Working parents: Where time-management is child's play

City+: Working from home takes self-discipline - but there are benefits, writes Sarah Jewell
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Indy Lifestyle Online
After 15 years working full time in newspaper offices, I recently switched to working part time from home. With two small children to look after, and constant media admonishments about mothers working full time ringing in my ears, this seemed like an exciting opportunity for change. And whatever I am missing from office-based work is more than outweighed by the joy of being with my children. I love being able to pick up the baby and kiss her velvety cheeks whenever I want. I'm so glad I'm at home when my son has an accident at nursery school and returns sobbing, with an egg-sized lump on his forehead. I am thrilled by the delight on his face when he asks, "are you working from home today, Mummy?"

But I hadn't anticipated the extent to which my whole rhythm of life would be affected.

The first thing I discovered was that, with no clear demarcation between home and work, the most important skills to develop are self-discipline and time-management. Instead of having a clearly defined beginning and end to the working day, with hours to fill in between, everything suddenly becomes compressed and compartmentalised, and the whole day is spent scurrying from one task to the next. Time for work has to be slotted in between doing the school run, the washing up, the laundry, the shopping and the cooking. As Melissa Benn says in her new book, Madonna and Child, "women with children talk about time all the time: feeds, sleep, how many days they are at work, what they manage or don't manage to do at home. Time torments them: time is a treasure."

Time may be a torment, but far more torturing is the constant tidying up. Even a room full of journalists cannot create as much mess as a toddler, a baby and two or three of their little friends. It is so much easier to clear up the mess on your desk at the end of the day than it is to pick up mounds of plastic toys and sort out the accumulated debris of a day's play. One of the things I liked most about going out to work was coming home to a tidy house; now I work in the study for an hour while the baby's asleep, knowing that when she wakes up I've still got to tackle the bomb site in the kitchen.

Lunch-time food is another big change. Beans on toast, boiled eggs and fish fingers ... how I miss those delicious hot ciabatta sandwiches oozing with melted cheese and spicy salami, a plate of steaming canteen stodge - anything, in fact, that I haven't made myself. But after juggling the finances of working part time and paying for a commensurate amount of child care, eating out is a thing of the past.

Getting dressed up is pretty much a memory, too. Crisply ironed white shirts, pale linen trousers and neat little jackets hang forlornly in the wardrobe, while the same old jeans and baggy jumpers are paraded day after day. Mothers are not expected to look smart but there is something vaguely depressing about always slobbing about in old clothes, and I was delighted to see that even my brother-in-law, usually a real city slicker, had greasy hair and a baby-stained jumper after a week at home looking after his kids.

Of course, I don't see many men, apart from my husband, any more. That's one of the biggest changes, moving from a male-dominated world into a female one. Office banter and gossip are replaced by cosy teatime chats with other mums. But women with children are very supportive, and it is enjoyable to be warmly embraced into a child-centred world.

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