Juggling a career and motherhood - it comes at a cost

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced the introduction of flexible parental leave to give mothers choice over their work-life balance.

From 2015 it means that parents will be able to take time off together or in turns and have a legal right to request flexible working.

While many unions and parents have welcomed the move, the reality for many working families is that they have to weigh up their income with the cost of paying for childcare if the mother is to return to work, whether in a part-time or full-time capacity.

Paying for childcare is just one hurdle for mothers juggling the conflicting demands of work with raising children.

For mothers dropping off - children or in some cases babies under a year-old- there is the emotional pull as well as the logistical stresses of organising drop-offs, pick-ups, changes of clothes and the constant preparation for the unexpected.

As a working mum myself I have my reservations about how much of a difference the new legislation will make in practical terms. When you boil it down to its basics, working and raising children is a tough call.

The mornings are a mad dash of breakfasts, lunches, getting school bags ready with an eye constantly on the clock. To make sure I get my two children, a six-year-old and a 10-year-old, out of the door on time with all my work things ready, I start preparations early, even getting things sorted the night before.

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At school while the other mums catch up with each other, my brain, quickly followed by the rest of me, is already focusing on stories and deadlines and getting to work.

Once at the office, although I am getting on with my work, there is always a small part of my brain wondering if the children are OK, have eaten their lunch and hoping I haven’t missed an assembley or a school trip.

Leaving the office in time to pick them up is a huge challenge but it takes organisation and a dose of that wonderful thing called preparation, not to mention an understanding boss.

The fear that always eats away at me is that I may be late in picking them up or they are hurt and I can’t get to them on time. I do have plan B or plan C - my parents, but like to do as much as possible by myself.

Once I picked them up and given them a snack I am back at my desk where I will carry on working from home until 5.30pm or 6pm or I finish a piece of work or story. This has its challenges as, understandably, the children want my attention but they are old enough to understand that mummy is working and amuse themselves until I am done.

Contacts I speak to and interviewees are accustomed to hearing child related noises in the background while talking to me but with a great deal of focus, and some guilt, I get through the day only to do more of the same tomorrow.

Working and being mum, is possible, but only by using every minute of my day wisely - there is no down time.

Lucelle Webber, 40, works full-time as a PA in central London while raising a son, Hunter, three, who attends nursery.

She gave birth to him in New Zealand and returned to the UK in March 2012.

Once here it took her six weeks to find a job as she was upfront about the fact that she had a three-year-old son.

Even then she had to ask her employers to be flexible and allow her to work from 8.45am to 5.15pm so she could pick up her son.

It also meant she could not go for the kind of jobs she wanted as a PA with 15 years experience. As a result she has had to take a 25 per cent cut in salary and pays more than �500 a month for childcare even with help of 15 hours of free nursery care provided by the government.

She said: “My day starts at 6.15am and I drop Hunter off at 8am so I can get to work. I tried to find something that was 9am-5pm but that was really hard and the TinyTown nursery in Canning Town said they would stay open another 15 minutes so I could take up the job, which was brilliant.

“I have to get out of the office at 5.15pm on the dot to be able to pick him up by 6.15pm else I have to pay a penalty, so getting stuck on the tube does not help and you can’t ring them because you are underground. There are times when its just me and if you are stuck’ at work, you end up paying charges.”

She also worries about not being able to pick him up on time should she be delayed.

Lucelle admits the mornings are a mad rush – getting Hunter ready and leaving for work on time. She also admits to feeling guilty at dashing off to work while leaving her son at nursery, but says she would feel worse if it wasn’t for the support from the nursery staff.

Shaline Manhertz, 38, is a mother of two who lives in East Ham.

She said: “I found working and raising one child was challenging and determined my career path.

“I decided to look for a job nearer home six months after returning to work. I had previously worked in central London but doing the commute was quite stressful. The nursery charged �25 per 15 minutes and this would have seriously tested my finances.

“I have two children and though I work nearer to home I still find the nursery and childminder pick-up a struggle as they are based in different parts of the borough. The childminder is quite flexible and the nursery doesn’t charge for occasional late pick-ups but I do feel pressure.

“The cost of nursery and childminding is fair as it is an important job but the cumulative cost means it rivals the mortgage.

“Now my son is three the costs are reduced and the nursery education grant (around �200) and the salary sacrifice vouchers (�243 per month) I get from work really help.

“The actual cost for a month for two days a week is �340. My daughter is picked up from school by a childminder who I pay just under �500 a month – most of which is paid through the support I receive but when my son was under two the costs were quite high.

“I’m very fortunate as my partner is able to look after the children two days a week which seriously cuts down on the cost.

“The cost of parenting, childcare in particular, is a key issue in work-life balance and can impact on a range of other issues within the home.

“Organisation in everything is the key to success and limiting your stress levels.”

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