Bossy

It has been brought to my attention recently that I am bossy. Bossy! Moi? Shut the front door!!

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Boddler learning my facial expressions masterfully.

You are too fricking right I am bossy. I own bossy, and about 20 million pairs of bossy boots to go with it.

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Just as a quick reminder, I am the eldest of four girls; my mum saw fit to add more kids to the mix as a childminder when we were young, so there were literally hundreds of us. She was our boss and I was the (self-appointed) deputy boss (~Dad sensibly mostly took a pew in the quiet corner of the house). Throughout school and university I jumped at any opportunity to lead and to manage; games, teams, events, projects… I may not always win, or be the best, but I do always do it with a large dose of enthusiasm. And, the very reason I’m writing this and my biggest challenge of all: I’m a mother. I’m a mother of two strong-willed, energetic, feral and fantastic little children. Part of the mum job remit is to be “bossy”, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get out of the house. You ain’t gonna get kids to bed. And you sure as heck won’t get anything productive done.

Oh please Boddler would you be so kind as to get your little lovely chubby feet into your sandals because we really must go to the shop to get you some milk, don’t you think, wouldn’t that be lovely?” Said no mum ever.

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SHOES ON! COATS ON! STAND BY THE FRONT DOOR!  The command still resonates with me and even as I write it I have to resist the urge to make a mad scramble to the front door, grasping for any stray sister I can en route. That command is how the Mothership got us all to school every single morning, and it mostly worked a treat. Only now am I starting to appreciate the #skillz required to do that.  She bossed us and she got the job done.  Go Mothership!  (Sidenote: for context this was shouted from the top of the stairs, whilst she was still in her nightgown, slowly approaching the bathroom, whilst hoovering and trying to sew a name badge on to something, slurping a cup of tea).

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“Mum, your baby is crying!” I was helpful, even in pint size. Perhaps holding screaming sibling under my arm like a loaf of bread not so helpful.

It is a such a shame that the use of the word “bossy” in this case, by my better half, wasn’t intended to be congratulatory. Or encouraging. He wasn’t telling me I was doing a good job moving a seemingly impossible mountain aka whining children around. It was pejorative (although still palatable with the French accent) and he meant to tell me to calm down and stop being “aggressive” (also his word).

What was it that made my behaviour a negative type of bossy exactly? There are a few factors: (a) Possibly I was hangry.  Fine. That is often the case, I need energy all the time.  I will do better with ensuring I have food supplies.  (b) I was giving instructions without a smile. Maybe. I do sometimes forget to say please and smile when I’m asking for someone to grab a nappy bag, and I am sorry about that. I’m working on it. But most likely it was (c) because I’m a woman. I’m a mum and I was giving instructions about things pertaining to the kids, and clothes, and food, and packing, and family logistics. “Boring mum” stuff. If I had been giving instructions to move a team of army officers, or dealing with an urgent response to a corporate crisis, or something, anything to do with driving a fast car whilst being chased by blokes with guns and dodging bullets (think The Rock), perhaps I would have been told I was leading like a boss. I was being assertive. Winning.  But navigating four people from A to B to C with bags and buggys and food supplies and beverages, on trains and in taxis, in seemingly impossible (sweltering hot) circumstances, simply doesn’t cut it. That’s not a real challenge.  And it doesn’t require bossing.  Apparently. Yes, I physically need help to do it all, I can’t carry a million things and clingy humans, but mentally, I’m juggling it all above my head. Solo.  There simply isn’t room for two people to juggle simultaneously, unless you can mind read, and we certainement can’t, so one of us has to take the command lead.  In this case, me.

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Anyway, it got me thinking again about the clear gender divide, the inherent sexism in the way we use language, still, today; the negative connotations that certain adjectives carry, versus the complimentary and empowering connotations associated with others.  Not surprisingly, the former tend towards women and female “characteristics”, whereas the latter tend towards the men of the world.

