Jane has two boys aged six and nine and a puppy. She commutes for three and a half hours a day and goes on an average of two business trips a month. During the working week she spends around three hours a day with her boys.
Tell us about your typical day...
Usually, I get up at 5.45 to deal with the dog, see the kids if they’re awake and get to the station for a 6.58 train. My nanny arrives at 7.30am to take over from my husband.
I’m usually at my desk by 8.30 and invariably have busy, meeting-filled days. I try to get home to do bedtime three nights in the week. An old boss once told me to plan to be late twice a week, the same days, for client entertainment or team building and book regular babysitting. That way, you get to put your kids to bed five times a week – and that’s not bad.
When I get home, we usually have about an hour together before bed – half of which is spent playing and the other half reading.
After bedtime, I catch up on emails, walk the new puppy (what were we thinking?), have a glass of wine and go to bed. I don’t really bother with cooking unless my husband is home.
How do you manage such a long commute?
I always get a seat, which is great. I usually spend half my time working – emails and reading – and the other half watching trash TV, like Damages, as a treat to switch off.
What doesn’t work in your professional/parent balance?
Between my husband, our nanny and I, we usually make things work. But when it goes wrong, it’s hideous. I can’t bear it when the kids aren’t well. Leaving them fills me with guilt. But if I didn’t work, I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t contributing to the family income. I think that we constantly strive to get the balance right between being a parent and working: my wonderful PA and I try to find time for the carol service and parents’ evenings. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it’s less than perfect.
What motivates you to work full-time?
I’ve tried not working, part-time working and full-time working - and full-time suits me best.
When I was pregnant with my second son, I took time off. I thought is was wise to settle my older son (he was three at the time) as we were in the process of moving back from New York, where we’d been for the previous six years.
It was also good for me to build a network of mothers here. But before long, I felt I needed the stimulation of work so I tried some part time consulting. This was lucrative but a little lonely. I then tried four days a week in the ITV commercial department. This also had its merits but after a year or so, I felt limited in my career options as a ‘part-timer’. I think there are still perception problems with part time work. Assumptions are made about commitment levels, about whether you are really ‘in it’. This coincided with my second son starting at school so it felt like a good time to return to full-time work.
What do you miss out on?
We do everything we can to not miss anything at our kids’ schools. And we mostly succeed. If we don’t, though, that feels awful. Beyond that, I feel I miss some of the day-to-day chatter so I have to work hard at weekends to catch up. There are also times when the kids are on holiday when I wish I could join them on some of their fun stuff.
How do you feel if you do miss things?
When we lived in London, missing school events was harder than it is now. There was a very distinct divide between working and non-working mums with one side judging the other, especially about things like attendance at sport’s day or the carol concert. It’s a shame, as we really all should have grown out of that kind of thinking in favour of sisterhood.
Moving out of London has been better. The community is much more supportive. If you miss something, someone will send you a text or picture update and ‘he was great!’. So I feel less judged. Between my husband and I, we’ve only ever missed two school things so far – both felt pretty horrific.
How do your colleagues perceive you?
The company is hugely supportive. I’ve never felt the need to invent dentist appointments for parents’ evening. At the same time, I don’t go on and on about being a mother. At work, I do my job. At home, I’m a mum.
What motivates you?
I love my job. I love problem solving. I love being in a creative environment. I also love being a mum. Both are hugely interesting, intense, energising and exhausting. Just in different ways.
What advice would you give to others?
You have to plan. And you have to forgive yourself a bit when it does go wrong and accept that you are trying to do your best.
There are really positive upsides to being a working mum. For example, I have so much more perspective as a result of being a mother. I don’t confuse activity with achievement anymore. I know when we are wasting time. I can see it. I see how our brands engage with parents and have an empathy I did not have before. I used to get very upset when the client didn’t like the ad but I don’t go into that blind panic anymore. I speak to a lot of my working mum friends about that and we all agree that we have acquired the knowledge that the world is not going to end. We just need to work out what we need to do.
My kids occasionally say ‘why can’t you stay at home?’ but at the same time they find the idea of my job fascinating and they are proud that I have work.
Thriving or surviving?
Mostly thriving. Occasionally surviving. On balance it works pretty well and the main thing is that everyone in the family is happy. If I felt that wasn’t the case, that would be the day I would quit.
- Christine Armstrong is the human insight expert at Jericho Chambers