Giving up the guilt

Since I have started my search for the perfect job I have been considering how our lives will change once I am working. One of the specifications for the perfect job is flexibility as my husband and I want to share child care responsibilities. This has led to lots of metaphorical discussions along the lines of ‘if I started work early two days a week could you go in later and do drop off’. Obviously until I get a job and know what days/hours I am working no decisions need to be made so we are just exploring what might be possible at this stage. Interestingly though I feel like I am asking a favour, that the responsibility of looking after the kids is solely mine. I even thought that I would make the packed lunches the night before so that hubby wouldn’t have that task in the mornings!

I have read lots of articles and blog posts about the curse of the working mum, not just the practical task of juggling responsibilities but the sense of guilt that accompanies it.I have read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ recently and she says we have to stop beating ourselves up and feeling that we have to aim for perfection. I have been guilty of falling into the guilt trap recently and worrying about the impact of me going back to work especially on the children. When faced with an opportunity recently I even caught myself thinking about all the ways it wouldn’t work, why I couldn’t do it and why I wouldn’t be very good at it. I know this stems from fear and a slight lack of confidence about returning to work rather than reality. Anyway I have given myself a strong talking to and I am giving up the guilt.

Going back to work will mean changes all round – some of these will be tough but others will be great (like being able to go on great holidays!). I am lucky in that my husband is very supportive and is willing to pull his weight with the kids and house stuff. The kids have coped brilliantly with the changes that moving to a new country required and I am sure they will take this change in their stride to. The house might not be as tidy in the future and we may not always be able to sit down to a meal together but life will still go on.

It’s been a while

My last post was entitled ‘Oh dear’ and started with an apology for my infrequent posting – over a year ago! However in my defence I do have a new blog which is capturing all the ups and downs of our move to New Zealand. However I felt this post might be better here as it concerns an issue I have talked about previously – identity.

After 4 months in New Zealand I am ready to go back to work. The children are settled in school and with the childminder so I now have the time as well as the inclination. I feel much more comfortable as a ‘stay at home mum’ here than I did in the UK but while I love the coffee mornings, trips to the park and beach I miss work, miss being part of a wider team contributing to something. So my issue with identity has moved on somewhat. I have been spending time working on my CV and am struggling with my ‘professional identity’. A new twitter friend (@dds180) has posted recently about not fitting into a neat occupational box and this is how I feel at the moment. I don’t feel that I can say ‘I am a …….’. My last job title (Head of Business Intelligence) whilst sounding impressive is fairly meaningless out of the context of that organisation and doesn’t reflect the breadth of my role there. My skills, knowledge and experience cover a number of areas but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am an expert in any of them. I know what I am good at and know that I can add value to an organisation that can be flexible enough not to pigeon hole me. The trick however is finding that organisation.

It has been a very long time since I last looked for a job (Twitter wasn’t even around then!) so it is all a bit daunting especially after some time out of the workforce and in a new country. I am taking it slowly and am focusing on having conversations with people about the NZ jobs market, the different sectors and my skill set. I am spending some time thinking about what i want to do, what strengths I want to focus on and how I would like to develop. My online network has been incredibly helpful and it is great taking some of those online connections into ‘real life’. I know I am lucky in that I have time on my side – I don’t need to find a job right away, it is more important that I find the right job.

Oh dear

Mmmmmm I am not very good at this am I? It has been 3 months, 3 weeks and 2 days since my last post. Can I plead mitigating circumstances? Actually it is just life, general busyness due to kids, Christmas, studies etc so it isn’t much of an excuse. And I can’t promise that things will get any better but I will try. In fact I am only really posting today as I feel guilty – I have written a guest post for another blog and didn’t want my own to feel neglected.

Studies are going OK I think, though am playing catch-up after being ill last week. I have done my OU residential which was interesting, challenging and frustrating in equal measure. My favourite moment was during the first session’s introductions – we were going slowly round the table with people talking at length about their roles and then we came to me, it was great to see everyone’s heads pop up as I said ‘I don’t work’ though not sure if they were jealous or just felt sorry for me. Anyway that state of affairs will soon be no longer as my consultancy project has been agreed and as of March I shall be earning a small (but honest) living as a freelance consultant.