By way of example, the Cambridge Dictionary working examples for the word “bossy” (online version) are still largely focussing on an imaginary woman’s behaviour:

“My older sister was very bossy.” <was she indeed.  I hope that wasn’t you reporting me, Fawcett sisters!!>

“Girls of that age can get quite bossy.”  <what age exactly? today age?>

“Stop being so schoolmarmish and bossy!” <what is the male equivalent of a schoolmarm?>

Let’s compare to a few more positive, macho adjectives and their working examples:

Leader: “He’s a natural leader.” <Shocker.>

Powerful: “I get the impression Sheila is the powerful one in that relationship, not her husband!” <Wow. Go Sheila. Perhaps we ought to call the police and a schoolmarm to sort you out?>

Confident“His confident leadership inspired his followers”.  <Presumably referring to our friend Mr T and his twitter team….>

I recently saw a clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking at the Chatham House London Conference. Aside from being an eloquent speaker, and a fantastic author, she is also a strong feminist. Strong, I should note, and not “angry” as she finds she is often described:

“In our world, a man is confident, but a woman is arrogant.

A man is uncompromising but a woman is a ball-breaker.

A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive.

A man is strategic, a woman is manipulative.

A man is a leader, but a woman is controlling”

<and I would like to add: BOSSY>.

Well said.

So, what can we do about this?  Ladies, gents, let’s all make an active attempt to think twice before we describe someone’s behaviour using a pejorative adjective.  Let’s also work to take the perj away.  Be gone negative connotations! I want my children to be proud that they are bossy.  Being bossy is good.  I want them to look back, as I am today thinking of my mum, laughing and dashing to the door all at the same time, and be proud of all that we achieve together.  And also to be grateful.  Thank you Mothership for sorting us all out. Thank you for getting us to so many places and giving us so many opportunities.  Often times, it wasn’t in easy circumstances, and I’m sorry that I didn’t give you more credit for it all. Thank you for doing it and keeping it all together, 24/7.  Let’s be honest, most people would struggle getting out of the door with four children, I can confirm I struggle with a mere half the quota, so hats off to you.

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Mumming isn’t something you can dip in and out of, or that you can turn to mute when you’ve got a banging head or there’s something better to watch on TV.   When you are MumBossing, it’s usually against a backdrop of limited sleep, and questionable sustenance. That alone should render the “bossiness” respect to the highest levels.

I am going to try to be more pleasant as I boss, but I sure as hell won’t stop bossing, and next time Monsieur FF starts to tell me I’m being bossy, I shall thank him, highlight the wins of the day, which may or may not include exiting house and cleaning poo up, and look forward to a congratulatory glass of bubbles.  Go Mamas!  Cheers! X

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cake reward / bribe for all those achieving high boss levels

Back to work

This week I went back to work.  It was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  I cried. I was tired. I was grumpy.  I was a terrible wife and barely spoke to my husband at all (sorry Monsieur FF).  But you know what: I survived.  WE survived.

I was really happy to be back in the office: to see colleagues; to check emails; to read without interruption; to wear something that didn’t get covered in food and dribble (at least not until  I got home), to have a hot drink, a leisurely lunch, and sit down and talk business. Not babies.  Mais that’s not to say I didn’t miss my bébé like crazy. I did. I was beyond excited to get home and grab him.  I actually ran (hobbled: new shoes #error) to nursery to dramatically throw down my bag, fling my shoes at some poor child and embrace him.  But, honestly, it was nice to have both work time and bebe time.  This is how life is going to be now. I am a working mum. And I am going to embrace it.

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Back to work selfie

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This post is hard to write.  Whatever I say in here are my very personal thoughts, specific to me and my life, about going to work and having a baby in someone else’s care.  But I’m not alone.  There are so many people out there in a similar position, whether you are a mum, or a dad, trying to work out how to balance your “old” life with this new, exciting but terribly demanding one.

There are also loads of topics that could be covered by the post, predominantly focused on the impossible choices that (mainly) women face as professionals and mothers.  However, I don’t yet feel capable of broaching that one, not least because I can’t see an easy solution.  It’s just bloody hard.  Désolée.

