A brighter future for working parents?

18 months ago, I was commuting for 90 minutes each way to work in a job that I loved. My employer was relatively flexible when it came to working hours; I could work from home one day a week and I could build up some flexi-time each month and have an extra day off. Before becoming a mum, this was a fantastic arrangement. The job was quite challenging but I wasn’t expected to work all hours under the sun. It suited me down to the ground.

All that changed when Libby came along. I went back to work when Libby was 3 months old and suddenly, the three hours a day I spent commuting was too much. I was up at five every morning so that I could breastfeed before going to work. I didn’t get home until around six in the evening, at which point I would feed Libby and put her to bed. Work became difficult and I wasn’t coping very well; I was coping even worse with being a part-time mum.

Amazingly, not long after going back to work I was offered another job. A friend of mine was starting up an internet business and she needed someone to run it for her. As a mum herself, she understood what I was going through. It was agreed that I would work full time, 40 hours per week, and it was up to me to choose both when and where I would work. I do still have to attend meetings, but I am able to arrange those for times when my husband is available to look after my daughter. I’ve even had to travel to Paris for work; my daughter was 9 months old at the time and my employer agreed that she could come to Paris with me.  

The advantages of this arrangement for me are very obvious. I now look after my daughter full time. We go to playgroup, to the park, on walks and on days out. And yet, I still have plenty of time to fit in my working hours. I work during her nap times, evenings, weekends, my husband’s days off and time that my daughter spends with family. My work is as much a part of my life as my husband, my dogs and my daughter. It is my lifestyle, a way of life and a part of me.

As an employee, my working arrangements seem incredibly grown-up. I am trusted to work, and allowed to get on with it. There is nobody looking over my shoulder to make sure that I put in the hours, or to check that what I’m doing is right. What I do have though, is an incentive scheme whereby if the company makes a profit, I get a bonus. As the only employee, I only have myself to blame if things aren’t going well. It feels rather like having my own business, which is why I put my heart and soul into it.

Aside from my own passion for the company, what are the benefits of this arrangement to my employer? Well firstly, there are notably less overheads. I provide my own working area, furniture, computer equipment and refreshments. I personally avoid the cost of a daily commute, so if I do have to go to a business meeting I never claim travel expenses.

Secondly, because of the money I save on transport and childcare, I have been able to accept a much lower salary. I took a large pay-cut to accept the role and I suspect that for the luxury of incorporating both work and children into their lifestyle, there are parents up and down the country that would be willing to do the same.

Lastly, all employers are encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint. This is often done through cycle to work schemes, travel share or lights that turn themselves off. The amount of carbon emissions that can be saved by totally wiping out the daily commute massively outweighs all of these measures.

So what are the disadvantages to employers that are associated with allowing people to work as flexibly as I do? Well, managers like to manage people. I know, because I was one. I liked to know that the people I supervised were in work, doing what they should be doing and that we would hit our key performance targets each month. If they were working from home, I worried that they were watching last night’s Eastenders instead of completing a crucial piece of work.

Conversely though, if everyone worked from home, would key performance indicators be abandoned? Would everyone stop working and start spending their days in front of daytime television? Perhaps some people would. But I can guarantee that those people wouldn’t have been performing particularly well had they been working in an office. Output can be measured through targets and performance reviews wherever your employees are based. Who knows, they might even work a little harder if they didn’t have that stressful commute every day. They might concentrate better without that nagging feeling in the back of their mind that being in that office was preventing them from seeing their children.

Admittedly, the sort of flexibility afforded to me isn’t going to work for every occupation. Some roles require people to work during office hours. Other businesses need their employees to be available to speak to their customers face to face. But here’s a novel idea in these times of austerity. Rather than making people redundant and cutting costs at the expense of employees and customers, could that money be saved in a different way? Could public and private organisations downsize their offices by affording those people whose function allowed it to work from home? Would employees consider taking a small paycut if they no longer had to pay costly childcare fees and spend thousands of pounds a year on petrol or train tickets? Would they even work a little bit harder or a little bit longer if they no longer had to spend nearly as much time getting to work as they spent there? Would they even be more productive if they were allowed to work at the times that suited them rather than the times that suited their employer?

