Expert says working mums '˜need to be at school gates too'

The secret to happiness and success as a working mother? Make sure you are at the school gates.

Mums with a school gate support network tend to be a lot happier, says Christine Armstrong. Picture: Ian Georgeson

At least that’s the advice of Christine Armstrong, successful businesswoman and author of Power Mums, a book which details the lives of high-profile mothers.

Armstrong says that women who are able to connect to a “mum network” at the school gates are happier, less isolated and that their children – and career – can benefit too.

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She wants big business to do more to allow flexible working for women so they can be better connected to their children’s lives.

Speaking ahead of the Accenture Inspiring Women conference in Edinburgh next week, Armstrong says it was her own experience of trying to juggle raising young children with a high-flying career that led her to investigate the so-called “super mums” – women with big jobs and small children.

“When I interviewed them I found that privately they would admit to finding it much harder than they were willing to say publicly. I realised by reporting what was ‘on-the-record’ I was colluding to some extent and creating a glossier tale than the reality.

“I wanted to explore the off- the-record experiences and understand the difference between women who seemed pretty happy and those who seemed to be struggling.”

One thing Armstrong found that improved women’s happiness was having a network of friends locally who could share information and support each other.

She said: “Women who don’t have a local support network can become isolated, and women who are engaged at the nursery and school gate tend to be happier and able to connect with school life as well as office life.

“Children can also miss out as mums tend to invite the children of mums they know to playdates, parties and pass on information, how to get on the ballet waiting list, who the best local football coach is.

“I have interviewed children of ex-power mums who said they often felt self-conscious that their mum wasn’t at the school gates and jealous of other children.

“Working long hours can also make mums feel less connected to their children. When it gets to Saturday morning they realise they don’t know anything much about the ins and outs of the school week.

“The risk is that women end up leaving successful careers because it feels like an either/or choice between work and family.”

She also says that dads are unable to fill the role of mother at the school gates as they are less likely to be invited to, say, a mum’s house for a coffee, or a jog around the park.

According to TimeWise, a job search company which helps employees find part-time, or flexible work, there are 8.7 million people in the UK who want flexible hours but don’t have them.

Armstrong says if women were offered more flexible working hours then you could see more women in high-powered jobs. “We need to make flexible working hours more normal and with set boundaries, so parents can turn their phones off, from 6-8 when doing the bedtime routine, for example. Job shares are also a great model for employers to aim for.

“It’s no surprise it’s very stressful trying to manage work and children, but having flexibility and a strong local network makes a huge difference,” she added.