Sponsored Post: Working Mum?

Long term readers (are you still there?!?!) will know I’ve been an unconventional working mum for a long time. I’ve always been at least partly at home with my children and fitted working in around them – or sometimes the other way round. I was asked to write about a course that aims to help mums change from employment to self employment. Lizz has produced a video which is at the bottom of the post. I’ll admit, I found some of it painful and difficult and provoked a defensive feeling in me. I’ve not had to go ‘out’ to work for a long time on a daily basis, partly because I feared the impact of it on the girls but that doesn’t mean that I’m unaware of how guilt and anxiety can play on people who have to do so. Nor should anyone feel they HAVE to stay at home either. We are all different.

I’ve written recently about how I’ve had to change my own personal circumstances to suit our changing needs; it has pushed me hugely out of my comfort zone in all sorts of ways. For one thing, learning to work for other people again has had some massive challenges after being self employed for so long and for another, we’ve discovered that any idea I initially had of ‘going out to work’ to earn the money the family needs is a pipe dream I can’t achieve alongside a family business that depends on Max and just one staff member. There is no such thing as an ‘average’ day and if staff illness, a technical hitch and a contagious child alongside 3 hospital appointments can all happen at once, you can guarantee they will.

I’ve had to accept that what I need to do is find a hybrid working life of part time, flexible and with understanding clients – and that hasn’t been an easy start. 5 children and a business take more ‘running’ that 2 working people can manage.

That’s far from the biggest challenge for me though. I’ve had to put my precious rainbow baby into nursery and leave a ‘slightly unhappy’ child in school. This is so far from what I believe in that it has been painful; I was that over-zealous home educating stay at home mum who thought I had it all sussed. I built the business when hardly anyone else did similar. I was successful, clever, go-getting and possessed of an energy that created success – and I did all of that with 4 little home educated girls at my knees. Intimidating much?

I know I hacked a lot of people off back then. I didn’t mean to. I just felt I had it right. And, if I’m honest, I still do.

I’m far more accepting and understanding that things can change now, that circumstances weave in a way that makes leaving work hard – or leaving the school system hard – but I’ve not changed my opinion, even if I don’t practice what I preach. I still think that home with a parent is the best places for little people to be. I don’t rate school at all. I have a slightly higher opinion of good early years provision. I don’t think I can venture an opinion on what it feels like to have a burning drive to have a career and work somewhere full time because I have simply never felt that way.

My children live roughly in the model I grew up in – one working parent and one parent who works from home. It’s all I can imagine. Our current ‘2 parents working 3/4 of the time each in an ever changing balance’ barely feels manageable. I honestly can’t imagine us both being out all day every day.

From being in the position of my ideal – and indeed what the focus of this post is about – I’ve found myself spun into a position I don’t really believe in. I know Josie would be better at home with me and I’m absolutely sure reception is not a place I want Bene to go. I appreciate and understand that some people are absolutely best suited to a full time workplace life and far from critical of people who choose it. But it isn’t for me. I know, all the time, that even with a fairly flexible balance, we are all short changed by me not being a perfectly balanced work at home mum.

I worked for myself from when Fran was really small. I found very quickly that I needed a challenge, a target, something to work on. Full time parenting of a baby or toddler was not for me and I found it tedious, lonely and fulfilling. Doing party plan, weight loss consulting and a number of other thing was perfect for me. Owning my own small business and driving my own success would have been brilliant – if it hadn’t spiraled out of my control by being (at the time) too successful. But I always liked being home with my children. I’m absolutely sure, with all the imperfections it produced, that was better for them.

We were probably right at the end of large-ish young families being able to live on one professional wage. We certainly couldn’t do it now and both of us earning has become a necessity if we want the kids to have the opportunities that are making them remarkable people. Every time I see a face fall because I can’t just sit down and listen to them RIGHT NOW, I feel guilty or frustrated. I feel as if I am always thinking ‘I could do x,y or z better if I had time’ and that includes parenting. But I have to remind myself I’m doing my best and I’m here more than I might easily be if I had made other choices. Perfect would be one happily and perfectly fulfilled full time parent and loads of money-  the reality is we do our imperfect best.

