Juggling Family Life As A MP

Photo of James Frith, MP for Bury North

Post taken with permission from The Inspiring Dads website

Until very recently MPs had to be present in parliament in order to vote, a recent high profile news story made parliament take note of its own procedures and at the end of the ensuing debate that changed parliamentary procedures, I saw James Frith speak powerfully in favour of equality for Dads. We met last week in the House of Commons and I asked him how he juggles his family life and responsibilities as a father of 4, husband and MP representing Bury North.

How do you juggle those very different responsibilities?

James: It’s a good question. So, the juggling is a very real, daily, weekly kind of appreciation really. We have to be careful as a married couple that we’re not just basically forever planning, but we’re living in the moment or as much as you can. But with kids anyway, you can quickly be just spending weekends dropping them off at parties and picking them up. Sometimes you think, actually we need a weekend where we’re out as a family and we go for a walk and that sort of thing. So really, I don’t think it’s much different to what a lot of people do, but what we add in is a degree of this sort of public life.

What Is It Like Working away from home?

James: From a parental point of view, I make sure that the kids always know that I’m back more often than not on Wednesday night. I tend not to tell them if there’s a chance of getting back earlier because they’re disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

Ian: Do you come down on Sunday nights?

James: I come down Monday morning and I’m back late Wednesday night for Thursday morning. So I’m down for two nights usually, but the third night’s missed because I’m not back in time for bedtime, but I am there Thursday morning.

From their perspective, it’s essentially three nights away, three bedtimes, but it’s okay. When I come down after a hectic weekend it’s quite nice, but by Tuesday I’m kind of like…. It’s a bit quiet and you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re in this strange flat away from the kids and home. There are moments when a degree of homesickness is quite real, basically what I do is I work flat out and then I leave as soon as I’m able to get back to the constituency.

Tell Us About Routines And Rituals.

James: For us it’s even things like coming through the door. If in the rare occasions I get home and no one is at home, there’s that ability to then receive them as they come home as opposed to get home and be overwhelmed, before you’ve even put your bag down. Which in the films is meant to be like the best feeling ever. In reality, you’re exhausted. Just let me put my bag down. Let me get my coat off and then… I mean it’s probably very detailed, but we talked about that as a family in terms of just giving … or like straight away if Nikki wants to go out for a run or whatever, I’m like yeah, yeah go. I’ve got it. Go, go, go so that she gets that carved out time individually whilst at home.

Ian: There’s routine as a family and there’s rituals.

James: Little rituals. Little kind of cognitive things about how you end up feeling ’cause I yearn for time at home. Nikki yearns for time out of the house. So how can we make that work? It takes some real management.

What other kind of practical things have you learnt?

James: Coffee! I think all of our children have grown up knowing there’s little point in asking for anything from me or my wife until we’ve had two coffees in the morning and Sky, Sky TV, and you’re sorted (!)

Practical things – I think it’s the same challenge that parents face anyway, which is concentrating on playing with your children and not just managing them. That’s the thing I really struggle with. Instinctively, not least because we’ve got four, but because of how busy we are. It’s very easy (and I’m too guilty of it), very easy to just basically be managing your children rather than

playing with them. So having good walks or taking Henry to football or my daughter to drama, reading a book with my little boy or watching a film with my little girl. They’re sort of quite deliberate activities so you’re not simply just tidying up after them.

Ian: So for you it’s almost planned “quality time”?

James: You’ve got to just have that time when it is quality time. More often than not, that needs us to be out of the house for it to be really useful. Otherwise, you just get, (I do anyway), kind of subsumed into just the management of the house and keeping on top of everything and tidying up!

Good team around me

James: It does take a considerable amount of effort to make sure it works and some of that is about just having good balance with your team, they have empathy as to my time. They’ll ask themselves, before they ask me, whether another Thursday night or another Friday night or another Saturday afternoon is realistic. So we’ve built in some provision.

Ian: Core time?

James: Yeah, and we alternate weeks. So I’ll do a late finish Friday and work on Saturday one week and then finish normal time Friday and not work the weekend . So a team of six in the constituency and then I have support three days a week when I’m down here.

The nature of it, as with any job, just takes a lot of teamwork and a lot of diary management and committing to solid things. Good time away, weekends off, good walks, time for bath, football, taking Henry to the Carabao Cup Final, which I can’t wait for! It is a lot of work, but there are a lot more dads in hardship. The status, the money, the reward for the job is significant. So I’m not complaining.

What’s the best thing about being an MP?

James: Genuinely it’s that ability to change somebody’s circumstances who’ve come to see you. The individual case work, which actually is somebody else’s success largely. It’s one of my case work team who work through the authority of the office essentially, but the case work then plan of action is then agreed and ordained by me or action is taken and letters written

Ian: In your name?

