‘Flexible Working isn’t an option.’ That’s what my employer confirmed during my maternity. I had to choose, my career or my daughter? I chose my daughter, and paid the price.

When I say I paid the price I want to be clear from the off, I do not and never have regretted choosing my daughter.  Every cuddle, every tear, every moment.  The priceless gift of looking after another life… but why do you have to pay the price financially when it would be so easy to turn 37.5 hours, into 30.

I was very happy at work.  I began working age 14 part-time, 16 full-time, and I barely took a day off in 20 years.  I loved work.  I bought a house, married, and my husband and I knew that it would be likely that I would be the one working whilst he was a stay-at-home dad.  But life doesn’t always work as you planned.

Within a couple of years of my first (failed) pregnancy with my husband, I was single and pregnant with a donor.  I loved my job, was satisfied that I would look after us both and as (what I felt like) a middle aged woman I was happy with my decisions, I worked for a small, very family friendly company, where the two mothers worked around school plays and childcare.  But during my maternity leave my employer informed me that she had sold the company, but I was protected under TUPE.

As soon as I knew I would be a single mum I embarked on a law-degree.  I wanted to improve my long term salary prospects to enable me to ensure that my child did not feel the pinch of being bought up in a single parent family, but this was a long-term plan.  A ten year plan.  Something I would have shied away from in my 20s but when you are working on a new life timescale instead of your own, ten years does not seem that long.

Then came the birth of my child, an unbreakable bond that I could have never have imagined, and I was very lucky, the breastfeeding worked really well from the off.  I had a very happy and content baby, and being single really helped me to be nocturnal with her and it did not matter if we slept at 5pm.  Six months in this was still working well, I had attempted to use a pump and a bottle but this messed up the natural production on demand and I produced too much milk that was painful.  Natural was best and so I just fed her and produced the right amount of milk required.  Too much detail for some I appreciate, but it is relevant, as you will see.

I was happy to return to work, but the new location of my work, with the hours, parking etc would mean that I would need to drop my daughter at childcare at 7:30 and I would have collected her at 7pm, 5 days a week, and a shorter day on a saturday.  I would have seen this child on sundays only.  I asked my employer if I could work in a different branch (parking outside) or work reduced hours.  The cold, firm response was ‘flexible working is not an option, the hours and location are fixed and that is what is required under your contract to meet the needs of the business’.  How could I leave this baby?  She needed me, to feed her, nurture her, care for her, instinctively know if she was okay and cuddle her if she cried.  I knew her nappy cry, her hungry cry, her cuddle me cry, and her I don’t feel so good cry.

I chose my child, I had to choose, I had a strong work ethic, long-term professional development plans and I wasn’t shy of looking for work, so I handed in my notice and started looking for part-time work… oh how naïve I was – I did not know that society constructively dismisses you when you are a mother or penalises you for needing to work in school / childcare hours by paying you peanuts.

Within 12 months I had lost my property, reposessed, I was googling what support was available, I had to learn about benefits and make phone calls whereby I was immediately treated as one of life’s scroungers, I was worrying about the cost of being on hold, I was worrying about everything.  I studied and hugged my child and promised her that I would sort this out, but I did not know how hard that would be…

I found a part-time job.  I had taken a 50% paycut for the privelege of working in childcare hours.  I kept looking for better work, but all of them were really low pay, minimum wage or not much over.  I did do them but this leaves you trapped in relative poverty with the additional stress of school holidays.  I was being forced into a life of benefits, tax credits, housing benefit, debt, loans, payday loans.. all because I could not work for my skillset or salary band for 20 or 30 hours instead of 37.5.  I am pretty peed about this.

