While there has been some progress in helping working parents, it can still be tough to juggle children and a career, writes STV News at Six presenter Kelly-Ann Woodland.
Returning to work after a career break is tough going. Throw a teething baby and a brand new role into the works and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. A tiring, guilt-inducing, fraught, high-speed rollercoaster of a ride that never slows down. On the one hand, you get to go to the toilet by yourself at work. On the other, there’s a good chance you have a Cheerio in your hair.
Many organisations are changing rapidly to ease returning to work and there are support groups out there to build confidence and help with the military-style planning that’s needed to balance work and family life.
The opportunity to front flagship news programme The STV News at Six came when I was on maternity leave with my second son. I was six months in, with my head firmly focused on my kids. But this was my dream job and one I’d worked hard for. It would mean more hectic days, considerable planning, a lengthy commute, a live show and a race home to put the kids to bed. So, was I right to go for the job I’d wanted all my life, despite the timing? Absolutely.
For me, this was about making the right choices for the kids in the long-term and setting a good example. I wanted them to see you can go for the big jobs, irrespective of obstacles.
After clinching the job, I focused my efforts on trying to achieve that much-coveted work-life balance. I had a positive conversation with STV where we agreed new hours so that I could do the nursery and school run in the morning. I’d recommend going to employers with a reasonable but flexible plan and being open to a conversation about how you can both make it work – and thankfully, STV were receptive to this.
As a family, we figured out a childcare plan, with my husband adapting his schedule and taking on afternoon pickups. I spend half my commute on the phone, organising the kid’s schedules. Loads of those calls are to my mum, who I’m very thankful to say is a godsend, especially when the kids are unwell.
Exhausted before hitting motorway
Like loads of parents, there are mornings when I feel exhausted before I’ve even hit the motorway. And I’m not even going to get into the scrutiny of the appearance of women on screen, especially one who’s been woken up several times in the night before going live to half a million people each night. It simply shouldn’t matter.
Alongside millions of other working parents, I’ve so many balls in the air and sometimes they come crashing down. I’ve still not managed to strike that perfect balance but a flexible working policy, an understanding boss, a support network and good childcare all help enormously. I’m trying to get into mindfulness, because self care is important too.
There are many working parents with way greater demands on them, and many can’t make it work. There’s still so much more progress to be made. We need increased awareness that working parents can reconnect with their working self, they haven’t lost all their skills amidst a sea of babygros and sleep deprivation and should be encouraged to have a realistic conversation with employers about what works for them.
If you see a job or promotion that you think is right for you, don’t be put off by the fact you’re on maternity leave. Be bold, be brave and seize the opportunity. When I showed this piece to my colleague – also a very tired working mum who, by the way, is killing it in the workplace – she asked me, ‘so are we winning’? Not just yet, but we’re getting there.
Kelly-Ann Woodland is co-presenter of the STV News at Six