one, or when the older two are back from school? How do you play it? My new policy is to be very upfront about having children. After all if we all make them invisible and pretend we’re working in corporate offices rather than at home, with toddlers running about and washing piling up, then nothing will change. There’ll continue to be this unspoken rule that children should be seen and not heard and that having them in the house will disrupt your concentration and make you seem less professional.

Mummy, mummy it says are you there…

I refuse to buy that. I often explain that certain days are better because I have childcare (which is essentially no different from being one of those proper normal employees) but that I can also talk at other times, but there may possibly be an interruption because the small child I have in the house may need a wee, or be facing some kind of toy breakdown/Netflix buffering emergency. As we know the possibilities are endless.

I once interviewed Sir David Attenborough on the phone. I’d bribed the small child with TV and chocolate and instructed them NOT to come into the study (unless there was an emergency). Of course, there was, he did and well, Sir David seemed a little surprised but there were no big shakes. We’re all human afterall.

The thing is, of course none of us would ever wish to be juggling childcare and freelance work at the same time. We organise professional childcare, or work when our kids are at school or in bed. Jobs require concentration. Children need to be properly supervised. But occasionally there will be times when you have to take a short call. At these times, we should be upfront about the situation. Leave the doors open and explain to your child what you’re doing and why it’s important not to disturb Mummy for 5 minutes if possible. Of course you can’t have a long international conference call but a quick work call should be doable.

I find honesty works both ways. People you’re talking to are also humans and well, probably have children themselves. And your children learn valuable skills that sometimes they have to wait, sometimes Mummy or Daddy are just doing some work and they’ll only be five minutes or so.

The other day, I heard my little one and his friends all running up and down the stairs playing a game that their mummies were at work and opening and shutting doors, saying bye see you in a bit, do you work. That made me quite happy. After all it should be normal to see mummies working, and we all need to be more upfront about why we can only talk on certain days or why there may be an interruption. Being a parent shouldn’t hinder your career, but unless we all start talking about the challenges of juggling a family life with paid employment nothing will ever change. After all what kind of person is going to get cross or refuse to do business with you just because you mention you have children? It’s time to stop pretending we’re something we’re not…

What do you think? Do you explain to colleagues or contacts about your situation? And if you do ever need to make a quick call, how to do you do it?




1 Comment

  1. Karen
    December 4, 2016 / 9:34 pm

    Once a year, I teach for 12 weeks straight on Friday nights from 8-11pm. The on-line live class is late because it is live from London (me @UCL), Melbourne and Toronto w/ 3 profs, a guest prof and 45 students. Most nights, Isaac (now 6) is not quite in bed and dad is -most often -not yet home from work. So, each Friday, Isaac would be asked to cuddle in on sofa and plied with telly and treats. Almost every week, he would wander to my desk, hop on my lap and want to say hi to ‘his friends in Australia and Canada and the world.’ The first week I was petrified. Talking about transnational education policy with a 3 year old on my lap was daunting but, in the end, it was a victory. As a class, we talked about ‘code switching’ between roles of mum and scholar and how developing the skill was important in all roles. Isaac has ‘friends’ who lead the school inspectorate in Jamaica and second language policy in Malaysia. Best of all, many of our students are professional women in their own right. Many emailed to say thank you for being a person and an academic. What I thought was a disaster, turned into a win. However, it required a little patience and a lot of learning from all sides. Now, I am much more willing to be honest about real life parenthood and work. I think it makes me better and provides a much better role model for my colleagues! Thanks for making me remember the great parts of working:)

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