I don’t know how she does it

A friend of mine who has finally given up the stress of corporate life and is setting up her own business part-time from home asked me this week how I compartmentalise work and family stuff. Here’s what I said.

Work days/half days are work days. Mummy/family time is family time. When I’m in the office and the children are at nursery, I am at work. if I’m not on a deadline, I also do some household stuff during work hours, just so I’m not always doing laundry/tidying/ironing/shopping around the children.
When I’m not in the office, I’m running the family business. I dip into emails/Twitter on mummy days/afternoons/weekends to keep up. I’m thinking of getting a Blackberry, but actually as soon as I start responding to an email I’m in work mode and notice I’m not tuning into the children when they are talking to me, so I’m not sure that’s a good idea for me. If I’m busy, I go back into the office when they are in bed.
If a client desperately needs my help on a non-work day, I try and sort grandparents or friends to help out, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. If I really need him to, DH will leave work early or work from home if I have a networking do or something and need him to pick the kiddies up from nursery, bath and put them to bed. He’s the breadwinner, but actually when my work time is all accounted for, I can sometimes earn more than him in two and a half days a week, and he is well aware (thanks to good conversations and bad rows!) how important my job is to our financial situation as well as my own sanity, so it’s in his interest to be as supportive to me as I am to him.

Like most husbands, he mostly needs specific instructions on household stuff, but he is pretty good these days at mucking in and seeing what needs to be done around the house. I don’t think he actually knows how to use the washing machine, but he does iron his own shirts if I don’t have time! And although I cook, he’s a pretty good sous chef and is happy to chop onions and wash up. Again, if I request something of him, it usually gets done.
I use a big whiteboard in the kitchen for family dates so everyone (ie DH) knows what’s going on each week. This has hours of the day and days of the week, plus a section at the bottom for future dates. This is known as My Brain. My memory is not as good as it once was – too much stuff leaks out if I don’t actually write it down. I also use Outlook for birthday and anniversary reminders as well as work appointments.
My big regular clients who are more like friends know exactly what my weekly official office hours are. No-one else does. When I first went back to work part-time after having DD nearly four years ago, I got my knickers in a twist about letting everyone know when I was working and getting annoyed and resentful and stressed when they didn’t remember/know and wanted something done when I was on mummy time. Now I let people assume I’m available five days a week in normal hours, and just respond to emails and phone messages as soon as possible.

I do occasionally say, when relevant, that I need to pick the children up from nursery, but only when I know I’m dealing with someone who won’t have a problem with that being the reason. Otherwise I’ll simply saying I’m leaving the office at a certain time, or will be out of the office all day tomorrow, or whatever – just like they do. I’ve also done a fair bit of changing nursery days and hours over the past year or two to suit me and the children, and it gets confusing if people think they know you work all day Monday and then find out that’s no longer the case. So I don’t make a thing of it. It doesn’t hurt if people assume you are just busy and successful!
My office, by the way, is a self-contained ‘shed’ in my garden. It is just a few yards from the house but it has a door and a lock and a separate phone line, so the start and end of office time feel physically very defined for me. I do use the computer in the house to check emails, and everyone has my mobile number.
On paper, my life looks pretty well balanced, and I am broadly quite good now at keeping work and family separate, but when you’re running your own business part-time there are lots of times when you need to be flexible, not only doing bits of work when you’re meant to be in mummy mode, but also dropping everything when a child is ill or something else comes up. Sometimes this juggling act gets stressful, and I need to ask for help, change things so they work better, drop balls etc. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not giving either my kids or my clients 100%.

But it can be done, and a good week where everything has worked smoothly is enormously satisfying.


Our first family holiday

We got back from a week in Spain last week. I have just about recovered. It was our first ‘proper’ family holiday, abroad, on an aeroplane, with no grandparents to help out with a toddler and a preschooler.  We stayed at the Roda Golf Resort near Murcia airport on the Mar Menor, just up from La Manga.

I’ve been telling everyone it was great, though rather ‘full-on’. This is a very handy little euphemism that means, in this case: ‘We are all completely knackered after a rather up and down week together. I now need a holiday. Or at the very least to lie down in silence for some time’.

Here’s the highlights. Actually, some of them are lowlights:

1. The shock-and-awe on the kiddies’ faces when they saw our easyJet plane pull up at the stand at Gatwick.

2. The shock-and-awe on our fellow passengers’ faces on the delayed return trip (thanks, bastard French air traffic controllers) when overtired DS kicked off and screamed for an hour and a half. Young couple in front, still pissed off that we had refused to let them recline their seats on the basis that, er, there was no space with small people on laps, said in response to our apology on landing ‘well, it was a bit much’. DH replied: ‘Let that be a lesson to you, young people in love. Do not have children.’

3. Doing the whole siesta/stay up late ‘like Spanish children’ thing. It sort of worked, sometimes. Sometime they were just really tired and whiney, and we had hardly any grown-up time.