This last year the older girls occasionally let themselves in; it happens rarely enough to be a novelty and I’m glad it didn’t have to happen earlier in their life. They don’t seem to mind but they prefer to come home to a parent. This year I’ve been more stretched when it comes to being at every school event and ever pick up but I know one of us can always go and collect a poorly child if needs be. This year I’ve had to ask Josie to stay in school when she doesn’t want to but I’ve been able to flex that to a single day at home with me a week while I work alongside her. It’s a balance, a stressful balance, but it more or less works for them.

This is a sponsored post about the impact having 2 working parents can have on children. The video upsets me because I don’t particularly enjoy knowing something will press the pain buttons of people paddling to manage on just the other side of the fence I’m paddling madly on. I’m uncomfortable with it having a ‘neglected’ feeling because I’m not about making people feel guilty particularly and I don’t know that pulling on heartstrings and pushing guilt buttons is a good thing. I know that full time workers bust a gut to make sure they meet their kids needs. I do know that at least one of my children currently feels a bit like the child in the video and is trying her hardest to understand why she isn’t getting the life her older sisters got. However, Mums 30 Day Business actually about finding a way to change the situation if you and your children are not happy with the status quo. Sometimes it takes something uncomfortable to make us do that. That’s what Lizz wants to achieve with her video; the metaphorical kick in the backside to challenge the people who aren’t happy into doing it differently. She’s been there and done it and changed her life to one better suited to her family and wants to help people do the same. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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The irony is, here I am sitting at my desk during half term, writing a work post while my kids entertain themselves upstairs. Working from home, working for yourself – that’s tough too. Life has to be about balance.

What would be the perfect balance for you? Would you rather work for yourself or do you prefer working out of the home or for someone else? Is the video a realistic interpretation of what being a ‘latch key’ kid can feel like? Were you one? Is it fulfilling enough to make everything else in a family secondary? Is it mostly about the money and not choice at all? Tell me?

Almost 5 years.

We’ve been listening to Wolf Hall; Max is highly familiar with it, having read it several times over the last few years. I’ve always shied away from it. I’m not sure why I haven’t wanted to read it, perhaps in case the hype felt overdone and the book disappointed me. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, I read it all the time. Perhaps I was afraid of difference, because different was the word used constantly when describing it. Perhaps my last comfort zone to move from is books and stories and what I might find.

Perhaps some wisp of theme slid from underneath the covers and let me know to stay away until I was ready.

Every change of these almost five last years has been a step upon the flight of gently rising stairs, with many stumbles back. Finding creativity, finding a place for creativity not linked to Freddie. Finding the strength to read  and then read a book that I didn’t know. Learning to listen to books and risk the spoken word pulling strings that stayed safely held together if I could just see the words and fail to hear them. It has been so gradual.

It’s a book full of grief – at least that is what I found there. I’ve no idea why Max likes it so and if it is an access to that or something perfectly different he relates to. I love it. Love the voice and voices, the narrator, the aspect. I love to listen together and wonder at all these things – the how and why of coming to a place where we listen together.

Perhaps that is what Freddie is now, for me at least. A common touchstone on which to measure my reactions, hold them up against his loss, hold events against it and measure, consider, chew and decide. Grow, perhaps.

It is my turn to write at Glow again this month. I write less often there but when I do, I try to make it worthwhile. I hope this one lives up to it.

Saying goodbye to his tree for another year.

Festive Food Treats with Tesco.

A couple of weeks ago I got the most fantastic (and unexpected!) hamper of gifts through the post from Tesco Food. Since budget really don’t leave much money for foodie treats, I think it is safe to say we were all pretty thrilled. The kids did a quick audit to make sure Max and I didn’t snaffle anything without them knowing, and I cheerfully tucked into the chocolate liqueur drink, which arrived at an extremely opportune moment ;)

Such things as Salted Caramel Truffles, extremely posh chocolates and Pig in Blanket crisps were particularly fabulous as Max and I fought our way through one of the toughest work Xmas seasons in a good few years. We really loved having something to just cheekily nibble on without budget guilt. A long time ago a relative used to send us a hamper each year; more recently suppliers did but austerity has stopped all that so this was a splendid treat!

