It was never the prize for excellence, always effort that I’d bag at school. I’m a grafter, a reviser, a Post-it note lover, a Sellotape-over-the-cracks kinda gal who has one USP (other than Grade 3 on the triangle): determination.
So quitting my job today as senior copywriter at The L’Oreal Group hurt. It was against everything I’ve grown to know about myself. As women, mothers, wives, partners and friends, we don’t quit y’see. We fail repeatedly at things, we mess up, we stress out but never seem to throw in the towel – however much Weetabix is being mashed into your face by an E-colour fuelled toddler.
The word itself turns me a bit cold. To quit: to stop, cease or discontinue. I’ve had to stop, cease and discontinue a career that stemmed from reading teen rag Bliss Magazine in 1991 and thinking, ‘I like words, I want to write some of those.’ This can be my thing!
It led to an internship at Heat Magazine where I met H from Steps (a career high); I then bagged a job as a reporter on Practical Caravan (is there ever an impractical caravan?) and ended up being their tow bar expert before slipping onto Horticulture Week and learning how to spell ‘fuchsia’.
It’s a career that led me to my husband @papa_pukka – a fellow reporter on the salubrious Human Resources magazine and took me to Dubai, a Swarovski-encrusted dictatorship where I wrote about shoes and handbags for Grazia; then onto Amsterdam where I was the Vice Editor at Time Out Amsterdam – I would pitch up to sex parties and write notes, before interviewing the founder on his favoured lube.
That’s just my (fairly low-brow) career path; every mother, every parent has a path.
We all make decisions along the way – from seemingly essential GCSE choices and summer pub jobs to Monster boards, degrees in surf studies (?) and ultimately deciding how to make everything you’ve worked for work with your family.
I’m friends with baristas, barristers, stay-at-office-mums, stay-at-home mums, Instamums, Instabums, bloggers, sloggers, mum bosses and mum-don’t-give-a-tosses, cupcake bakers, cake fakers and everything inbetween. But the one thing that unites us all as parents is the struggle to make work actually work. (And laughing/ crying together through the madness.)
I don’t think it works. I’ve given it a good innings but at 34 I’m hanging up my press pass and gracefully edging out of the office because I don’t want to be the one scrambling to daycare like a rasping labrador anymore.
I can’t be the one landing in a mangled maternal heap at 6.07pm, with Mae sat alone – mini backpack on, wide-eyed and wondering why everyone else has been picked up. I can’t turn my back on her anymore as she’s hollering ‘Mama’ and begging for me to stay in the morning – during the week, she’s with her carer 38 hours, awake with us 16 hours, that ratio cuts deep. I don’t want to have to shell out 1 quid for every minute I’m over 6pm at daycare.
And I can’t skulk out of the office at 5pm, feeling like a maternal pariah.
I can’t do it. And I know I’m not alone – 54,000 mothers feel pushed to leave employment every year, according to the brilliant website pregnantthenscrewed.com.
And this covers the full gamut – those who are forced out by bell-end bosses (one friend said her company only ever discussed her ‘leaving’, never going on ‘maternity leave’ when she announced her pregnancy) to those who trot out of the office merrily only to regret it six months later – it’s hard to go back, there’s always someone bouncier and less yoghurt-stained ready to slot into your position.
And what hurts more is The L’Oreal Group, a huge multi-billion pound company employing more than 78,600 people are great. They’re one of best companies I’ve worked for – the people are great, the work is great, the doubled-ended volume mascara is great. I wish I’d had a dramatic exit with requisite flouncing and an official escorting out of the building as I holler ‘you’re not worth it’.
They gave me as much flexibility as the role could muster, but they moved our creative studio a further half an hour away from us (I see Mae 10 minutes a day as it is) and that one change was the straw that broke this mama’s back. The role was flexible, but not Cirque de Soleil level – I needed a glitter-embellished contortionist as an employer to make this work.
But what gives me hope as I quit my honest-to-god-dream-job is a wave of parents rolling up their Sudocrem-smattered sleeves going ‘let’s do this’. A bunch of people who have realised big brands aren’t getting it and probably won’t in our lifetime. For every fresh company that offers flexible working for people – we’re not just talking parents, but everyone – there’s 7,690 that are set in their archaic ways.
What I’ve seen in this brave new digitally savvy parental world that’s leaving these gargantuan brands in its wake is that with some hard graft, an understanding of Instagram and enough people willing to lift up instead of tearing down, we can do this.
Forget ‘Instamums’, forget the ‘cool mum’ blather, we’re all laughing as much as we’re crying and wondering how long that Thomas the Tank Engine plaster has been stuck in our barnet. We’re in this together – be that Lennie & Co’s FRIYAY t-shirts or Don’t Buy Her Flowers’ packages for knackered new mums and every new parent-run business or blog inbetween.
We’re just a rabble of mothers who don’t want it all, but want something.
My something is to be with my daughter and pull in cold, hard cash whenever, wherever I can (without it being illegal) – be that in the playground or at my Ketchup-smattered kitchen table.
Career, you’ve been fruitful but it’s time to stumble (not jump – too knackered) off the precipice into something else; something that will involve fighting for flexible working in global brands; fighting for reducing extortionate daycare rates and trying to build a platform that champions parent-run businesses one Instagram post at a time.
It’s time to see what’s out there – even if it is just having Weetabix mashed into my face. Mother Pukka, indeed.
Written by: Anna Whitehouse.