My baby comes first

I left my child in hospital, so I could get to work on time. Never again, says Jojo Moyes

It was 8am in the office. A colleague glanced at my pale, dishevelled appearance and joked: "You look rough. Been out on the tiles, then?" Actually I had just left my 18-month-old daughter in a hospital bed.

A fever had turned into a fit, which turned into a 4am hospital dash, which turned into a night on an observation ward, spent waiting anxiously as her temperature crept down. At 7am my husband had brought me fresh clothes. At 7.15 I had washed in the ward toilet with paper towels and soap, and at 7.45, I dragged myself from her bedside and caught a taxi to work. It was not that I am callous; it was just a day I knew I couldn't take off.

You can get used to sleepless nights, arriving at work so tired that your speech slurs like a drunk's; running round the supermarket in your lunch hour while colleagues are at the pub; and scheduling working hours with the precision of a stormtrooper in order to pick up the children on time. However, illness disrupts every tightly run schedule in the end. If it's not the emergency hospital dash, it's the clinging 'flu victim, insisting that only mummy will do, or the tummy ache sufferer, fiercely resisting daddy's attempts to persuade him that he'll feel better once he gets to school. And unless you are one of the rare few with sympathetic non-working relatives who live close by, and are always ready to drop everything, something has to give.

Every working parent is familiar with the following unhappy equation: need of child versus need of office. Shortly followed, in two-parent families, by another: whose job is more flexible? Or dare one say it, important? An unscientific, but highly representative, straw poll of working parents reveals that faced with such a situation, at some point most parents simply call in sick themselves. "My back's gone" or "I've got terrible food poisoning" somehow sounds so much better than "My child's got a sore throat". Some of us, therefore, will be fascinated to see how the new parental leave measures, unveiled last week, affect national sick day rates. It legislates for family sick days, and should mean that bunking off is no longer necessary. Alone of a raft of measures, it was widely welcomed as helping redress the balance between work and family life.

"Hopefully this will bring back some of the honesty between employer and employee," says Sarah Jackson, the chief executive of the organisation Parents at Work. "It also means that parents can take their child to the doctor and be at work in a couple of hours, if they're OK, instead of having to take two days off to make it look convincing."

But even as I restocked my bottles of Calpol, I wondered how much difference these measures would really make. In a land of "downsized" companies, where everybody counts, there is often no one left to take up the slack. And in an insecure environment of short-term contracts and high unemployment, who is going to be brave enough to call in and tell the boss that Timothy's chicken pox has to come first?

Ms Jackson believes that despite a raft of new family-friendly measures, professional parents will still feel compelled to put work first. "In the real world, if you're working in a high-pressure, client-driven profession you will still find it difficult," she says. She blames an "unforgiving" workplace culture that assumes everyone, male or female, has a "wife" at home. And as if working parents didn't have enough to worry about, there is a backlash brewing. American author Elinor Burkett is about to publish an inflammatory new book in which she states that people without children have to work harder to accommodate those with, because of parents' needs for flexibility. "People feel threatened when you say that... but it's just a simple fact," she says. "Nurturing children is in the interests of all society but why should I, as a childless woman, be responsible for it?"

In a recent BBC radio phone-in on the same subject the responses were polarised and ferocious. Virtually spitting with pent-up frustration, callers detailed lists of outrages perpetrated upon them by working parents; leaving early, not turning up at all, insisting on priority holidays. Among those people, the Government's measures will simply fuel their sense of injustice.

So what should a parent do? Keep phoning in sick, and pretending the children don't exist? Occupational psychologist Cary Cooper is among those who believes change has to come. "Do (managers) truly believe that flexible working arrangements and family-friendly policies encourage a wimps' paradise?" he says. "The macho and inflexible manager of the 19th and 20th century is not what working human beings need for the 21st century." Sarah Jackson observes: "It will take some time to change the culture of organisations so that parents will feel not just that they have a right, but also the ability, to use it. And if parents use their rights responsibly, hopefully it will help counter some of the backlash."

I wouldn't leave my daughter in hospital again. But until we can also change workplace culture, so that time off is not automatically viewed as a form of skiving - by both managers and fellow workers - I can't guarantee that the next time it won't be me who is supposedly suffering the temperature.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn