Annemarie Quill: Flexibility best gift for mums

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Shoe designer Kathryn Wilson, in town this week for the indulge Speaker Collective and to open a new shoe store, asked me when the craziness would end.

She wasn't talking about business, but motherhood. She has a 16-month-old baby and was wondering when it would all get back to normal. When will the madness stop, when you stopped feeling tired and got your body back?

Myself and my colleague, who both have several children, looked at each other and said in unison, "Never."'

Once you become a mother, nothing is really "normal" ever again. It is a new normal, which brings the most joy and fulfilment ever, but also has its challenges.

It is Mother's Day tomorrow, the day of the year when mums are showered with cards, flowers and gifts. My friend posted on Facebook: "This Mother's Day I don't want a fancy present, I just want a clean house."

Every mother I know would second that. Oh but go on, get us a fancy present as well.

One morning this week I reached motherload overload.

Before school, my son announced he needed an outfit to play a "royal guest at a wedding who waltzes". Seemed a complex role, what happened to being a soldier or a shepherd?

One daughter said she needed fondant for food tech class, which could only be bought from one shop in Tauranga which she couldn't remember the name of, but said the teacher said it was near Wendy's.

My other daughter said she had a school mass where she was doing a reading and I had to bring a shared plate for morning tea afterwards.

I had our indulge Speaker Collective event that night, so I quickly shoved a sparkly top and pair of heels into my handbag, then drove to Wendy's cursing food tech. There was no food shop in 11th Avenue. I realised the teacher must have meant Wendy's the burger joint not Wendy's the fashion store. More cursing.

By this time my elder daughter had missed the bus. I drove back with her to the other school, armed with a pair of baggy black pants for the waltz-to-school mass.

My son protested that the black pants didn't make him look like a royal guest. I lied that that's what British royal guests wear when they have to waltz. He looked sceptical. I reminded him he wanted a dirt bike from Santa. He retreated, black pants in hand.

I sat in school mass feeling dizzy. In the opening hymn I had my hand in my handbag texting my boss that I was running a bit late at "an appointment" - that elusive excuse we mothers roll out when everything is turning to custard.

I pretended to be praying while desperately thinking of what I could write for my column this week, even though one reader wrote in and said he was tired of my 1000-word monologues and I should be banned from writing them. Try writing them!

My thoughts were interrupted by the priest who said a prayer "for all mothers have the hardest job in the world". At least three mothers burst into tears. I started to not feel so bad after all. I guess we are all "losing our s***" together. Then I realised I had not brought anything for shared morning tea. I nearly got away with it until my daughter asked loudly in the staff room what I had brought. I wondered fleetingly whether I should fish out of my handbag this very exclusive fondant that I had just driven around town for, and slap it on the table for morning tea.

I tried to take a photo and panicked that my phone was broken as the camera was all black. My daughter pointed out that it was because my credit card in the pouch on the back of my phone blocked the lens.

My fellow mothers laughed when I posted this saga on Facebook later in the day. They said, don't worry about your column, just write this, the real life of a mother - not the hearts and flowers version that Mother's Day would have everyone believe.

My minutiae of daily living is no different to any mother out there. We all know the craziness of juggling family and work, of running several diaries in your head. Deadlines that you cannot miss whether it is for a 1000-word column or a sequinned gymnastic outfit. We know the guilt of missing important events. We know the tears of feeling a failure when you see others traipsing to school with an immaculate plate of fruit kebabs and pink cupcakes, and all you have managed is a packet of Pak N Save chocolate chip muffins.

We know the shortcuts we make to fit everything in. Sometimes I arrive at work with my hair sticking up at the back unbrushed. When someone says, "Morning!", I think to myself, "Is it really still morning? I have already done five loads of washing, plated three breakfasts, packed lunches, plaited hair and produced PE kits from places where no one knew they were hiding."

We don't complain (okay, well not often). It is what being a mother is. I love my children. I would do anything for them. If I needed to, I would cut off the hands that write this for them.

But in general, as a country, are we doing enough for working mothers? Helping mothers successfully balance work and family is good for both society and the economy, as well as every mother's soul and sanity.

As Juliet Rowan reported recently in the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend, many companies still take a constrained approach, not going beyond legal requirements in parental leave and workplace flexibility. While there is law in place for working flexibly in which an employer is bound to consider the request of a woman with dependents for flexible working, many mothers I know feel they would be at a disadvantage in a competitive job market if they asked for this.

Moreover, women who do take time out to raise families often end up sacrificing pay for flexibility. A recent Bay of Plenty Times Weekend report revealed Tauranga's' female public servants were typically in lower-paid jobs than their male colleagues. Sixty-two per cent of Tauranga City Council's female staff earned less than $60,000, compared with the 19 per cent of the council's male staff who earned under this amount.

Forty per cent of roles in the lowest pay band were part-time, which were more often sought by women. At the other end of the scale, 9 per cent of female staff earn more than $100,000 compared with 21 per cent of male staff.

Juliet Rowan reported that overseas, global giants such as Facebook, Netflix, Virgin and L'Oreal were placing greater priority on supporting employees with children. Virgin Management, a division of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, made headlines in June when it announced a year's full pay for employees of four or more years, regardless of gender, who took shared parental leave.

The policy was touted as "part of a range of people initiatives offered to ensure health, well-being and happiness in the workplace".

"If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business," Branson said.

This makes absolute sense to me. I would definitely employ working mums if I had my own business, not just for the skills that they have in managing huge commitments but the level of dedication that they show, making up hours. Giving a mother flexibility requires trust on both parts, but my personal experience and those of my fellow working mothers is that we never abuse this trust and when a boss turns a blind eye to a crisis with our child care we are so grateful for the flexibility that we give back ten-fold.

Head of Tauranga Chamber of Commerce Stan Gregec notes that the push towards increased flexibility is strong.

"I think the world of work is changing and people are welcoming, even expecting, more flexible arrangements for achieving work/life balance."

Superwoman, as one of my friends said this week, is overrated. We shouldn't need to be super women. We should be able to give the best of ourselves to both our families and our jobs. More acceptance of flexibility in the workplace without it being detrimental to pay and status is one Mother's Day present that all mums, and their children, deserve.

And I will also have a bottle of Moet and a spa treatment too, please.

Happy Mother's Day!

- Bay of Plenty Times

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