As a single parent with sole financial and practical responsibility, I returned to full-time work before my daughter celebrated her first birthday. With no opportunity to work-from-home, I had to be in the office Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.30. My employers were great in an emergency, probably because they could rely on my emergencies to be both genuine and rare.
My parents lived in the southeast, an area where property prices rendered ownership an impossible dream for a single parent like myself. Nevertheless, I decided to relocate to be near my parents so I could take up my mother’s kind offer of childcare during my daughter’s early years.
Once she started school, my daughter naturally wanted to spend more time with her friends and less with her grandmother. That’s when I pursued a policy of networking with other mothers, operating an informal quid pro quo system, whereby I’d be their childcare for overnights and weekends away in return for their daytime assistance during holidays. Mothers of my daughter’s school friends were delighted to arrange frequent date nights with their husbands and regular indulgent/romantic weekend get-aways a deux as a result. Yes, my social life took a back seat as I only accepted family friendly invitations, but it was a price well worth paying for the lack of summer holiday stress.
Like most parents, Easter and Christmas were somehow staggered through and I took as much of my 20 days leave during the school holidays as was possible, but became adept at scoping out holiday clubs to fill in the gaps.
As the teenage years approached, that mother’s network became even more critical. My daughter and her friends wanted to do their own thing and weren’t interested in having their lives organized by parents. So, we had to be flexibly responsive, something which was managed within a trusted network of three – Helen, Pat & myself. Helen worked in London but, as a real night owl and would handle later evening running around; Pat worked from home and covered daytime running around; I covered any early mornings and evenings. Weekends were split, with availability being planned months in advance. The year they changed the early May bank holiday caused an unexpected overlap – although my sister stepped into the fray, the weekend’s outcome made clear this was not an episode to be repeated!
There were other mothers too – some reliable, some not so much – so Pat, Helen and I stuck together until our children became independent young adults, passing driving tests.
I’ve done many wonderful things in my life, but the best and most fulfilling has been being a mother. It was an enormous challenge at times and I earned every single grey hair on my head. What I can say is the experience of working full-time while fulfilling my parental duties turned me into an absolute wizard of organization and forward planning.