Let go of my leg! was born, in a way, out of gossip. I’d stepped off the career
ladder to have two children in quick succession. It was about three years
before I woke from the haze of child rearing and realised it was time to get
back out and do my stuff again.
Before children, ‘my stuff’ meant more-than-fulltime roles in publishing, new media and management consultancy. I loved my work – and had
invested time, money and part of who I was in doing it well. Children were
in the ‘yes, one day’ pile and when that day came, I thought I owed them and myself a little time out to get to grips with the nitty-gritties of
After all, if you have a 20-year track record – what harm could a few years downtime do?
A lot, I found. Three years may not seem long in your child’s life, but it felt like an age away from the office. I was terrified.
My industry was new media. They didn’t even call it that any more! I had no
clue where to start. I just had this vague and slightly guilty recollection from
my days of hiring that when a woman candidate of a certain age had a cv
with a thinly disguised career gap, it screamed ‘children’, ‘not reliable’. Karma was kicking back.
I knew I had great experience, skills, commitment and passion. I knew I
wanted decent pay and promotion opportunities. I wanted a real job, with
real prospects – no mummy track nonsense – but I didn’t want to work 60
Real challenges, financial reward, influence and prospects – but on my terms. Where could I take a wishlist like that?
Then there were the children. Having provided 24-hour intensive
management for 3 years, I found it difficult to accept that they would cope
without me. They screamed if I tried to go to bathroom without them. Would
they survive if I went out to work?
But I also knew I wasn’t alone. Women have always worked. And we have
always had children. And I knew that I was surrounded by women who – like me – would not accept a mummy track option. I wanted to know what
they were doing: how they managed as mothers and whether they got the
satisfaction, stimulation and the pay that we have come to expect from our
working lives. And whether flexible work was workable or just sidelining
women into deadends. What advice would they give on when to go back to
work and what kind of job to go for, on flexible work, on childcare, on
trying freelance or starting a new business?
And so to the gossip. I began chatting over the backfence, at the school gate,
in the park and at the pool. And I began to piece together a picture. Not more
theories on whether women should or shouldn’t work, or whether childcare
does or doesn’t damage toddlers. Just the realities of what, how, when, how
much. With my business background, and with the input of a range of career
experts, ‘Let go of my leg!’ was born.
It is full of inspirational stories, sound advice and practical resources.
Take Louise Leadbetter – who lives in the Cotswolds and who works in PR.
Once she had children Louise realised she needed more flexibility than the
long office hours she was used to. She knew that she was good at what she
did – very good in fact – and she was pretty sure that she wasn’t the only
woman in PR who found work and children hard to juggle. Freelancing had some appeal but how could a freelancer compete with the resources of one of the big public relations agency?
Not one to be beaten, Louise came up with Honey PR, a network of PR freelancers (mostly other women, and mostly with children, but not exclusively) who share resources, technology and admin systems yet remain independent and in control of when and where they work. They (the honies)
can band together to pitch for big jobs or simply call on each other for advice and support. Importantly from the point of view of their clients they offer the kind of experience and resources available from the big agencies.
Through Honey PR Louise can work in the industry she loves while taking control of her working hours. She no longer needs to live in commuting distance of her big city and she has made a home office in a converted barn.
Claire works in customer service and wanted a job that gave her career progression but time off during the school holidays to be with her daughter.
‘I saw a position advertised with the Norwich and Peterborough Building
Society that interested me so I rang to apply. But it was a fulltime job – and I could see that it needed to be fulltime. I didn’t think more about it until they
called me. I was honest – I said that I was looking for something that would
allow me time off during school holidays. They said ‘leave it with us’. I
thought that would be the last I would hear from them. Two days later they
called back and said they could create a position for me.’
‘ I get sent on training courses, and I am part of a career progression scheme, that allows me to move up the ladder. It gives me something to aim for and a
sense of achievement. I’m paid pro-rata over twelve months which means
I’m not left without a pay cheque during the long summer break.’
There are so many ways that women create the working lives they want – the need – once they start a family. Writing Let go of My Leg has been the process through which I was able to reinvent my own working life – piecing together the experience, wisdom and the humour of women who have been
there and done that – with expert perspectives from employers, recruiters,
childcare experts and psychologists.
And importantly, Let go of my leg, closes on you – after all, as a working mother you hold centre stage in a complex dance – it sometimes feels they are playing the music faster and faster. Keeping your balance – and a smile on your face – is about investing a bit of time in yourself. And getting a bit
Kirsten Lees’ book Let go of my leg! How to get the career you want after children is published by Prentice-Hall. You can contact Kirsten via her
website at www.kirstenlees.com