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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Children Changing Careers p7: Nicola from 'Too Much (Mothering) Information'

Welcome to part 7 of the blog series 'Children Changing Careers' - A series for parents who have pulled off a career change after having children.

This week's post features Nicola from Too Much (Mothering) Information - TM(M)I
You can see more from Nicola  on Twitter and Instagram.

Here is her career changing story...

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Credit  @bo.and.bel

Tell me about your life, background and career before children? 

Before children I was a secondary school English teacher. I did this for 9 years before I had children and the last 5 were also as a Head of Year. This basically meant that alongside my teaching responsibilities I also had pastoral responsibility for 150 students. As a teacher in an inner London school, this meant that I spent a lot of time dealing with challenging behaviour and liaising with external services such as the Police and Social Services. My average working day started at 7am and I would leave school at around 6pm. I would then do another 2-3 hours of work in the evenings.It was exhausting, draining, never boring and was something I was emotionally, as well as professionally, invested in. There were times when it was brilliant but there were also times when I absolutely hated it.

Did you return to your job/position after your maternity? 

When I returned to work after my first child, I returned as a teacher but I stood down from my role as a Head of Year. This was a difficult but obvious decision as the role was so all-consuming I knew fairly early on that I was never going to be able to return to it.

What were your reasons for leaving your previous career? Why did you decide not to stay?

I left my job as a teacher three months after I returned from maternity leave for my second child. My partner works extremely long hours (he is out of the house by 7am and arrives home again around 7.30-8pm) so there was no way to share the drop-offs and pick-ups and, although we are lucky to have a lot of help from family, it was still impossible to manage my job AND be the sole parent during the week. I realised that trying to juggle all of this was detrimental to the kind of mum, and the kind of teacher that I wanted to be. At one point during my maternity leave, during one of the many conversations we had about what life would be like when I returned to work, he said "There isn't room in our lives for both of us to be working hard." At the time I ignored the implications of this but looking back it is clear that the assumption was that I would be the one to step back, not for any other reason than finances as he earns significantly more than I did.

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Tell me about your new career now:  

At the moment, I am doing what I should have done in my 20s. I entered teaching straight from University and immersed myself in it completely. Now I am trying a number of different things to see if any of them stick. We have had to work out the finances to allow me to do this and as such I feel exceptionally privileged. I have picked up some paid work marking GCSE exams, and mentoring A-Level students through their UCAS applications, but most of my "free of children" time is spent doing unpaid work that I hope will give me experience and contacts that will help me in the future. I am writing a blog as a "training exercise", practising different types of writing while I pursue trying to do it as a living. I have also been taken on by The Step Up Club (@TheStepUpClub on IG and Twitter, Step Up Club on Facebook) to assist them in increasing their social media presence and engagement, as well as acting as a "Wing Woman" in the organisation of their events, and on the occasions themselves. They offered me this opportunity after I emailed them following a post they placed on Instagram about looking for some help. The voices in my head telling me not to do it, I was not what they were looking for, were pretty loud that evening but I ignored them and emailed anyway. It turns out that I was what they were looking for so the timing was pretty serendipitous.I am now considering doing the Digital Mums Social Media training as it is something I find fascinating, I can fit it around the children, and perhaps even do some writing too if that ever takes off. Social media as a marketing tool is also not going to go anywhere, it is only going to evolve, so I imagine a time when once the children are in school, perhaps building my own business is something that I can do.

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Photo of Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine aka The Step Up Club

Talk me through an average day for you now? How much has your life changed?

My life has changed hugely. I spend at least three days per week in sole charge of the children. My daughter is in nursery two days per week, and grandparents also help me out with my son two days a weeks, so I get two childfree days most weeks. Having said that however, I generally don't get out of the house until around 10am, after the children have been fed and dressed, and have to be home for tea time so it is a shortened day that I have to pack everything into. I then do bath and bed time most of the time alone and as has always been the case my partner arrives home around 10 minutes before the eldest goes to bed. Both children are usually (hopefully!) asleep by 8pm and once we have eaten I then sit down to work on my blog and/ or social media.The biggest difference for me is my energy levels. My job was so intense that in the evenings I just wanted to sit in silence but often I had marking or planning to do. Now I find that although I am tired, once the children are asleep my brain that is mostly in mute during the day, kicks in.The whole point of me leaving behind my career as teacher was that I want to build a lifestyle, rather than pursue a new career. I want to work, I NEED to work for my own sanity, putting aside the financial pressures that a second income would ease, but I have accepted that our family circumstance as they are it is not possible to pursue a new career at full tilt. The children therefore are my priority during the day and I fit "work" around them. 

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What is the best and worst thing about your new career?

The best thing is feeling that the only people making significant demands on my patience and emotions are my children. When I was teacher I used to worry that my patience was a finite resource and my children were getting the sharp end of the stick. The same goes for the emotional drain that teaching represents - particularly in the type of school that I worked in - and I felt very much that I was spread too thin.Chasing my dreams also feels like a huge privilege so while I have to fit it around paid work, and the children, I don't feel resentful about working late into the evenings.The worst thing is the frustration. I have so many ideas about writing, my blog, and the social media work I am doing but I have to shelve them constantly until the children are asleep or I have one of my "Rainbow Days" when I am child free.I have also struggled with being financially reliant on my partner, not because he has a problem with it, but because I am used to financial independence. For whatever reason I now feel less free to spend the money we have because I have not earned it...

Is there anything you miss about your previous career/life before children?

This is more psychological for me as I identified myself as "a teacher". I was well-respected by staff and students alike and I knew what I was doing was good. As a mum, and in these new ventures, there is far less certainty, and the question "Who am I?" has raised its head on many an occasion.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to do what you have done?

Check your finances. Then check them again. Only by doing this was it clear that we could afford for me to finish work without anything concrete to go to. Use your contacts to pick up paid work that you can fit around the children - you might be surprised at how much work you can "pick up" just by tapping into the people you know. I was contacted out of the blue on my last day as a teacher by an ex-colleague who has since given me the mentoring work and who also has other work in the pipeline. Network. Don't be afraid to TELL people whatever it is you can do - even if nothing immediate comes from it, you never know what might emerge in the future.Finally, my new mantra is "Feel the fear then do it anyway" because it is possible to listen to the demons that we all have whispering in our ears, but they will hold you back. Whenever I am feeling nervous or uncertain I say to myself "What's the worst that can happen?" and sometimes it works!

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Bath time shenanigans I now have time for

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