In other news I have met up with some Twitter peeps for the first time which was great and have arranged another meet up with a new person. I am also planning to attend the Connecting HR tweetup in April and the unconference in May so am broadening my horizons. Really looking forward to meeting people after conversing with them via Twitter.

a bit of a whirlwind

Life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the exam, I feel like I haven’t been home long enough to feel on top of anything until this week, hence a lack of blog posts. The exam went ok-ish, I did two OK answers on performance related pay and the need for consultancy skills and one weaker answer on recruitment and selection in the context of diversity, fingers crossed it will be enough to pass. Since then there have been two trips to London, a long weekend away in Devon and another in the Lake District. I have spent this week getting back on top of housework, washing and ironing, the household finances, filing and birthday cards etc etc – just about feel in control of everything again. I am a bit of a control freak so get a bit edgy if I don’t feel in control of at least one aspect of my life so feeling a bit more on an even keel now. Interestingly while I was ‘in the whirlwind’ I didn’t engage much with social media – particularly Twitter – as I didn’t feel I had the head space to handle the influx of information.

My next two OU modules started this week and I am already trying not to panic about the workload. I am really looking forward to Psychometrics though definitely need to get my head round statistics again as it has been a long time since my quantitative research days. My other module is project based and a year-long rather than six months, however the workload in the first few months while I scope out a suitable project is fairly heavy. I am going to need to be really disciplined over the next few months as I can’t afford to leave things to the last minute and I really don’t want my studies to eat into too much ‘family time’. I know the end is in sight and hopefully that will help sustain the motivation.

Cool, calm and collected?

mmmmmm not really as I have an exam tomorrow. But I think I have done what I can, my notecards and mindmaps are ready for me to look at in a panic tomorrow morning, my pencil case is packed and I have my directions to the venue. As much as I enjoy studying I am really looking forward to 5.30 tomorrow afternoon when I can relax (at least for 6 months when I will be doing it all again!). Please send positive thoughts my way at 2.30 tomorrow and fingers crossed there will be questions on recruitment, reward and consultancy approaches.

And as a friend pointed out to me today ‘stressed’ is just ‘desserts’ backwards so here’s to a tasty pudding tomorrow night!

saying goodbye

I am sad to report that Rosie our goldfish has died. Now this isn’t that much of a surprise as she did come from the Hook a Duck stand at the fair and so her life chances were fairly slim. However we did our best by her, bought her a big tank with a filter, some plastic plants and a little rainbow to swim under if she so pleased. So we are holding on to the fact that her few short days with us were at least happy ones.

Luckily I spotted it first so the hard part was breaking the news to our little girl who had won Rosie last weekend and was very excited to have a pet all of her own. There were the expected tears and the heart breaking question of ‘Was it my fault? Did I feed her too much?’. We had to explain that we didn’t really know why Rosie had died but we think she had been happy with us and we will bury her in the garden later (and pray that the cat doesn’t dig her up).

It reminded me of how hard it was to explain death to her when my granddad passed away earlier this year. We are not religious so steered clear of talk of heaven, focusing on the fact that he had had a long and happy life with his family, that he was old and poorly and that his heart had stopped beating. It then got into a bit of a biology lesson about the heart and blood pumping round the body. As she was only three she soon forgot all of this and moved on to something else. But she does come back to it from time to time, especially if other people talk about him and asks where Great Granddad Roy is and we have to explain again. As she is a bit older now I think she understands it a little more and has asked when she will die which was a hard question to answer. I try to be as truthful as possible with her but didn’t want to say ‘I don’t know’, so focused on the fact that most people don’t die until they are very old and she had lots of years to go. I imagine there will be lots of difficult questions I will need to answer in the future.

She hasn’t yet asked if we are going to get another goldfish and if she does I am not sure what my response will be – I don’t want her to think that when something dies it can easily and quickly be replaced. And besides I didn’t want a goldfish in the first place!

In praise of praise

I have just read a couple of interesting blog posts here  and here which talk about about the importance of praise and recognition in the workplace. Basically the upshot is that being praised or recognised at work improves employee engagement and motivation. For many though this seems to be a once a year event at the annual performance appraisal and in many cases the ‘well done’ is quickly followed by objectives for the next year. The articles suggest that praise should be timely, specific, focused on the end goal and given often. In many ways this is very similar to the process that we have followed with our little girl (well tried to at least) when trying to teach her things such as table manners, using the toilet, cleaning her teeth. She even has her own sticker chart and rewards if she achieves a certain target each week. I can’t say for certain it is working – behaviour this week suggests otherwise – but we shall persevere.

The parenting books I have read (read might be a misleading term, skimmed maybe) suggest that it is important to focus on the positive behaviour rather than the ‘failures’ and when the behaviour isn’t as expected to deal with it quickly and then forget it.  A recent post by Dave Goddin picked this up talking about how school children are expected to make mistakes – it is part of the learning process. His post went on to consider how the workplace is different as failure tends to be viewed as a deficiency. Others have posted about how we treat failure at work and its consequences (What Goes Around and Thinking about Learning). I have no bright ideas about how to solve this problem but may be there is something to be learnt from the process of parenting.

