Motherhood, Careers and Feminism: Is There A Quiet Revolution Going On?

Laura deliberates bannerWith International Women’s day just past, it’s hard not to reflect on the choices I have made as a woman and the journey I have taken to get here.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted a career. Of course, as a child the actual career path was yet to be defined, but I was determined to be successful. I class myself as a feminist and I am proud to be one. My parents encouraged me and I entered university believing the world to be my oyster.

I worked hard and I did indeed get my career. I was proud of it. I climbed the ladder and I was a department manager, managing large budgets and projects by the time I was twenty-seven.

At 31, I had my son. I still believed that the world could be my oyster. I knew it would take a lot more juggling, but the idea of not going back to work at that stage was unfathomable. I was lucky to get a manager’s job part time and I went back when my son was ten months.

Little was I prepared for just how hard this would be. I missed him terribly, but I did enjoy the challenge of using my brain again. However, it soon became apparent that juggling was much more difficult than I thought it would be. My son got sick so much – from stomach bugs that went of for a week, burst ear drums, to hand, foot and mouth you name it, he got it. I ended up taking so much time out to care for him. I used to feel sick before I needed to make the ‘dreaded phone call’ and there were days when I sent my son to childcare, knowing that what he really he needed was another day at home with me.

Couple that with commuting, juggling child care drop offs and pick ups, a growing workload, my husband’s business travel and there were weeks when I thought my life might implode. I felt like my son was always moving to the bottom of the pile, to his detriment.

After discovering I was pregnant for the second time I knew something had to give. Giving up work in some respects was easy by this time, in others immensely hard. I felt like I was abandoning my feminist principles. At the time I had a rough plan of what I hoped to do after, but I was essentially for a while at least, giving up my career to become a stay at home mum.

I took a year out and soon discovered that being a stay at home was valuable and rewarding. I was lucky that my son had an amazing childminder, but I watched him flourish through the one on one time we had together after I stopped working. My daughter was born and she has had some (mild) health issues, which has meant that she needs me way more than my son did as a baby. I knew in my heart it was the right choice.

A year on and my brain was in need of another challenge. Financially, as a family, we could also do with me earning some money. So at the beginning of this year I set up my own business and it is slowly and very modestly growing.

I’m still learning and this is a new path, yes I have already discovered it can be tricky at times. I try to do most of my work when my son is at pre-school or my daughter is napping. But for a lot of time they are about. I split my time between doing activities with them and doing work – be it seeing clients, managing files, client calls and messages, book keeping, or marketing and stock management.

I have been surprised of the clients I have started working with how accepting they have been. When I offer them an appointment time and say you can come in the evening when my children are asleep, or in the day when my baby daughter will be present (and my son is at pre-school). So far, not one client has asked for an evening appointment. Although they are sincerely welcome to one.

I have also been pleasantly surprised how good my three year old son has been with this development. As long as I make time to play, cook, do craft or go to the park with him. He is happy for me to spend time at the computer or at my desk while he plays with his toys. For me as a mother, I love being able to do the school run, to be able to drop everything and go to the park if we feel like it, if I need to do some work in the evening – so be it. It is my business and I can flex things however I need to.

Which brings me back to original point – feminism. I believe there is a quiet revolution going on. Of empowered women who had careers before children, but realise that the modern workplace is no longer flexible or adaptable enough for them. Perhaps it’s the all too persistent stay-late culture, the need to be seen to be working extra hours, the time you waste commuting when you could be with your children or even actually working, or because they do not wish their children to be in full time childcare, for cost or other reasons. Maybe just simply they do not wish to miss those precious years that are all over far too fast as it is.

Sadly, it seems in talking to some women researching this post, everyday sexism is still quite commonplace, and most prevalent with women who are mothers or of childbearing age.  I found the following article in quite pertinent I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with. I applaud the author’s honesty and I am heartened by her revelation, but it still makes me sad. How can feminism prevail if women themselves are discriminating against other women?