Times are changing, technology is making remote working possible for an increasing number of roles. I’m not suggesting that the office environment is a thing of the past but maybe, just maybe, the illusive work-live balance could be looming on the horizon for more of us.


Pre-race dinner!

Tomorrow is a big day for all of us, especially Libby. Her dad and I are running a half marathon and Libby is competing in her first race- a 1km walk that she will be doing with her aunty Emma. 

We always have pasta for dinner the night before a race, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the new Mediterranean Chicken Pasta + Cheesy Crumb Topping from the Schwartz range. I’m vegetarian, so we substituted the Chicken for Quorn. I’m always really pleased when sauces that are designed to go with chicken are vegetarian. Quorn pieces are a great substitute for chicken and we really enjoyed trying this simple new packet mix. 

I didn’t follow the recipe on the packet exactly; as well as making the vegetarian version, I decided to give it my own twist. I used the recommended yellow pepper and chopped tomatoes, but also added onion, mushrooms, sweetcorn and fresh tomatoes. You just mix the contents of the Mediterranean Pasta part of the packet with 150ml of water and put it into the pan at the same time as the tomatoes. It already looked delicious in the pan! 

Once all of the ingredients were mixed in with the pasta, they went into a baking dish and I added the cheesy crumb topping, followed by grated cheese. After 4-5 minutes under a preheated grill, it came out looking like this: 

We all had a great pre-race dinner, fingers crossed it will give us plenty of energy for the race tomorrow! 

We love the idea of the 2 in 1 range, each one allows you to make a main meal with an exciting side dish to go with it. This post is an entry for BritMums ‘What’s for Dinner Tonight?’ sponsored by Schwartz. Sign up to get your own sample here or copy this URL into your browser:  www.schwartz.co.uk/Products/Recipe-Mixes/2-in-1.aspx

Learning life’s lessons… from a gaming console?

Last month, I wrote a blog post about my brother, who had sold his prize possession, his X-Box. Fast forward a month and, as predicted, he couldn’t live without it. He has purchased another one. In the intervening time when he didn’t have an X-Box, my brother was still constantly using gadgets and gaming consoles of one sort of another. 

He’s not alone though, gaming is becoming more and more popular, particularly amongst teenagers. Despite being a bit technophobic myself, even I can’t help but be amazed by the fantastic array of specialised gaming peripherals that give gamers the edge over their peers when playing online. I could watch this website scrolling through its featured products all evening, I think I’ve become a bit hypnotised by it. There are so many things that look like they are from a sci-fi film. I have to admit it makes me think of Back to the Future. My brother would say that this just means that I’m old. 

So it seems that I need to move with the times and realise that we are living in a time where education takes many different forms. In previous blog posts, I have discussed the benefits of learning online, alongside virtual peers. Having spoken to my 14 year old brother though, it seems that even learning online on a computer could be considered to be a little bit antiquated these days. 

Whichever gaming console you or your children use, you are likely to find that educational games are readily available. Even I have heard of ‘brain trainer’ type games. As well as assisting children with basic mathematics, logic and reasoning, the brain trainer is well known among people of “a certain age” (sadly, I must include myself), as being beneficial to keep your mind active and stave off the onset of alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

These days though, there are numerous skills that you can learn, practice and perfect on your gaming console. Take art, for example. My three sisters are all incredible artists and the likelihood is that my brother shares their artistic talent. There are several games available on consoles and tablets that are geared towards allowing children to develop their artistic side whilst at the same time thinking that they’ve got one over on their parents because they’re doing what they want to do, i.e. gaming. 

The same can be said for maths, P.E., English literature and learning foreign languages. There is even a game that appeals to me. The 8 year old me would have loved the Enid Bliyton Faraway Tree Series for the Nintendo DS. You read the stories and collect magical items and bonus content as you go. The (nearly) 33 year old me is sitting here with fingers and toes crossed that Libby enjoys similar stories when she’s older and I get to read this with her. Maybe by the time Libby is old enough for this, Moonface will actually appear in our living room with some pop biscuits to entice her into reading. Here’s hoping! 

This post is sponsored but views, opinions, indecisive brothers, artistic sisters and yearnings for the Magic of the Faraway Tree to be real are all mine. 