I was now a single mum on benefits with poor credit, unable to get further loans, unable to get a secure property, unable to get a decent job, I was paying for expensive properties (the only landlords that would have me!) or mouldy properties, or short-term properties, and so on.  The long-term, average rent, decent properties were let out to those not like me.  For 20 years I never complained about a chunck of my wages going missing into a pot incase I needed it one day.  I was happy that we worked that way.  I knew what it was like not to have an NHS (I had to wire £500 abroad so that my sister could get hospital treatment in my 20’s).  I was happy to chip in to a society that looked after each other.  I was happy to chip in to state school as all my friends had children,  but gosh when you need it people really tear you to pieces and make you feel like the lowest of the low, and it is a hard cycle to get out of!  I turned to pay-day loans for rent deficit and this damage is permanent.

If I accept working part-time for low pay as a permanent solution – becuase I am a mum, I will need tax credits and housing benefit for the duration of being a mum, I will need pension credits when I am older and I will never have disposable income to save a deposit to buy a property, and so will forever pay into somebody else’s estate, or the estate of the Crown.  When my friends enjoy cruises in retirement I will be paying rent until the day I die with no disposable income.  All because I could not continue my career, and my salary, part-time.

I am fortunate that with my entrepreneurial mindset I have created a company and the SMBN to help other women in similar situations, but this is because I have been forced out of the sanctuary of employment, pensions, decent salary, great skillset.  Whilst the SRA allows a 20hr per week training contract this is not realistic in the profession, and so my expectations of entering the legal profession were also naive.

I see so many posts by hundreds of women asking what work they can do in school hours.  I see women sob because they drag their babies out of bed as their employer will not allow flexibility.  I see women stressed on forums because they are breastfeeding and under pressure to move to the bottle so that they can get back to work in a few months.  Women are targeted to work from home for free.  Millions of families in the UK are forced into relative poverty becuase the parent can’t continue his/her career AND be a parent.  It’s all for the sake of a few hours, we don’t all have grandparent childcare.  Families are locked into rental properties.  We have wealthy employers and wealthy landlords because the combination of being able to charge high private rent and pay employees a low wage, because the Gov say it’s okay, but the Gov do not live on this wage or pay this rent.  We have sheep instead of leaders.

It is a very sad state of affairs where a woman is punished for doing the most important job in the world.  Taking care of you.

I’m all for shared parental leave if it works for both parents, but if a woman is nurturing and feeding well then this must be the priority in the first 12 months.  Thereafter we should all be able to work and be parents.  And 15 weeks holiday? Schools all need free summer school.

For now I help women who are forced into self-employment gain exposure to their business, because they are TRYING to make it work, where culture has really let them down, and of course PR budget is an issue with all of the above considered, so they need somebody to help them!

Jules

http://www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com

 

 

 

Women Supporting Women and Female Empowerment. What about the men?

Those of you who follow my blog will know that they creep up on me and it’s normally a couple of months before I have enough clarity to post.  This one is no different, however, I have forced myself to push this out for International Men’s Day, and so there may be additions later.

I run a network for women only, I have long attended networks for women only, and I love anything that empowers women and brings us together to celebrate sisterhood instead of competitiveness, but of course I hear men cry ‘what about us?’ ‘Why can’t we come’ ‘You’d soon be complaining if there was a men only network!’ ‘you feminists are men haters’.  For those of you who don’t know this – there are men only networks and groups and there has been for many years. Masons (I know there’s a female branch too now) Buffs, Only Dads, Men & Boys Coalition and there are so many men setting up mental wellbeing networking groups for men only, so there’s plenty out there for you if you look for it, and there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own.

I can’t speak for other women as a rule, but certainly the women in my close network do not have anything against men, in-fact quite the opposite, we respect the masculine and enjoy the chance to be together in a feminine environment, where our talks take a slightly warmer, more maternal form of caring and sharing.  When I attend a mixed networking group I am prepared to hand over business cards and have superficial conversations, when I network with women only I know I can open up a little in a room full of attentive listeners, and I enjoy listening to them.