As a parent you don’t tend to get much praise, the little ones you take care of are not yet advanced enough to recognise all the wonderful things you do for them everyday and I haven’t yet had an annual appraisal! I think you take your ‘recognition’ from a different source, more intrinsic, such as the joy at watching them learn new things, gain more independence etc. And just occasionally you may even be able to inwardly rejoice when someone compliments your child’s behaviour.

So while I may be missing out on my own personal sticker chart and rewards but at least I get to set my own objectives!

One of those days….

On today’s performance I don’t think I will make the short list for ‘mother of the year’ and it’s not as if anything that terrible happened.

It was more an accumulation of lots of not great things – not having enough sleep; little girl getting upset this morning as daddy is away for a few days; her then forgetting her water and hat so I had to go back to school with them; a hot walk into town where I forgot half of the things I needed to get; baby boy falling asleep on the way home meaning he didn’t want a nap later (and so I couldn’t do any revision); a very smelly poo done during the school run (by baby boy!) and of course I didn’t have the changing bag so had to come home with the noxious aroma filling the car; then he wouldn’t lie still when being changed so said poo nearly ended up smeared all over the carpet; and then to cap it all off little girl had the mother of all tantrums when asked to have bath during Charlie and Lola.

So everyone is having an early night, the children have been dispatched and I have a cup of tea, chocolate and a hot bath waiting for me. The revision will just have to wait until tomorrow.

eternal student?

I have been asked on several occasions why I am studying for a further degree and I usually trot out the accepted answers – it will be good for my career, it keeps me busy, it seemed like a good idea at the time etc. And while those answers are true I think there is something deeper – I really love learning things and like the structure of formal education. I also like getting the pieces of paper that say that I know things! I imagine that springs from a deep-seated need for recognition and acknowledgement but we shall leave that for a later therapy session!

I didn’t originally set off with the intention of doing a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I moved roles within my organisation and felt I should know the theory behind what I was trying to achieve at work, so undertook a Managing Knowledge module. And then after finding maternity leave a bit mind numbing I decided to start the MBA. Three years later I am still here with a year to go – it doesn’t have to take that long I have had breaks between modules and have added MSc in Human Resource Management modules to my programme. I study with the Open University which is very flexible and I can combine face to face tutorials with on-line support and collaboration. The activities and assignments are very applied so I am able to use my own work context to explore and understand the theory. I am looking forward to my next module which involves designing and implementing ‘something’ that makes a difference to an organisation, hopefully bringing together the theory in a practical and useful way.

It isn’t all plain sailing, there are times (like now) when assignment deadlines or exams are looming when I wonder why I started on this path. I know it isn’t much fun for the rest of the family when I need to spend time at weekends studying rather than having fun with them. The money I have spent on this could have funded some rather lovely holidays instead. And if it wasn’t for studying the little one’s baby book would be full of facts and photos by now (he is one next month!). But I hope it will all be worth it in a years time when I finish. The only problem is what will I do with myself then.

Granddad

Just under four months ago, my Granddad died. I think the official cause of death was pneumonia but the real cause of losing Granddad was dementia. We had slowly been losing him, his playful, jokey character, over a few years. What started out as being a bit forgetful – mixing up names, going out without a coat etc, soon turned into more dangerous territory – getting on the wrong bus and finding himself in unknown places, attacking a paramedic who was trying to help him after a fall. It got bad enough that he was a danger to himself and couldn’t live alone.

Then we were in nursing home territory, which was heartbreaking – he seemed to shrink into himself in the unfamiliar environment, would get both physically and verbally abusive, believing that everyone was out to get him. Visits were a bit like Russian roulette – you didn’t know which Granddad you would get and always hoped you would get the one that sang along to Matt Monro and wanted to look at family pictures asking again and again ‘Who’s that?’.  There were bright points like when we arrived for a visit and found him chatting up the staff members twirling her round the dining room but they were soon few and far between.

Watching my Granddad deteriorate was hard and it was just as hard watching my Dad and his sisters try to cope, always worrying whether they were doing the right thing. We were lucky in some ways as even at the end he was still Granddad. On what was to be my last visit to see Granddad in hospital he stuck his tongue out at me before I left – it was lovely that even though he probably knew he was dying that there was still a bit of his old self shining through. I like to think that even though he couldn’t tell you our names in his last days, he knew that we were family and that we loved him.

Today I did the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk in his name. I didn’t walk that far – just four miles and I didn’t do it alone – as well as many people walking in memory of others, there was my sister and two of my cousins walking alongside of me. And we were cheered on by other members of our family – the first time we had all been together since the funeral. So today was a day of celebration, a celebration of Granddad’s life and our family.

Here’s to you Granddad – you may not be with us any more but you still hold us together