Working mum says 'Mothers like me should always be off at Christmas'

After a childless manager revealed she’s sick of always picking up the slack for parents, one working mum retorts… Mothers like me should always be off at Christmas

  • Michelle Taylor, a 43-year-old mum-of-three, said she should be allowed time off
  • READ MORE: Childless women are sick of being exploited by mums in the office 

A few weeks ago, I received the message I’d been dreading from my retail manager at the upmarket High Street store where I work part-time.

She wanted a meeting to discuss my ‘availability’.

Such summons are a bit like being sent to the headteacher but, at 43, and as a mum of three, I’m old enough to shrug off any bid to intimidate me.

Besides, I knew exactly what we’d be discussing as part of this not-so-cosy chat. Earlier that month, I had taken off two unpaid ‘parental leave’ days — one because one of my children was ill, and the other because it was half-term.

Legally, it’s hard for them to say no, but my lack of availability was becoming a problem. Now, they wanted to discuss when I’d be willing to work in the festive weeks ahead.

Michelle Taylor (pictured) says mothers like herself should always be given time off at Christmas 

After the meeting, it was pretty clear my ethos was different to theirs — and, at some point, I knew I’d have to make a decision on whether to stay or go.

The source of these problems? That I’m a mum. And so there are some times — Christmas being one of them — when I am not prepared to sacrifice time with my family to come to work.

I’d jumped at the role when I was first hired, convinced I could make it work around life as a yoga teacher, running a household and my main priority of raising my children.

I’d taken on a contract to do two shifts a week and, initially, it sounded ideal. The shifts changed on a week-by-week basis according to the store’s needs, but I hoped to always work weekdays.

However, with new management in place, the staff rota wasn’t being drawn up in advance, with shifts chopping and changing at the last minute. It meant some staff, mums included, would get calls the day before a shift telling them to come in. Even worse, suddenly I was being asked to confirm I could work weekends.

I was unhappy and my bosses were unhappy, too. Because, sadly, some childless women in the workplace are of the opinion that women like me are somehow using our status as parents in order to get preferential treatment, or swerve our work responsibilities, leaving them to shoulder the lion’s share.

READ MORE: Why we childless women are sick of being exploited by mums in the office during the holidays 

In an excoriating piece in last week’s Femail, former retail manager Samantha Walsh outlined why she, as a childless woman, was so tired of picking up the slack at Christmas for mums like me that she quit her job.

Well, just like Samantha, last month I, too, handed in my notice when I could not make myself available to work either Christmas Day and Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Working those days just wasn’t an option for me.

I wasn’t going to miss Christmas carol concerts, opening presents or enjoying precious family time with my children, who are aged 13, eight and seven.

They are only little once and I want to be there for all the important moments. If I miss Christmases when they’re young, I’ll never get that time back and I couldn’t bear it if missing out on that time with them affected our relationship in the long term.

We moved from Surrey to a lovely village for a better family life, so I needed to be present for my children.

People may say that holiday arrangements need to be fair to everyone, regardless of whether they are parents or not. But while I understand that, it’s not something I’m willing to compromise on.

Like many mums, I took a part-time retail role to make my job work around my children’s needs. Lord knows it’s not about career — before I had my children, I had a senior role as a web developer — but convenience.

The likes of Samantha Walsh won’t thank me for saying this, but it was supposed to be a hassle-free job in which I could show up, do my hours and then not think about when I clocked off.

I wasn’t a misty-eyed innocent when it came to the retail world, though. As a teenager, I started a Saturday job in a High Street fashion store and, by my early 20s, I was at assistant management level working in a shoe store.

No shirker, I know what demanding clientele and exacting bosses are all about.

Back then, I was always happy to do the shifts at the weekend or on the bank holidays, no questions asked, while my colleagues who were parents spent important time with their families. I never resented them for it. And that includes Christmas, too. But now I’m a mum in her 40s with a family relying on me, it’s a different story. I only wish my colleagues could be as understanding as I once was.

My female managers at the shop were in their 20s and 30s and childless. As such, I felt they had little sympathy for the pressures I was under and couldn’t seem to grasp that the job wasn’t my everything.

We mums on the staff really struggled with the lack of notice around shifts and being expected to drop everything at the last minute to meet work demands. It almost felt as if we were being blamed for having children.

I felt as if I spent more time negotiating my shifts than working them; none of my childless colleagues ever seemed to respect my point of view.

And yet mums often feel they have to bend over backwards to accommodate bosses’ demands. One mum would start work 15 minutes later at 9.15 instead of 9am, and make up the time by taking a shorter lunch break.

We moved from Surrey to a lovely village for a better family life, so I needed to be present for my children (stock image)

Those extra 15 minutes allowed her to do the school run, and the store didn’t open until 9.30 anyway. It worked until she was told under the new manager in no uncertain terms that it was no longer convenient for the store. She was made to feel as if her children were a burden on the team.

I’m not a difficult person, and I’m proud to say I’m a hard worker. If I wasn’t serving customers, then I was helping with deliveries. It’s a physical job moving stock around and up and down ladders.

The run-up to Black Friday was brutal this year, it was mayhem with VIP email campaigns, the reorganisation of the store for sales stock and the click-and-collect system to manage.

It’s go-go-go constantly and I was exhausted, but kept my nose to the grindstone. Because, despite what some people may believe, us mums genuinely don’t want to let our employers or other colleagues down.

However, when you are a mum your family will always come first. When one of my children is sick and my husband is working, what else am I supposed to do?

Whenever I took a day off at short notice, I did feel guilty, because I knew perfectly well someone else would have to cover for me. But there is no option when your child needs you. So, after weeks of stressing out about my availability, the Christmas edict was the final nail in the coffin.

I’ve since found a new job in a small independent boutique, working two days, where I don’t need to be in over Christmas and New Year. The owner doesn’t have children and she offered me time off during the festive period.

I can see why this sort of solution might infuriate childless staff. Regardless of family status, we should all be able to spend time with our loved ones at Christmas.

Retail management need to put more money into hiring seasonal staff so that they can accommodate all their staff’s needs.

We should be in favour of mums in the workforce, because we have so much to give.

And when it comes to the holidays, it’s not a question of preference or laziness; we just need to take Christmas off.

There’s too much to organise to leave it solely on my husband’s shoulders, and my kids’ memories would be ruined if I wasn’t there.

Will I regret giving up that job? No, not for a second. Life is short and, for this mum, no job is worth missing out on Christmas with my family.

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