It is really important for men to know that they are not being ‘rejected’ per say… I don’t often hear complaints from men about not being invited if I talk about a knit & Knatter or pamper day, but if you mention ‘business’ this seems to upset a testosterone button..

Female Empowerment is great for men, women networking with women is great for men, whether under the umbrella of business or sewing.  We need each other! In other tribes women are together all of the time, not to talk negatively about men or scheme, just to be ‘sisters’, to work together, to support each other, and ultimately to feel much more content in their own being.

I was a terrible wife.  I was unhappy, inherently; there was nothing that my husband could have done, I was a ‘lonely’ woman.  If I had had the kind of life I have now when I was with him I would have been a much better wife, in every area.  You must have heard the saying ‘happy wife happy life’.  Trust me, female empowerment and women supporting women is not to dismiss men, it’s to help us feel connected and fulfilled as women, as nature intended, to be happy, to be strong, so that we are not miserable, insecure, lonely and bad tempered at the end of the day.  We don’t hate you we need you, we need you to understand that it’s not about you, it’s about us.

For years men have enjoyed sport, work, golf, meetings, freedom, and we have been isolated with our children & housework, or in an employed environment where our wings are clipped and our voices are not heard, and we have had to compete with each other instead of connect with each other, in work, relationships, and life.  Female Empowerment and Women Supporting Women is good for us, and it’s good for you!

So, on that note, happy International Men’s Day, and trust me, we want you to be happy too!

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of ‘Not Minding’

Once upon a time I cared, a lot, about being judged, about being disapproved of, about being ‘beneath’ other people, and I was a people pleaser, much to my own detriment.  I was so afraid of confrontation that rather than express my concerns I would run, and hide.  I never wanted to be seen as being a problem, in any way shape of form, and so I kept quiet.  I took it so personally when anybody looked at me with anything less than love in their eyes, I could feel it, it penetrated my love of humanity to the core, and I did not want to give anybody a reason to look at me with anything less than love.

Something happens as you mature, you accept that people are different.  People will disapprove of you, not because of you, but because of them; their beliefs, their ignorance, their different passions and lack of understanding of yours.  We all have frustration that other human beings see the world with different eyes.  Naturally, from a very young age we are programmed to think that we should thinking the same thoughts, working towards the same goals, wearing the same clothes, and doing as we are told, and inhibiting our own thought process – and so it is no wonder that by the time we reach puberty and adulthood that we are already in deep despair that we have been unable to evolve naturally, or at the very least to our own nature.

As I was in despair and trying to fit into to being somebody that I was not in my 20’s the depression just kicked in, I could not find the words to articulate what it was that I wanted to say, or how I felt that this world was not meant for me.  I was so desperately trying to fit in that I allowed myself to be abused in many ways, and when I needed to stand up for myself and have a simple conversation, I was quite incapable and so hid behind the court system, so that I could be indirectly confrontational, which of course only made matters worse, and resulted in a decade of abuse and harassment.

The wonderful thing about this is, when you have spent the best part of 20 years being either abused, or harassed, or walked over, or attacked, you break to the floor so many times that you realise how capable you are of getting back up.  And when you realise that other people’s actions reflect their personalities, and not yours, you make peace with who you are and who you have been.  You realise that whatever comes next will bounce off you and that you will only carry the pain, and the words, and the insults, and the misunderstanding and judgments if you accept them.

When you are happy with you are as person, and comfy in your own skin, you really do not mind what others say, or how they try to make you feel, you have absolute clarity that you can press on through life being true to who your are, authentic to your own spirit, living your true existence, and you can literally feel free of external judgement, or lack of encouragement.  It is about being 100% comfy in your own skin, that is not thinking that you are perfect, what is perfection anyway?  It is about knowing that you are you, your body is your body, your mind is your mind, your clothes are your style, your hair is your hair.  If you have no enemy within, the external world really cannot hurt you, as they are not touching a nerve, and if you are truly free of needing external verification, you are very powerful, and very free.