But, I do truly believe there is a silent revolution going on. Women, as they always have done, are fighting back. If the work place isn’t working for them, then they will make their own. Working from home, starting their own business or freelancing. There seems to be a very exciting growth in often small, but still wonderful home businesses. This allows mothers the opportunity to work around caring for their children. Doing so enables them to achieve two goals – that of their own careers and those of nurturing and being a mother.

As Sara Pritchard, Co Founder of FYI Kids told me:

“I have four kids and starting our own business is the best thing we ever did. When I had twins, a manager told me my career was over. I got fed up of juggling the cost of childcare, attending Sports Days and assemblies. Plus being overlooked for promotion. Life is loads better, I work when I want to, it fits around my kids. I am getting to watch my kids grow up. That’s priceless!”

Emma Firth, former Telegraph journalist and now freelance journalist and copywriter (Word Squirrel) agrees:

“I think working while at home as a mum, really is as close as it gets to the perfect balance of the personal and professional.

I’m doing what I love-writing-around being with my children when they’re awake as much as possible. They see me fulfilled and earning, but we have huge amounts of time together for fun adventures every week.

I wouldn’t swap it for the world, and more and more friends are seeing past a life that’s either fully at home or involves commuting and childcare. I feel very lucky to have the life I do.”

I think there are lots of businesses who are missing out on this strong and hardworking workforce. Give a work at home mum a task, as long as you don’t care that she might end up doing it at ten at night, I promise you it will be done well, on time and you will have her dedication and loyalty. I bet you she will work harder than half your office workers and cost you less in office space too.

I for one am the happiest I have ever been and do not regret my choice in the least. As I watch my friends and also my Twitter feed I see more and more women are making this choice and it brings a smile to my face. When I need to buy something, if possible I like to search my Twitter timeline to see if there is a mum out there making it, so I can spend my money with her. Because feminism in more ways than one begins at home.

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12 thoughts on “Motherhood, Careers and Feminism: Is There A Quiet Revolution Going On?”

  1. A super post and something I think SO many of us feel. I know I was really surprised by how much I struggled when returning work. If only more employers offered flexible working and started to appreciate how valuable working mums can be. Have you seen the Mumsnet post from Vodafone? They also offer 4 day weeks at the rate of 5 day weeks for six months on return from Maternity leave.

  2. Surely the whole point of feminism is that women should have choice. There is no more important job than giving the next generation a secure foundation on which to build their lives. This does not mean I am against women having careers outside the home as well as rearing their children – for some the juggling of time and commitment are part of the challenge and they thrive on it and so do their children. But there are also mums who want to give those early years of childhood their full attention, and this does not make them any less feminist. Of course, financial pressures mean that most mums have to find a way to support the family budget too, and it is a pity that the modern workplace is still so inflexible. However, it has to be acknowledged that in today’s cutthroat economy it is difficult for employers to give that flexibility when everything needs to be done ‘yesterday’, even if they would choose to. Until society as a whole recognises the importance and value of time spent bringing up children, the glass ceiling will stay firmly in place on the career ladder. There is a quiet revolution going on because resourceful women will always find ways to give expression to their talents as businesswomen as well as mothers, and will be better mothers because of it. I agree that feminism begins at home – for if it doesn’t who will teach the next generation why it is important.?

  3. @Rachel Thanks Rachel, it really did take me by surprised just how hard it was. No I haven’t seen the Vodafone post I’ll go and have a look, that sounds like a great reward for their staff. Too many businesses see Mums as an inconvenience I think

    @Hilary I think there is almost another blog topic in there about how modern society undervalues the stay-at-home Mum. It’s great that women have more choices now, but in many ways we don’t because of financial pressures. Women are starting home businesses because as you suggest we are adaptable and for a lot of women it is a great compromise.

  4. I can relate to this post so much, and I’m sure many can. My kids are much older – 13, 11 and 9. I never reached management level as I had my eldest at 27 and my career stalled at that point. I stayed at the same level for many years, then last year took voluntary redundancy and now work for myself at home. It’s one of the best things I ever did!

