Author of The Mother of All Jobs: How to Have Children and a Career and Stay Sane(ish)
Christine Armstrong is the author of a brilliant book full of great advice for working mums called The Mother of All Jobs- How to Have a Baby and a Career and Stay Sane(ish). We caught up with her to talk about her experience mothering in a pandemic and how COVID-19 could change things for working mums.
As we head into what economists say could be the deepest recession in 300 years, studies suggest women will pay the heaviest price financially. With female dominated industries like hospitality and retail suffering the greatest losses, many women have faced redundancy this year.
Research from the TUC found significant impacts on working mums’ wellbeing, income and job security. With 7 in 10 requests for furlough denied it is no wonder 90% of working mums report feeling anxious and stressed. A quarter of mums are worried they will lose their jobs, singled out for redundancy, sacked or denied hours.
And it’s not just the loss of jobs that will impact a women’s long term financial viability. The mismatch between childcare and work has often thrown mums into a sizzling pan of uncomfortable sacrifices. Homeschooling was like juggling fire whilst being poked by tiny clowns demanding snacks. Many mothers have had to rethink their roles or working hours simply to keep their flaming batons in the air. While inflexible employers and the stress of having to be so many things at the same time have forced many mothers to put their careers on hold.
It is in this current situation that we must navigate the new normal. To try and recover, not just our steps towards equal footing but our long term financial wellbeing.
We love your book The Mother of All Jobs. It was incredibly informative and full of great advice for working mums. Do you think some of that advice will change as we move into the “New Normal”? If you could give mothers a nugget of advice about their careers as we emerge from the pandemic and our children (finally) return to school what would it be?
Three things come to mind.
Give yourself time to recover. So many women are emerging from this crisis very bruised. By crashing together work and home, homeschooling, losing all our usual support (eg grandparents and friends, weekend clubs, sports activities) that make it work. Restoring emotional and physical stability may take some time and we need to give ourselves a chance to take a breath and plan time out to recover.
The second thing is to plan how you would ideally work going forward. Everything is changing and there are opportunities within that, perhaps to work from home more often, perhaps to reset hours. It may not be possible for you right now but it’s worth knowing what you want so you know can steer in that direction should things change.
For those that lost jobs, think about what you might need to get back again if it’s what you want or need. If your confidence has been battered, or you need new skills or more support, start thinking about where you might get those things from and who in your networks might be able to help.
Thank you! It’s important that mums are encouraged to take some time to care for themselves. As a mother of three what have you found most challenging about homeschooling?
Where to start!! Meeting the simultaneous demands of work plus three kids trying to learn online was uniquely stressful in a way that only those that did it may ever understand! Poor online platforms from school plus the printer’s idiosyncrasies were particularly challenging. What saved us was taking the kids to the park every single day, regardless of weather, partly because we were one of those families that got a Covid pupp. He has already brought us a lot of joy. Plus getting into some fabulous family TV (Anne with an E on Netflix is a strong recommendation – also Yorkshire Farm, The Durrells, Dr Who).
How do you think your experience compares to other mothers?
Honestly, I know I’m fortunate because I am married to an extremely capable and supportive man, who is better at running a household than I am. He’s a brilliant cook too (although rather too heavy-handed with butter than is ideal for my waistline!).
The other thing I am very grateful for is that I work for myself now and, when I left the consultancy I co-founded, I chose to remain independent. It means that I have to do everything but also that because it’s within my power to say and no, I don’t resent any external pressures and don’t have to worry about paying salaries or business rent. I know being independent wouldn’t suit everyone but it works very well for me, especially as I do still have a wider team I work with on an ad hoc basis.
Your work involves conducting a lot of research on how motherhood can affect careers. Can you summarise some of what you have learned about the pressures of homeschooling and work?
Homeschooling and work are not compatible! Really, let’s never do this again.
Have you come across any companies that have handled the situation really well? If so what have they done differently?
Some have put in a lot of support (parent and carer support groups, for example, which I’ve been involved with) and some team leaders have been wonderful (at redesigning meetings and embracing shared files so people can work at times that suit them).
It’s hard to cite companies because, whatever the policy says, how it works in a team is really important and this of course varies enormously. Where it has failed, often the company has sent out wonderful ‘family first’ messages and then held people to all of their original targets in appraisals and marked them down for not achieving everything they set out to. Leaving people feeling rather resentful.
With many businesses having learned that WFH doesn’t mean slacking off and watching daytime telly and that they can actually save money on costly rented offices, what do you think the future holds for flexible working?
The challenge here is now in focus: managing our total hours and turning off work. We have worked remotely during Covid – not flex – and many of us have found ourselves working longer than before. The challenge going forward will be for companies, teams and individuals to reset their boundaries between home and work so that we combine productivity and fulfilled lives. Not to mention some quality parenting 🙂
That is going to take time and a lot of effort.