Last week my daughter asked me to wake her up before I left for work so I could her hair for the school disco. As I tried to tame her thin blond hair into a fancy plait that would last the day she asked me why I had to go to work so early. I replied that it was so that I could be home in time to pick her up from school and make her tea. I’m not sure where her train of thought took her but then she asked if I had a ‘ladder’ at work ‘where you start on green and go up to gold’. I am well-versed in the Reception class ladder where children miss out on playtime if they go down to red (via amber) and get a small gift from the headteacher if they get up to gold (via bronze and silver).
How to answer? I said, no we don’t have a ladder and then I thought. Actually we kind of do: an arbitrary ladder where you sometimes jump up the rungs and are rewarded for you’re-not-sure-what and other times you try your flipping hardest and nobody notices.
This ladder was designed for a certain type of person or an idea of a certain type of person, and that person isn’t a working mother with 4 children under 7.
I’m not very far up that ladder yet. I’m reading one of those How-to-be-a-Successful-Woman-in-the-Workplace books and finding it as unrelatable as ever. I’m not a CEO and I’m not sure I ever will be. I have never featured on a 35-under-35 list or been flagged as ‘one-to-watch’. I’m an ordinary working mother who takes pleasure in doing a job well and getting recognition for it, who likes pressure of a deadline and thrives on being busy.
BUT I don’t have a nanny or a housekeeper or a six-figure salary. I have to figure out childcare every week. I have a husband who does his fair share (and who works 4 days like me). I have a mum who takes the older 2 kids in the half-term holiday (like now, when my husband is away for work IN AUSTRALIA ,sigh). I have a cleaner who is very unreliable and I sometimes shop at Ocado. Our income is decent but out-goings are high (car loan, student loans, phenomenal childcare bills, food) and we don’t have loads spare at the end of the month. We put aside £250 a month for holidays which doesn’t go that far when there’s 6 of us.
So I guess, what I’m trying to say is that I’ve still got a long way to go on this ‘ambitious mother’ journey, like many others out there. It’s a label that I’ve applied to myself but my ambition is a state of mind rather than a destination and I’m still figuring it out. If I do figure out how to get up that ladder, I’ll let you know what I’ve learnt when I get there.