Win free entry into the Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon!

I have been lucky enough to be given a free entry into the amazing Shock Absorber Women Only triathlon at Eton Dorney lake on 14th July. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. Jealous? I would be! 

If you were momentarily consumed with envy, you’ll be delighted to know that I have five additional free entries to give away! If you are considering entering, you might like to know that this has been voted one of the top five triathlons IN THE WORLD! Here’s a bit more about the race and how to prepare for it.  

The race is sponsored by Shock Absorber. I will be trying out one of their fantastic sports bras during their triathlon. Have a look at their collection at http://www.shockabsorber.co.uk. I would highly recommend getting a decent sports bra for a triathlon. Everyone is talking about Shock Absorber at the moment, even Next have recently written about the Shock Absorber Ambassador on their blog

I’m running the competition through Rafflecopter and it’s really easy to enter. Please note that you will need to provide your own travel, wetsuit and bike because Shock Absorber and PlutoniumSox won’t be able to provide these for you. Good luck!

Update 21st June 2013: The winners have now been drawn at random by Rafflecopter and contacted by email. Please check your email to see if you were a winner! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Making the news!

On Friday, we were delighted to see that the front page of our local paper featured Libby and her fundraising efforts! 

We knew that there was going to be a feature on her, but we expected something a bit more like this feature at the top of page two where her story was continued… 

What’s more, Prince Charles was visiting Malvern this week, but he only made page 9! Libby also made page 8 of the Worcester Evening News: 

Libby is walking well holding one hand and can walk quite a long way but she still doesn’t walk totally on her own for more than a few steps. She has already raised several hundred pounds for her four chosen charities, listed in her guest post. The walk takes place in three weeks so with all that pressure on her shoulders, it’s time to get training! 

A first attempt at gardening!

Libby and I are lucky enough to be taking part in the MoneySupermarket #KidsGrowWild challenge. 

To be honest, I’d forgotten that I had applied to do it so the knock on the door yesterday delivering our parcel was a nice surprise. It was an even nicer surprise when we opened the parcel and found Libby’s beautiful gardening bag inside. Libby is obsessed with bags, so having her own was a bit of a dream come true. Particularly as it contained some more lovely goodies. She has a little watering can, some lovely flower seeds, a trowel, a fork and some gardening gloves that will be great for a few years time when her hands have grown a little bit. Here she is having a look through the bag.  

I am in the process of tidying up our garden, and I’ve started with the front garden and cut back the overgrown plants and weeded the flower beds. This has left a nice little area in the flower bed that was empty. I decided that for Libby’s first attempt at growing flowers, we would use the ‘pretty flower family’ seeds and sew them in an “L” shape. On the seed packet, it suggested sewing the seeds in the shape of your name. We didn’t have quite enough space for this, but I thought it was a lovely idea and hopefully, next summer Libby will be learning her letters so seeing the letter “L” for Libby in the garden should be quite exciting.

While I prepared the ground, Libby checked out the trowel… and it seems she loved it! 

Then I helped her to sew the seeds in an ‘L’ shape, and we covered them up with some dirt. Next, she used her fabulous little watering can to give the seeds a bit of water. Then we went into the back garden… still clutching the watering can that she adores! 

In the back garden, my borders aren’t quite ready for growing flowers yet so I decided that we would plant one of the sunflower seeds that Libby received in her gardening pack into a big pot. This will go against a the wall, where there is a lovely sun-trap. I hope it will grow well there, I don’t think it will be long before it towers over Libby. She was delighted by the idea of planting in a pot, because it meant that she could play with the dirt before we put the seed in, covered it over and gave it some water. 

Before we headed inside for a much needed bath, Libby explained to the dogs how much she loves her beautiful gardening kit. 

As you might have noticed, our black dog Soxa has a bad paw at the moment so our family walks have had to stop for a few days. Spending time in the garden has been a welcome replacement for our walks and a great way for us all to enjoy the weather. This post is an entry for BritMums’ #KidsGrowWild Challenge. If you would like to enter, you can do so here: http://www.moneysupermarket.com/home-insurance/competitions/kids-grow-wild/+Marianne Hopwood I thought of you and your boys when I was doing this, I think you would write a lovely blog about it!