The simplest things do not  concern you.  I have never (at least not in the last few years) worried about page likes, or post likes, or engagement, or any of those things that can make you feel ‘validated’.  I share stuff for the purpose of raising awareness of business, or trying to help others in the knowledge that my words will resonate with some, but if nobody sees that is okay.  I know that who needs to see will see, who needs to engage will engage.  To live your life for purpose, and not for praise, is very empowering indeed.

I say not minding instead of not caring as for me ‘not caring’ carries an undercurrent of attitude, when you say that you do not care, it almost sounds as though you do care but are being defensive of that – that is okay if that works for you, but for me ‘not minding’ is much more peaceful.  I am no longer ashamed of my journey, I am no longer concerned about being judged,  I have struggled greatly and I talk openly about adversity and mental health because I don’t mind, I don’t mind if people don’t get it, that is their journey, not mine.  I get it, it happened, I share it, I’m at peace with my mistakes, I’m at peace with where I am at now, and that leaves me free to make a noise, to help others.  I am no longer afraid of the flames, for I am the fire.

We ARE all different, and people will always dislike who you are or what you do – that is the nature of humanity, and that is how our spirits beautifully interact when we know we have found one like us x

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Single Mums Business Network

I’ve been busy! See my other blog site www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com Slide3

I’ll still post blogs on here about all things that rattle my cage but the SMBN is taking over for now! Caring & Sharing X

Work /Life Balance – Make it Happen

As I was walking my dog in the woods this morning, protecting her from a bird of prey and taking in the beauty of the autumn leaves (I know it’s not autumn) and watching the squirrels enjoy their natural habitat I was acutely aware of how happy I am to have the flexible work /life balance that I have created.

Whilst I was enjoying my dog walk, Outlook was sending summary e-mails to my clients that I had scheduled at 11pm to send at 9:30a.m. Facebook was posting pre-scheduled posts and my washing machine was washing my clothes!  How easy we have it these days compared to our elders.

When I became a mum – all I really wanted was a secure, well paid, engaging role to keep me busy 30 hours a week whilst my daughter was in school allowing me to occasionally swap lunch for parent assembly or sports day.  The reality of how difficult this was/is forced me into a battle of creating self-employment and asserting myself non aggressively with availability.  I fought to sustain my business and utilise my skills wherever possible to help that happen.

This week I have been extremely busy with networking in my capacity as freelance BDM, seeing clients at KIH Holistics, having conference calls in my capacity as freelance assistant in Civil Litigation, planning to attend an exhibition for the KIH Bed, studying and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

My point is that people don’t mind if you control your diary, often we are too keen to please and consequently we compromise our own wellbeing.  My clients do not mind that I am unavailable between 3pm and 7pm.  They are happy with a conference call at 2pm or 9pm.  I am happy to prepare summary e-mails at 11pm and schedule them to send at 9:30 a.m.  My BDM clients do not mind that I am only available to network for them during school hours.  What matters is that I am committed to helping them and I do what I do well.  Sometimes we fear reactions too much.

As a mum I have 30 hours in the week that I can manage my workload and 21 hours in the evening that I can prepare my workload.  I attend every parent assembly and I pick my daughter and drop her off.  I look pretty rough and it would be easy for other parents to assume I do not work, but that does not concern me, what concerns me is that I can do homework with my daughter, cook tea for her, bathe her, read her a story and accompany her to groups.

*You do have to fight for work /life balance.  It doesn’t knock on your door, you need to actively contact people and don’t be shy about your availability and fee.  I ran a Facebook campaign to find the flexible legal experience.  I targeted solicitors and such like within an hour of my home, and it paid off.  You have to make it happen.  With every 100 no’s follows a yes (ish).

*Whilst we are still fighting for work/life balance due to this stiff British mindset there are some fantastic companies out there leading the way with part-time or flexible employment that does not insult the brain or pocket, and these companies are game changers, leaders not followers, they recognise the importance of being able to juggle what matters to you without this affecting your professional output.