I’m sure somewhere along the line someone is going to be offended by what I say.  I apologise.  This is such a sensitive subject  it is incredibly hard to discuss it without getting into the minutiae of your individual situation (your career/your current role/your family/your income/your aims in life/your marriage etc.)   I’m going to be frank because I think it’s important to document my journey, but also because I’m one of the lucky ones :  I work for a very flexible company and in a flexible team. More about that shortly.

When you have a baby, deciding if and when to go back to work is a massive deal.  Deciding on what basis to go back is complicated, not least because it is not just your decision.  Some people don’t have much choice because their child needs 24/7 care.  Some people don’t have much choice because they are the main breadwinner in the family.  Some employers don’t offer many real options.  There are so many factors in play, it’s really quite mind-boggling.  Not to mention the fact that, chances are, you are not exactly desperate to get back to work work (as opposed to all the hard but super rewarding mum work (which includes lots of cake and cute baby clothes)).

Deciding who is qualified to look after your bebe is like trying to decide who is qualified to run the country. That’s right: no-one.  But there are only a finite number of nurseries, or nannies, or childminders, and there are even fewer options that will fit with a reasonable commute and your financial viability.  I’ve always struggled with the concept of “paying to work” which is the bizarre situation you find yourself in when assessing whether to go back to work.  Unless you are in the very privileged position of having free childcare (usually down to amazing and local grandparents or relatives) or a job that pays a freaking fortune, or you’re just a straight-up millionaire, you are essentially paying to do your job because by the time you deduct the costs of having someone else care for your child, you’re probably barely breaking even.

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The whole subject has actually made me feel quite uncomfortable.  I have questioned myself on an hourly basis for the past month.  What am I doing? Why am I doing it?  If you asked me on what basis I was going back to work, you will have seen me pull a strange face as I reply “full time” and cast my eyes down.  I say “strange” because even I can’t recognise what emotion I’m experiencing… is it guilt?  Is it embarrassment?  Is it sadness?  Most likely it is confusion tbh. I literally don’t know how I feel.

Yes, I’ve gone back to work, and I’m going to do my job full time.  I work in London and like most people I have a commute of the best part of an hour.  So when I finish work in the office, I then need another hour to get back to bebe FF.  You are probably judging me right now. Analysing my decision. Not necessarily in a negative way, but you are wondering why and what led me to that decision, right?  I would be doing exactly the same.  Does she love her job that much? Can they not afford any other option?  Did she not have the option to do part time? Does she not like being a mother??!

Right – just to be clear – I absolutely adore being a mum.  

It is literally the best thing in the world ever.

See – bold, large and colour. Seriously. This is the shizzle. I could not feel luckier. Not a day goes past where I am not overwhelmed by the miracle that is Bebe FF, astonished by how much I love him, delighted by how happy I am in our little family unit, amused by his little bottom and tiny teef, amazed by how quickly he is growing and… scared.  Scared of life happening.

Notwithstanding all the above, I also enjoy being a lawyer.  I love my job. I worked hard to become a lawyer and get this job. I’m a professional woman in a global business.  Oh and the business is a toy company, the LEGO Group to be precise. You may well be familiar with it. The plastic bricks that last forever?  The ones that hurt when you walk on them? That’s us. I’m one of many lucky people to be employed by the Danish super brand and I should be rather proud of it.  My job is exciting and it is demanding.  To do it well, I believe that I need to be available most of the time.  In my experience thus far, it is also incredibly flexible.  Not only does the LEGO Company embrace flexible working, they positively encourage it.

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Bebe FF’s first trip to the office age 3 months – suspect he will be more excited about it in the future.