  5. @Sarah quite a few women who I have spoke to about this post have said that their career stalled after having children. Which goes to show that the glass ceiling will forever stay in place if that is the case. I know it’s not in every business, but it seems to be a common theme. I agree working for yourself it actually quite liberating after all the juggling – I’m really glad it’s working out for you 🙂

  6. Hi Laura, your blog really struck a chord with me. You’ve only got to look at how many female Executive Directors there are in the FTSE250 @ 5%!!!! An appalling work-life balance and not working smart are key to this trend. A ‘time macho’ culture prevails in every corporate today – relentless competition to work harder, stay later and travel endlessly around the world. For as long as this unforgiving nature of the ’24/7′ culture prevails – smart women will continue to leave corporate life in their droves and rightly so. Why would you stay? for the excessive governance and hierarchy, endless, perpetual pointless meetings; talking nonsense – it is difficult to be a reasonable Mother and succeed professionally in Corporate Britain today – unless of course you have a stay at home partner. There has been lots of lip service paid to this issue since the Davies Report in 2010 – but no meaningful change has occurred – just lots of smart new female non-executive directors to skew the numbers. Really pleased that you made the leap. Best wishes, Fiona McNamara

    • Hi Fiona – thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you’re well? I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment. I didn’t know that only 5% of the FTSE250 are Executive Directors that’s a really depressing figure and even sadder at the moment I cannot seem to see that changing. Government policy seems focused at extending childcare hours without addressing the core issues that affect women, as you have said an appalling work/life balance. While there are a couple of exceptions again as you have said the women that really manage to be successful, have stay at home partners. Thanks again and lovely to hear from you x

  7. I think you are absolutely right, modern work practices are not family-friendly, there are very few places that truly adapt to women becoming Mothers. I also think the role of SAHM is completely undervalued & something I’m very passionate about. If you haven’t seen it already, check out the Mothers at Home Matter’s website

    • Thanks for stopping by 🙂 I agree I actually think there might be another post in me about how the stay at home mum is totally under valued in modern society.

      I follow Mother’s At Home but thank you for the recommendation 🙂

  8. I enjoyed your blog, Laura, not least because it’s a pleasure to hear how another resourceful woman has found a way to ‘have it all’, despite the macho male attitudes which tend to dominate in the traditional workplace. You say that having a partner at home is key to having the flexibility to climb the career ladder whilst having children and you are absolutely right. I was lucky enough to have exactly that and it made a huge difference. When my husband and I entered into that arrangement nearly 30 years ago it was almost unheard of and a lot of people (family included) thought we were mad and that it would all end in tears. It didn’t. Not only did I it enable me to pursue my career, on behalf of the family I was then supporting, but has given my husband a much closer relationship with our children than he would otherwise have had. And importantly our children had the opportunity to grow up knowing that Mum can be the one to go to work instead of Dad, which is the family model they saw most of their friends part of. To me that is an important feminist message for children. The fact that this parental arrangement is now much more common is to be applauded as it can only advance the feminist cause. And if mothers can break into the managerial ranks at work, as I did, there is a golden opportunity to lead and manage in a family friendly way, whether for male or female colleagues. And it was an opportunity I took and relished. It was appreciated (of course it was!) and fostered huge loyalty and commitment from those I worked with. I too read the article about the Fortune 100 female manager who was sorry to all the mothers she worked with before becoming a mother, and like you I was really torn in my feelings towards her confession. Great that she was honest, but what motivated her to be so deliberately awkward to her colleagues who were mothers in the first place? The quiet revolution can only be helped by ‘enlightened’ women managers, so perhaps shouting her new attitude from the rooftops is the greatest support she could give.

  9. I think there might be and I really hope there is! It’s about time we started to make it work for us! It’s certainly one of the reasons I started blogging. Great article and I’ll be sharing on my FB page.


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