Enjoy Your Child: Advice for Working Parents

Rebecca Paveley spoke to celebrity nanny Rachel Waddilove to gain some sensible, common-sense advice for working mums 

She may be the childcare guru of choice for celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and hubby Chris Martin, but Rachel Waddilove is remarkably down to earth. She calls herself a Devon farmer’s wife, though these days she is often as not found in the swisher parts of London or Hollywood, helping soothe celebrity babies to sleep on time and in their cot, as she is in her West Country farmhouse. In the last few years, her sensible but flexible advice on bringing up babies and toddlers has taken the world of maternity nurses by storm, pushing aside the once fashionable strict regimes of babycare.

Rachel’s advice is born of 40 years of hands-on nannying – not to mention the fact she has three children and now five grandchildren of her own. She is passionate about supporting family life, at a time when it is under pressure more than ever, thanks to the credit crunch and increased strains on family finances.

She was fortunate not to be expected to work when she had her own children in the 70s, she says. ‘Today there is huge pressure on women to get back to work. What I say to girls is always to work for your needs, not your wants because actually there is nothing like Mummy or Daddy.’

Common sense

But she is realistic, too about the pressures facing many families, recognising that for many mums there is no choice about whether or not to work, particularly if she is bringing up children on her own.

Her advice is true to style, full of common sense: ‘If you have to work, the first thing to do is to try and get rid of the guilt, it weighs you down. Make weekends and holidays very precious family times, if you can. And your husband or partner has to share the workload – or if you’re on your own then it is important to have good support from friends, or from family. Friends today are like family, and it’s good to have a strong male figure in children’s lives, so a friend can step in if you don’t have a partner. Often this male figure can be a grandparent or an uncle.’

‘I have had girls come to me in a mess, having read all the prescriptive childcare books. I believe in flexible routines. It’s very different when you have been through it and have had a child yourself. But I do believe in bedtimes and in family times. If mum can be back from work to do bath and bedtime on most nights of the week, that is important.’

Make time for down time

She is keen for children to have some down time at home with parents, if possible. And with recession biting, it is heartening to hear she firmly believes that the simple pleasures really are the ones children like best, and are the best for them.

‘Family life is very important, have the time to let them come into your bed in the mornings at the weekends. Read stories, don’t watch TV, think of things that don’t cost a lot of money, walks in the park for example. Children today are living in an age where there is almost too much going on; there isn’t enough time to be quiet.’

But for all of us who have returned home from work to our children feeling stressed and guilty about it, her last bit of advice is the best I’ve heard: ‘Don’t underestimate that what we do with our children is absolutely wonderful, even if we may shout sometimes or get cross, we are Mummy and Daddy and that is what our children want most of all.’

Family-friendly working

Mothers’ Union successfully lobbied the British Government to give parents of all children under 18 the right to request flexible working. If you are a parent, the legislation means you have the right to approach your employer and request a flexible working arrangement that enables you to balance your home and work life.

 

What does ‘flexible working’ mean in practice?

Mothers’ Union member and mother of two Lorraine Hellinga didn’t go back to work for 10 years until her youngest child started school: ‘My husband has a fast-paced and high-stress job and in order to make our marriage and family life work for us, my job is to be the stable one that can be home most often and take care of crises that occur. That's the way I love to live my life.’

Lorraine’s ideal job is ‘VERY flexible so that if I wish to join my children on a class trip, volunteer in their classroom, or be home with a sick child then I could’ – almost too good to be true. But she found what she was looking for job-sharing as a marketing assistant starting work at 9am after she has taken her children to school and finishing at 3pm so she can collect them.

‘I generally work on Wednesdays and Fridays and share a desk with a woman who works Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, if I would like to be home or with my children for some special activity, and it doesn't interfere with anything major at work, then I am able to either switch my days around with my job share partner or I am given the time off without pay.

‘My employer benefits because he has two employees with strengths in different areas. I am in charge of marketing and phone calls while my job share partner does more financial administration. Yet we both know enough of each other's area to be able to cover for each other when required. Another benefit to my employer is satisfied staff. When staff are happy they tend to be much more productive and since our hours are minimal we tend to make the most of them in terms of our productivity.’

Few working rights

Mum to four, Marilyn Lewis*, also a Mothers’ Union member, has had a less positive experience returning to work: ‘I would have found it impossible to return to my old job once I'd had children. My working hours were long, often leaving the office at 9pm. On top of that there was foreign travel, nights away in hotels all over the UK etc etc… It would never have worked.

‘I currently work as a social research interviewer where I am classed as a casual worker rather than an employee. This means I can accept or decline individual contracts depending on the timing. However it means I have no status really and few rights.

‘When turning down contracts for school holidays I have been made to feel very uncomfortable. It is not just employment policy that needs changing - it's also attitudes. It is hard to legislate when it comes to attitudes held by some workers and employers. The overall message needs to be to respect the decisions of others. And not to discriminate against mothers returning to work who have been out of the workforce for many years raising children.’