4. Sneaking up to the sunny roof terrace of our stunning, huge two-bedroom apartment while everyone else was asleep to read another Ian Rankin.

5. Driving all the way around the Mar Menor peninsula because the ‘shuttle boat’ didn’t start until July, then finding the ‘exclusive beach club’ bit of the golf resort , though stunning, was barely open. We waited over an hour for our lunch order before being told they didn’t actually have anything for us to eat.

6. We then drove 200yds down road and found the most perfect Spanish local’s place with three yummy courses for ten euro, full of smoking, noisy male labourers on lunch break, where they loved the kids.

7. The day we spent at the natural mud baths at San Pedro del Pinatar. Me and DH enthusiastically covered ourselves in mud (great for excema and rheutmatism, apparently). DS freaked at all the black mud people and DD with her dog nose went completely mental at the admittedly rather poo-stinky smell and ran off down the beach screaming. It was Not A Good Day after that.

8. Floating round the lovely pool with DS in his water wings and DD hanging out on the steps in her Barbie ring pretenting to be a mermaid. Then she’d refuse to go in any further to try swimming and get all stroppy, and DS would through his blow up ball directly into the wind so we had to run miles to get it. Again.

9. It was properly hot. I even burnt my back after forgetting to put suncream on myself (everyone else in factor 50, obv) and peeled like some teenager on her first trip to Greece. By the end of the week, though, it was extremely windy, overcast, rainy and stormy. That’s early season for you.

10. It was lovely and quiet, with no other kids about. This was a goodish thing, but also a bit crap for DD not having any other little girls to make holiday friends with. This did, however, force her and DS to spend a lot of time playing together and they were a proper little double act, laughing a lot.

So what did I learn? Take grandparents. Don’t fly with DS again for a couple of years. Don’t believe anyone who says ‘Oh, you don’t need a car. It’s all within walking distance!’. It’s OK to chill with routines, but possibly not going straight from 7pm to 11pm bedtime. Overtired kiddies do not a fun time make. An organised Mary Poppins-style day bag is a thing of beauty. Go to the Isle of Wight, Cornwall or the Peak District next summer.

Still, the photos look amazing. It looks like we had a splendid time. And after some of the more nightmarish memories have faded, I’ve got hundreds of pictures of happy, gorgeous, smiling, frolicking children. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all.

Do three year olds have a sense of humour?

I was FURIOUS with DH yesterday. DD’s been having another bit of a wobble at nursery, probably just not back into the swing of things after her virus and the bank hols. Yesterday was a mummy day, and I tried really hard to be calm and cheerful and to keep her calm and cheerful. The aim was to help her relax and feel secure, for us (and DS) to all have fun together. We had a lovely day in the sunshine with a couple of low-level treats. I didn’t shout and she didn’t burst into tears all day. Hurrah. (This is a major achievement for me and DD when we are together all day, especially with no visits or visitors.)

Then DH gets home, a bit early. The kiddies are delighted to see him, as am I. Bathtime and storytime progress smoothly. We talk about DD going to stay with my parents (her beloved grandma and dziadziu) this weekend for a couple of nights so she can be spoiled rotten and I can give DS my full attention for once before we all go on holiday next week. Then, just before bed, DH says to DD ‘And when you get back we’ll be gone to Spain on holiday and you’ll have to stay here by yourself with Charlie Cat!’. OMG. This is his idea of a joke.

I didn’t say anything, just laughed it off as ‘silly daddy’, and off we all trooped upstairs for bedtime. DD took a while to let me go, a little unusually, and there were a few tears, very unusually, before she would settle down. Then a couple of hours later, we hear this wailing from upstairs and she’s half asleep having a nightmare. This isn’t uncommon, but we haven’t had one for weeks.

I came downstairs after settling her feeling really upset. My baby girl is clearly feeling a bit insecure at the moment, for whatever reasons, and the one thing she really didn’t need to hear just before bed was a ‘joke’ about being abandoned, left behind, being alone, and missing out on her holiday. I told DH off and he got really defensive. This morning, though, the first thing he did was talk to DD, apologise and reassure her that we would never leave her and we are all going to Spain together.

My very limited understanding of neuroscience is that the human sub-conscious does not have ‘a sense of humour’ and processes everything that’s said and heard quite literally. That’s why sarcasm and self-deprecation are so damaging to our self-esteem, because deep down, this becomes how we actually feel about ourselves. And why, after 20 years, DH’s amusing little digs at my idiosyncracies have become slightly wearing.

I don’t think it matters whether daddy is joking or not. I think we really need to watch what we say to our children, so far from being a laugh, it doesn’t become something for them to worry about.

What do you think? Am I taking this all a bit too seriously and lacking in a sense of humour myself? Have you or someone close to your kids ever made a ‘joke’ that they took literally?