Monday, 24 November 2014

Seventy Four, Seventy Five

Hopefully I won't get
'egged & floured' this time!
In six months I'm going to be 40.  It feels a bit exciting as I love a 'big' birthday, although I'm not sure of the significance of this one compared to my 18th and 21st unless there's some legal thing I've missed which means I get a double-strength vote or am allowed to ride a unicycle through Westminster while dressed as a horse.

I guess it's supposed to be a point of reflection, a time to think about how far you've come, count your blessings and stick a flag on summit that is reaching official Middle Age.  But what does that even mean now?  We're all busily extending our teenage years well into our fifties, refusing to give in to M&S elasticated trousers and continuing to go out when we really ought to be hosting civilised dinner parties instead.

Some people use it to attack their 'Bucket List' but I used up a whole load of that stuff (and probably nine lives) in charging through my teens and twenties because partly I had a 'life is short' rocket up my arse thanks to the death of my dad when I was a teenager, and partly because I knew jumping out of aeroplanes would be a less responsible thing to do once I became a mother (despite stating frequently I would "never have children" I guess there was always a part of me that secretly hoped I might).

What is good about this impending milestone is that it means a lot of my friends are turning 40 too, bringing ample opportunity to celebrate - and a welcome change from invitations to ferry the children to and from village halls and soft play centres where you stand about and drink lukewarm squash while your children get a serious sweat on and cry that they don't have enough Hula Hoops.  This has brought about some already very memorable parties and the realisation that when you get a group of grown ups together without their children, you find the same jokes you shared when you were 14 still have the power to make you cry with laughter.

Over the past couple of months I have....

  • Been in hysterics over memories of old school teachers, and spat my drink out as former classmates confessed to being the source of phone calls about "massive willies" 
  • Used words that were once terms of abuse as terms of endearment - I don't know why my year group used "skippy cotter" but we did.  So there.
  • Marvelled at how ten - even twenty years after last seeing someone - they still look the same as their class photograph from 1987 (minus the terrible brown and green uniform - see picture..)
  • Danced like a woman possessed.  No, hang on a minute, like a sixteen year old girl who is awe-struck that bands like the Happy Mondays and Jane's Addiction even exist
  • Bellowed "no future" with some other mums whilst hurling ourselves around a living room to the Sex Pistols 
  • Hugged friends - current, new, long-lost and found again wrapped in bear hugs and embraces

These parties have been awesome, emotional and above-all life affirming.  A chance to come together, reflect on the girls we were and the women we now are; so if this is what being 40 is all about then you can bring it on :)

Soundtrack: '74 - '75 The Connells

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Get the Balance Right

I had a great time catching up with some friends and former colleagues at a conference yesterday.  We spoke a lot about our families and when it came to the women who had children, we reflected on how it had felt to return to work and the impact it'd had (and was still having) on our families overall.  As a group of women, we were in a fortunate position; well paid, in jobs that stretched us intellectually and able to contribute to the emotional, financial, and practical aspects of family life.  We talked about the way in which being able to support yourself increases your sense of self-esteem but also the challenges that come when you have two parents that are working.  Who does pick up and drop off?  Who collects the kids if they're ill?  How do you make sure you're present for each other, your children, friends, wider family - yourself even - when you feel like you're pulled in a hundred directions?  
We talked too about how our partners and husbands felt, how it is for them and how much choice they feel they have when it comes to how much time they dedicate to work and family.  In some instances, they have less.
Do I stay or do I go?
When considering my career, I made a definite choice to remain in the corporate world until after I had children. This was in part because I was enjoying the lifestyle and opportunities the job afforded, but also because the maternity benefit offered by my employer was first-class: six months on full pay. I heard a rumour that there was an employer offering twelve months on full pay, but they were in the automotive industry and I didn't know squat about cars. Still don't.
Life-changing events
I asked my husband the other day what he would have done if he'd have been offered access to that kind of benefit.  Unsurprisingly he said of course he would have taken it.  The thing is, for most men, the only way they can get that level of paid leave is for a different, and much less positive, kind of life-changing event: having a terrible accident, a nervous breakdown, or becoming seriously ill.
Getting the balance right
I know plenty of couples where the woman earns more than her partner. Couples where it would have made practical and financial sense for dad to stay home with the children (and where this is the option they would have preferred) but whose employers offered something measly like one week of paid leave on top of their statutory entitlement. Hardly enough time to get used to changing a nappy without getting pee'd on...
Shared parental leave
Come April 2015, there will be a small step in redressing the balance with the advent of Shared Parental Leave ( but let's face it, statutory pay doesn't scratch the surface when it comes to paying the bills. What I'd be really interested to see is employers who are currently offering generous maternity packages considering making these available to their male workforce. It would take some doing but given that organisations already need to consider the requirements of adoptive and same-sex couples perhaps it could become a reality.
And if it did happen - would it make any difference?  Would we see an exodus of dads from the workplace and mums going back to work more rapidly?  Would either of these be a bad thing? There's only one way to find out - I wonder who will be brave enough to go first.  And if you know a business that is going first - let me know!
Footnote - a shortened version of this post can be found on my LinkedIn page.