Last week I visited the Peterborough Serpentine Green branch to partake of their #TescoChristmasTasting event. Armed with Maddy for assistance and my new camera on my new phone, off we trotted to see what festive nosh is all about. We are an alarmingly bad family for Xmas food. Running a toy shop means we are all always too tired to think about it all and tend to flop and eat ordinary food. We had bacon and eggs for Xmas lunch a couple of years ago!

This year, it might well be different.

Teeny weenie all butter mince pies. Small enough to not feel guilty about. Unless you eat 4.

From the opening gambit of impossibly yummy all butter mini mince pies (3 is not enough!)

I honestly didn't realise they sold so much yummy stuff

To ready decorated cakes that could pretty much pass as wedding cakes too.

So I was told tonight this chap is the most passionate baker in the whole of Tesco. About his bread, of course.

Bakers (the top Tesco baker in the country, no less!) who seem to live and breathe the products they make. This chap got seriously passionate about making Panettone, which they are creating fresh every day for the princely sum of £2 a loaf. (It’s worth it, trust me).

As for their bread selection… there must have been 20 varieties of them all sitting there for us to try. It was gorgeous and they are so proud of what they make.

Honestly, suddenly I have an urge to do a huge Xmas food shop. We never do that. In fact, 2 years ago we had bacon and eggs for Xmas lunch!

The sweeties and puddings are all very delicious, whether made in store and sold fresh or prepackaged (there was the MOST divine salted caramel sauce for pancakes and croissants on offer) but Maddy and I fell most in love with the savouries.

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Gorgeous olives… oh how I love olives. I could probably eat nothing but for the rest of my life.15863614909_787c113a9f_z

The Mexicana cheese was incredible; seriously spicy and totally delicious. And don’t start me on the Dolcelatte. Max and I met working on a deli-counter… did you know that?16048858932_a729df4cae_z

Marvellous meats. Really, really marvellous meats.

I think we’ve all had our grumbles with Tesco over the years; I know I have. I think it is important to remember that these places (and having worked as a manager on a deli counter I have some understanding) is that whatever a corporation is going through, they are made to work by people. People who care and are passionate about their jobs and who have lives to live and a living to make. What really shone through at this tasting evening was how much they cared. They had worked so hard and were really nervous about how we would feel and if we would like it. All the departments had knowledgeable staff on hand, many of them greeting well known customers by name as they circulated. They knew about their foods and the fresh food service they were providing and they wanted us to enjoy what they could do with it. They smiled, they joked and they showed off some great festive treats and an even greater in store community spirit.

Well done Peterborough Tesco. You nailed it. And you know what, I’ve scraped together a little spare money to pop by next week and pick up a few tasty treats too. You got me ;)

Editorial: Child Benefit Building Blocks.

Over the last few years we have been incredibly grateful for the benefit system, which caught us firmly when life made it almost impossible for us to function and rescued us through a recession and a time of family tragedy that made trying to rebuild a business ravaged by credit crunch and huge corporations something we were completely unable to focus on properly.

We were very lucky to have it there when we needed it. The following infographic may help struggling families who don’t know what help can be available.

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Dealing with the government benefit system can be tricky. Their processes seem filled with red tape, terms and conditions and what can feel like impenetrable doublespeak. They all seem to be designed for the soul reason of confusing and irritating you but crucially, can put people off applying for fear of making an error in claiming that will have to be paid back later.

Sometimes these can processes can be tolerable, but when it comes to living costs and making sure you have enough to take care of your children, it is important not to struggle or give up, especially if it can result in your family receiving less money than you’re entitled to.

To help make sure parents are getting all the help they need, the Money Advice Service have put together a complete list of all 12 allowances new parents could be eligible to claim.

Take a look at the list below and make sure you’re not doing without.

Child Benefit Building Blocks

In association with Child Benefit Building Blocks - An infographic by the team at Money Advice Service.