Sunday, 27 October 2013

Full Time, Part Time, Total Eclipse - A Decade of Working Mum Life

Forgive the blatant title theft from that fantastic Jaffa Cake ad from the *mumble* late 1990s, but as I start the second year of my 4th decade, I realize that in the last decade of my career I have been full time, part time and unemployed in various measures. 

Having worked in TV drama (as Sara Johnson) since graduation, by 30 I had risen to the giddy heights of Head of Drama at BSkyB.  I had my first child while there and returned full time after 6 months of oft-interrupted maternity leave. When I left that job I took a consulting contract 4 days a week for a big International TV company, across which time I had a very test-ridden and stressful second pregnancy.  I was also refurbishing a house at the time (seriously, why do we do this extreme version of nesting?) but it still all felt fairly doable.

When my second boy was born he became ill very quickly and within a horribly difficult year had been diagnosed with a very rare genetic disorder that readers of this blog will be aware of.  In this period of my career I struggled to see if there was any way to continue working in TV as the mother of a potentially very disabled and confirmedly medically complicated little boy.  This is when I stumbled upon the organisation Women Like Us and took comfort by searching weekly for jobs both in my chosen field, and outside in Plan B Land, should all else fail.

After accepting that I was trained for little else and simply had to make TV work for me again, I gathered my fragile confidence and after 18 months effectively out of the game, got lucky in a full time Head of Development job for a drama production company.  

I accepted the post full time and when I look back, have no idea how I managed while coping with the medical emergencies and traumas of my baby. Leaving meetings to speak about heart problems and breathing issues, learning what the doctors couldn’t tell me about the complications of my boy, playing au pair roulette and running my life by remote control...trying desperately to be all things to everyone while still managing to have a career.

Another 5 years on and I have just started a part time more high profile job, as the Head of Scripted for a UK production company backed by the makers of Prisoner of War/Homeland.  I have an understanding boss who knows the benefits of hiring women in their late 30’s + and the flexibility required for that. I have two thankfully healthy kids and am finally off the red alert that dominated so much of my last decade concerning my youngest.  Life is by no means typical or easy but compared to the last decade, I am lighter of foot and appreciate every milestone we all achieve.

I know that I am lucky to do this present job 3 days a week and pragmatically am ready to consider adding another day should the need arise, but for now I both relish and desperately need that two day break from being Super Sara:  

To attend clinic appointments guilt-free
To speak to teachers who know who I am because of the times I am able to go in and help
To continue my work as a parent advocate and writer on behalf of the charities that help me to retain my sanity
And honestly to do some of the things that capable women shouldn’t admit to needing - walking slowly from chore to chore; staring into space in a supermarket queue; not looking in the mirror before leaving the house; being a bit shouty when working out how to manage lists for the day/week/month ahead and sometimes just crumbling a little and being not at all fabulous, but in private.

Above all else I need time to talk, learn from and counsel the amazing women in my ever-growing network from the last 20 years of my career.  Knowing that in this time of calm for me, anything I do will come back to me in spades as and when I need it. 

I know how to look for the pioneers to inspire me in all the separate parts of my life and I love that there are more places out there to find them.  

You see women like you and me need women like us to help us to keep on keeping on.  Either full time, part time or somewhere in between.   

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