Well it happened by accident and was never my intention to be working full time now. A couple of years before having Alex I had a senior HR role in a top law firm and I decided that I wanted to give something back to the community and with my firm’s blessing I applied and was accepted to be a JP. It was at that stage I moved to a part time contract with my job, initially working a 9 day fortnight, allowing me to sit in my local court on the days I was not working.
I loved working part time and in the UK this was quite easy to do at a senior level. When I had our son, Alex, in August 2005, I took 12 months maternity leave and then went back on a 4 day week basis with one of those working from home. It was the perfect arrangement. I should mention that during my maternity leave, my husband, Steve, was unfortunately medically retired due to a period of chronic ill health so I became the main breadwinner in our family and he became Alex’s main carer. It wasn’t too much of an issue as I was actually more ambitious than Steve and I was so lucky (perhaps something in hindsight that I took for granted) that my firm (and our financial situation) allowed me to continue to work part time. Even when I moved in 2008 to work for another law firm I was able to negotiate the same part time working pattern so I had Fridays off and worked from home on a Wednesday. This allowed me to spend plenty of time with Alex.
It was in 2011 that that all changed. An amazing – and completely unexpected- career opportunity arose for me to go out to our Hong Kong office on a 6 month secondment. As Alex was 5 at this time we decided that as a family it would be a great adventure for us all I wouldn’t have contemplated going without Steve and Alex – it was all 3 of us or not at all. We figured it wouldn’t interfere too much with Alex’s education and of course Steve wasn’t working so that wasn’t an issue. It was only 6 months and so manageable if we didn’t like it. It seemed like a safe and ideal way of trying something new and I would get some fantastic experience in a growing market. Our Hong Kong offices covered not only Hong Kong but also China – offices in Shanghai, Beijing and also in Vietnam and Korea so fantastic experience to operate across those too. I knew it could only be good for my CV. Steve had spent some time working in Bangkok a few years previously and we both had fallen in love with Asia so it was an easy decision to make and 9 months after the idea had been first floated we found ourselves arriving in Hong Kong.
The only issues was it was such a long way for our families and I would have to work full time. Part time working in Hong Kong as I’ve since found out, especially at senior corporate level is just so hard to come by and just not part of the accepted working culture. I thought I’d only be doing it for 6 months – unbeknownst to me at that time the Asia bug was to take a grip of us – and here I am almost 6 years later still working in Hong Kong and more’s the point – still working full time!! And it’s not by choice! I have put in flexible working requests but my organisation doesn’t want someone so senior working part time and the argument is put forward that there is too much for me to do as it is let alone on less hours! A short sighted and narrow view of the world as those of you who are also working mums will know that you cram so much into your part time hours that you become even more super-efficient than ever before so actually they would probably get more from me!
So you have to look on the plus side – we’ve had the advantage of my full time salary – with very little tax – maximum of 15% compared to the 40% and above at times I paid in the UK and yes I now part of a senior leadership team with a global role for a dynamic and growing organisation that I love covering 15 different countries and getting to travel. Yes, I can spend on new dress or a weekend away etc without having to think too much about it but I would so much rather have less money and more time with my family. When you have a family that is what it is all about. I miss out on the teacher training days and the school holidays when Alex is off. It’s not always easy for me to make concerts, parents evenings (I usually am dialing in or skyping so I don’t miss out on these important discussions) or sports days.
It is particularly hard when Alex is poorly and I can’t be there to give him a cuddle. Don’t get me wrong Steve is a wonderful father and so amazingly capable but I feel that as his mum it should be me doing some of those things with him. And other mums will know where I’m coming from on this when I say that I know Alex so well and I can sense when he is a little off colour when my husband will say he is fine. It comes I believe from carrying him for 9 months and being so finely attuned to his every need in those first few months of life. It’s in my programming.
I come from a family where the roles of mother and father were very traditional. My mum didn’t work until we were teenagers and my dad didn’t do anything really on the housework front or cooking front. He was the breadwinner and his dinner was on the table when he came home. A piece of toast and some baked beans is even now in his late 70s about the limit of his expertise in the kitchen even now . It was a different generation. So on top of that innate guilt about it should be me being at home with him I have that added family pressures of what a good mum looks like – and I often feel I don’t match up. I feel I’ve let not only Alex down but also my parents. Their belief if that I’ve put my career first rather than my family but that is not the case – I am working to carve out the life and opportunities I want Alex to have. So add in to the mix that I feel aggrieved that I’m misunderstood and saddened that I’m not quite the daughter I feel I should be. Yes, we could give it all up and go back to the UK and I wouldn’t need to work if we sold our house and lived off the proceeds but here I’m seduced by the life and experiences I can give Alex – a trip to China for rock caving and abseiling, a cookery class in Vietnam, helping out an orphanage in Cambodia, riding an elephant in Thailand. The opportunity to be part of another culture and to learn tolerance of others.. Alex has class mates from all over the world. Who wouldn’t want to give that to their son or Daughter?
So, that’s the choice I’ve made and so I’ve learnt to make the best of things. I spend quality time with Alex when I can. He and I make a special effort to do things together.. we go back to the UK every Easter and Summer to spend time with our families in the UK, he and I have our special time at Church every Sunday, we make our Double A Health Team videos together, we bake and we go and play football and tennis together and we read together when I get home in the evenings. We make the most of the time we have. And I have to hold onto the fact that Alex has some wonderful times with Steve that not every other boy gets to have with his dad. I’ve left them in Vietnam at the start of Alex’s summer holidays at the time of writing this and I’ve had to come back to work. Yes it was hard to leave them and I had a little cry on the taxi as I left.
This is our reality at the moment – I think a lot of my friends think we have a wonderful life and we do but it is not all roses.. We do what only anyone can do and we have been given an opportunity and we are doing our best to make it work for us. . I don’t have to like it all the time and it doesn’t stop me dreaming that in due course I can work more flexibly and get to spend more time with both Alex and Steve and before Alex no longer wants to spend time with his ‘dull’ parents! And part of my journey into health and well-being was to start to carve out a new career for myself where I can make that dream a reality.