Don’t give up, it can take years to get the balance right and the correct fulfilling work, you just need to be honest with yourself if something is getting you down and keep looking for work that fulfils you, pays you correctly, and does not make you feel like a bum for wanting to be a ‘full-time’ mum.

Note I schedule late night emails to send in the morning as it can be very stressful to receive work e-mails in the evening, we should be free to relax unless we ‘choose’ not to, that is the difference between scheduling and email and actually sending it.  We are primitively wired to be on high alert as the day becomes night and so fight or flight response is much more likely if an email stresses us out in the evening.  Send serious (or possibly invasive) emails in the day when people are better placed to receive them.

Caring & Sharing

 

 

 

 

Friendship, Love and Giving

Since my last post the matter of friendship has been politely interrupting my sleep and as usual I have allowed my brain to process the elements before sharing my findings on here, with the sole intention of hopefully helping others understand, and ultimately come to terms with non-reciprocated giving.

In order to be happy, fulfilled, at peace with your relationships and to enjoy inner calm you need to deal with matters that eat you up inside, fester away and grow into a toxic unhappiness that affects your wellbeing, your relationships, your bitterness, and the way you go about your life.  To achieve mental wellbeing, forgiveness, understanding and loving without becoming dependent on that love are crucial.

It is not other people that hurt us, it is our own expectations and desired outcome.

There are several affirmations that people are not ignoring you – they are busy and that you should get busy too, and whilst they mean well, and come from a place of some truth, it was one of the most offensive ways of trying to help people who are feeling ignored, lonely, and that their friends and family are failing them.  There is a truth to people being busy, but I would prefer to use the term ‘distracted’, as most of the time the people who genuinely care about you, think of you often, and would love to be in your company will never contact you, or will very rarely contact you. Yes, you would like to be higher on their list of priorities, particularly with so much sharing on social media it is very easy to see that other people appear to be high on their ‘to do’ list where you may not be.

But what you really need to ask yourself is why? Why do you need to be contacted by them to believe they love you? Why do you think – don’t bother coming to my funeral you never visited me when I was alive?  Is it true that maybe you are not so ‘distracted’ and so you have time to feed yourself internal toxic thoughts that you are being ignored? Often being isolated and lonely, bored and frustrated will fuel these feelings and thoughts.  If you are very busy with work, kids, hobbies, dealing with your own dramas whilst occasionally posting a ‘my life is perfect’ pic on social media, the chances are that six months has flown for you but for somebody in your close network those six months have been painful, and they are hurting that you have not checked in on them – but this where they must check in on you, and ‘forgive’ your distraction, and butt in and let you know that they are still in the frame.

Of course I have experienced this from both sides.  I only write about things I have first hand experience of and so I share my findings in the hope that somebody somewhere will benefit in someway.  As a single mum I sat at home night after night, year after year, festering, wishing that somebody would offer to come over one evening but then as time went by I realised that people literally do need telling, they are genuinely oblivious to your internal loneliness / desire to feel loved and cared for, as a friend.  And in reality for me personally I had been the distracted one for a decade prior. I would be so happy to see people I cared for, either out socially, or at family funerals, or passing in the street, I was so happy to see them, but I would never call in for coffee or pick up the phone, I just assumed that everybody was busy, or should I say ‘distracted’ with their own life.

My power came when I became self dependent.  I learned about self-love, I would wrap a blanket around me if I was poorly and buy myself a bunch of flowers if I wanted to feel loved, and I would stop worrying about sending random people messages and saying ‘hi, how are you?  You can be miserable and you may not want to say ‘talk to me I’m lonely’ but you can always say ‘hi, how are you’? – People will normally be pleased to hear from you, you can invite people over for coffee – they may say they are ‘busy’, your 300 ‘friends’ may ignore your shout out but one may be glad for the chance of a coffee and a chat, it is that one that matters at this moment in time.  It is also likely that the others either think ‘that invite is not meant for me’ or that just may not be their thing, but, rest assured they do care in their own way and they will be pleased to bump into you in the street in two years, but you must accept that your lives are taking different directions and you are not in the same ‘clan’ right now.