We don’t have a designated desk in our office.  We are taught “Activity Based Working”, to mix and mingle across departments and functional areas, and we are encouraged to work from home as often as we deem appropriate, provided we are able to perform our function, and judge when a meeting can be conducted from the office and when it can be handled remotely.  I know some people* struggle with the concept of “flexible working” (*the majority of UK employers for starters, and generations before us that aren’t so au fait with modern technology and still think sending a fax is high tech…)  It requires a level of trust and a recognition that a positive and enthusiastic workforce is good for productivity and, therefore, business.  Naturally there are financial advantages for the employers too, not just happy and driven, productive workers, but lower costs (rent, bills, general sustenance).  You need the right tools for it to work efficiently – flexible work spaces, portable laptops and remote video conf capability etc. but all of this stuff is so easily available nowadays, I find it hard to understand why it isn’t more widely adopted as a working standard.

Alas. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t as lucky as us LEGO UK employees, and who are having to fight for their employers to even consider more flexible working.  Check out Mother Pukka for starters.  Her Flex Appeal campaign is brilliant.  It’s all rather ridiculous when you look at the stats: clearly a flexible workforce is a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is far more productive than a morose bunch of reluctant 9-5 workers. Flexible working means working in a way that best suits you as an individual. As Mother Pukka puts it:

Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work.

Self-evidently, if your employer gives you the flexibility to work the hours that fit in to your situation, then you are all the more likely to feel satisfied, and put in the hours and show the commitment to your employer – that improves your work and ethos, and their staff turnover (and all the costs associated with hiring and up-skilling new staff).  Also, critically for parents, it means you can work around your childcare.  Most people are awake for, let’s say 14 – 16 hours per day.  There’s no reason why all the fun stuff has to be crammed into the middle 8 hours is there?!

Family is a priority at LEGO, and having a REAL work life balance is considered to be a true demonstration of success.  It is perfectly normal and commonplace for the office to be near empty by 5pm.  Why?  Everyone has gone to pick up their kids, to spend some time with them before bedtime.  That doesn’t mean they have finished working for the day.  But working on the report due on Friday can be done anytime between now and Friday. Why not do it after the kids’ bedtime.  You are not rushing and you feel happy*.

(*Presupposes bedtime was a success and you don’t have a romantic diner a deux planned)

So, now you know that I am working full time, but it is not like most versions of full time that exist today in the UK.  I told you, I’m very lucky and I know it.

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For the avoidance of doubt

Also, on another note, I have taken 8 months of maternity leave – I could take up to a year and be guaranteed my job on my return.  I have friends in America who were lucky to get 3 months of maternity leave (apparently it can be as little as 6 weeks if your labour is “normal”). Likewise in France, a mere trois mois. THREE MONTHS.  WTF. I’m not being over dramatic when I say I don’t think my body had even recovered after 3 months, let alone my brain being functional and ready to juggle the challenges of motherhood and a career.  What kind of world do we live in?! The NHS encourages and promotes breastfeeding for the full first 6 months of a baby’s life. How do you manage that and be back at work? And I assume given the lack of flexibility on maternity leave, those American employers aren’t likely to be terribly flexible with the working hours either, or having a creche in the office…?

In any case, ladies, whenever you go back and if you go back, or decide not to, respect to you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this quandary and whatever you do, I hope you make the most of it.

Well folks thats all I’ve got for now. I’m just embarking on the journey and have a tough road ahead.  Bugs, sickness, work travel, socialising, emotional breakdowns, impossible decisions at home and work, brain failure… so much still to navigate.  But I leave you with this: My good friend, fellow lawyer and producer of Bebe FF’s birthday girlfriend (one hour before Bebe FF to be precise) Claire, shared with me a tip that was imparted on her as she rejoined her legal job, also full time, and a couple of months before us.  She said I should do the following:

  • when you are travelling in to work, think about something you are looking forward to; a meeting with a colleague, a nice lunch, a new exciting project.
  • on your way home, as you dash to pick up your precious little one(s) in time, focus on something you’ve done that day that you are proud of; concluding a project, some positive feedback, a significant learning, a job well done.

This will help remind you why this challenging time isn’t just about battling through and feeling guilty, it’s about being proud of yourself and your achievements, and making the most of each day.