Absolutely Mama meets Christine Armstrong to talk about motherhood VS work
Q Tell us about your new book ‘The Mother of all Jobs‘. What’s it all about?
A It is the stories of twelve families trying to make working parenting work. As told by normal mums and dads with input from doctors, teachers, social workers, therapists and everyone else involved in raising our children. Each chapter is about a different challenge, from managing the bonkers-ness of toddlers, to dramas with school and other mums to different parenting models (solo, both working, dads as leads, etc). It’s full of real people who get pissed, swear with their mates and laugh about poo.
Q What made you want to write iThe Mother of All Jobs, and how did your own motherhood journey play into the decision?
A When I first tried to combine working and parenting two little girls (we now have three), I just about had a breakdown. I could not figure out how anyone made it work. To find out where I was going wrong, I started to interview ‘Power Mums’ for Management Today magazine. They were successful women and on the record they told me everything was fine if you work hard and stay well organised. But, over time, I got to know some of them socially and found out that it was really, really hard. Much harder than they said. Many had problems that they couldn’t vocalise on the record when everyone they worked with – and their families – would read it. I realised that if the well-paid women with nannies and other support, the ones who really did ‘lean in’, couldn’t do it, then it must be even worse for everyone else! So I went to talk to them.
Q What was your expectation of being a working mum versus the reality?
A Honestly, I was a total moron! I loved my job and saw myself as career-focused so I listened to all those career women on panels who said you could do it and I really thought everything would be fine but… Well I wrote the book so that no one ever needs be as ill informed as I was.
Q You talked to lots of different women about their experiences for The Mother of All Jobs. What was the thing that most surprised you?
A The loneliness of many working mothers. How, at this very stressful time, we really need as much support as there is, but time is so limited, we often can’t get it. It can quickly lead to anxiety, depression and a regular extra Nytol. Not to mention unsettled relationships. But there is a lot you can do to make it work if you can learn from what others have tried.
Q With so many mothers facing challenges, what do you think needs to change?
A First we have to talk about how hard this is so we can even start to talk seriously about changing it. Then we have to get serious about affordable early years care, flexible work, dads being much more involved and – ultimately – getting our mad hours under control. It’s not like it makes us productive. We know long hours lead us to be tired, stressed and make bad decisions. We need to reform how we work in this country and be more productive like the Nordic countries who, the OECD says, have increased their GDP by 10-20% by tackling these issues.
Q And finally, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to new mums who are trying to negotiate a flexible working situation?
A Whatever you negotiate is meaningless unless you stick to it. Don’t take a pay cut for four days work but actually do five. You’ll get furious and quit. Ask for what you need and then put in place what you need to make it all work. Be as tough as you can be. Also, don’t allow your household to default to you being the do-er of EVERYTHING else just because you are not working full-time. That is truly the path to hell!