To move direction slightly – a lot about friendships is the reciprocation we expect, the effort that we expect others to make – is it our own insecurity that leads us to want reassurance that we are cared about?  There is an element of truth in getting busy and taking responsibility for filling your time, we all need people around us, we are social creatures and we need to make an effort to develop a social circle, otherwise we will just fester and feel bitter towards those who have this circle, that we are not party to.  This will lead to us feeling hurt, and to push people further away by refusing to ‘make the first move’.

Your ‘friends’ will always be pleased to see you, whether in one year or ten, but meanwhile you need something to look forward to every week, preferably a few times a week, whether that be work, networking, badminton, darts, volunteering, crafts, or any kind of hobby group, the key is to have a ‘team’ a ‘clan’ – going to the shop or cafe does not suffice, you will feel lonelier if you head out on a mission for a conversation and return home having not managed to have one.  This is why many are jealous of different cultures within our society, they know how to do things ‘together’, we have lost these ‘pack values’ and so isolation is of our own making. Our own pride, our own fear, our own stubbornness.

Giving to receive can also leave you feeling bitter and hurt.  The wonderful Jay recently released a video about a man who gave his eyes to his fiance who wanted to see before marrying.  The video was aimed at her not realising that he had given up his sight for her and her being angry with him for not telling her that he was blind.  Whilst the video intended to make her /us think about judgement, I would say that this is where many of us go wrong. You should give selflessly, not for return.  Pure love would be to give your sight. To give your sight for love and because you want to benefit from it sets you up for disappointment.  If you love to be loved in return you will feel needy, you will become reliant and you will be in a lot of pain if the person leaves you.  But if you love, enjoy the moment in time that you have with this person and then love them enough to not to stand in the way of their own journey of love, self discovery and free path you will ultimately benefit from being able to love them always, without claiming ownership of them.

What I am trying to say is love your friends, love the people who have been in your life try not to feel angry with them for not completing your life, your life is your responsibility and yours alone, you need to actively find your own pack, and you need to actively let the people you care about know that you care about them so often, instead of creating a huge toxic divide that is created only by our own feelings of feeling unloved, or let down.  What was an innocent six or twelve months silence can turn into feelings of hatred if not nurtured properly. If you have not spoken to a member of family or old friend for three years try sending a message asking ‘we haven’t spoken for a long time – did something happen or has life just been too distracting’ what’s the worst that can happen? You could lose a friend that you thought you had lost anyway, in which case you are set free, or you could be met with a lovely response reassuring you that you have a warm place in their heart.

Equally sometimes when the effort is all yours it is time to let go, but not with hatred, do not take it personally that they are not driven by the same loyalty to you as you are to them, love them and visually put them on a shelf and wish them well in their life, and if this leaves a gap, fill that gap in ways that is not reliant on individual people.  To love without needing to be loved in return is very empowering, to give without wanting thanks is very satisfying, and to share your ideas and knowledge without wanting gratification or reward is selfless and incredibly rewarding in itself.

We are too driven by protecting what we think is ours, but the only thing we really need to do is fill the world with love, acceptance and honesty, without fear of the outcome.  What is the real fear? What is the real need? Life is a journey, if you can trust this process you are free to give what you want to give, and you will create your own peace and love that no other can mask.  Accept love but keep your inner core intact, so if it bounces off you are as complete as you were before it came. Each encounter is a blessing, and more people care about you than you could possibly imaging, just remove the fear and be the one to make contact, instead of feeling pain and anger that nobody is contacting you.

Caring & Sharing x

#loneliness #isolation #depression #self love #friendship #empowerment #relationships