James: In my name. Through an effective office operation we’re able to transform or change circumstances, some of it very small. It can be appropriate railings outside of school or it can be sorting out the Motability license for a newly diagnosed Parkinson’s sufferer who actually is going be able to use their car for a period of time having been sanctioned by the DWP or it can be saving the walk-in centre which we did quite early on.

So my SEND focus on special education needs is because I’ve been inundated with case work. 50 plus parents come and see me with issues about the struggle and there’s a universal view across the country which is why I pressed for the national inquiry from the committee that I’m on (Education Select Committee).

It’s that ability to influence change and improve circumstances for people. That’s for sure.

Elected by surprise

Ian: You said earlier that it was a surprise to get elected. How did you feel after the first time when you lost, it was ’15?

James: Yeah, 2015. So I lost by 378 votes, it was 0.8%.

Ian: I’m not sure but I think I might have fallen asleep on the sofa by that stage…

James: That was a better option than being at the count. I was gutted. I spent some time getting over that frankly. I threw myself into the company that I ran, but it was quite a significant challenge to my outlook because you feel, you can’t help but take it personally.

Ian: Yeah. Investing so much of your soul….

James: Two and a half years of being the candidate and running campaigns and working really hard, all in a voluntary capacity so our family had endured that. But when ’17 came around, the opportunity to stand again…

There was no hesitancy in me. I was just cautious of putting the family through it again, but Nikki was just like absolutely you’ve got to go for it, and of course we had our eyes wide open in this instance. So, we knew what we were headed for whereas previously it was just like, oh my god this is taking so much! In 2017 we were pregnant with Bobby. That was an active decision and we’d been pregnant with Lizzie the election before. So, some say it was a cynical ploy to win votes with my pregnant wife! “Kiss a baby”. It doesn’t have to be your baby as somebody pointed out. But it’s all good. I’m loving work.

Political Heroes

James: Last week, I hosted Kerry Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy’s daughter, it was amazing. She was awesome. She does a lot for human rights globally and she wants to do a Human Rights festival in Manchester. So I put together some MPs and she came and spoke, we were just like hanging off every word.

She told the story about the night as a nine year old girl, the day that Martin Luther King was shot and how she remembered watching the news with her dad and he decided he needed to go down and address the crowd. He went upstairs, put a suit on, came down. She saw him leave the house, walk out into his car and pull up 10 minutes later on the news and delivered this incredible speech in Indianapolis. A speech that he delivered which helped keep the peace. It was just amazing. Absolutely brilliant. And we talked about Shared Parental Leave

Why take Shared Parental Leave?

Ian: The thing about Shared Parental Leave, it really needs to be more powerful. There aren’t that many places that fund it the way that maternity leave is funded. You need one partner to be earning enough that you can cover a second salary being lost, and it tends to be the man in part because those gender pay gaps come in quite early.

James: It’s a good way of looking at it. It’s an argument for equality that is often not made in terms of that need to have equality so that there is freedom for both the man and the woman to go back to work and what’s best for their family rather than just necessity. Usually, as you say, because of the ingrained inequalities on pay still, then it ends up being the man that goes back to work. There should be that freedom.

Ian: Yeah, it’s that straight jacket of choice. For a lot of couples, the certainty of dad working, mum looking after children, raising children, that’s great. For a lot of dads, it’s like, actually I want to be more involved and I can’t or for mums – actually I want to work. The example I like to use is of 2 candidates – 30 something, recently married. If you, as a potential employer, didn’t know which one was likely to take a year off to look after children then you wouldn’t be able to make a judgement in narrow terms based on gender.

Ian Dinwiddy – From Inspiring Dads, featuring James Frith, MP for Bury North

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An out of office experience

I was made redundant by the charity I had worked for in various capacities at the end of February.  I had been with them for two and a half years, and for the most part, I really loved my time there.  I worked as a consultant, before accepting positions in-house as Head of Operations, Marketing and Communications, and eventually Managing Director.

I gained a real sense of motivation from helping others that I haven’t experienced elsewhere in my life.  Since leaving work, I have struggled desperately to find a lever to get me going.  Having two young children helps, but I recognise that my role as a parent will change as time goes on, and my children become more independent, so it’s important that I secure my future now.

Still, I find it difficult to do things for my own benefit and I can’t resist the idea that this is because I consider others more deserving.  Before I left my role a few members of my team asked me to provide them with references.  I was saddened that the charity would be losing their services too, but I was determined to help them secure work.  When thinking about their qualities, they were numerous and obvious to me.  When thinking about my own achievements and strengths, the list appears abstract and fake.

As I focus on finding my next role my mind is flooded with insecurities.  I look through the appointments sites and feel horribly inadequate.  I struggle to list my successes and feel the pull of those experiences I view as personal failures.  On a rational level, I understand that the reality is more nuanced.  Successes or failures rarely belong to one person, and I would never claim a prize not fairly won, yet I find it easy to assume responsibility for things when they go wrong.  This can be a strength in a Managing Director, but over time, it can become debilitating, so it’s important to allow yourself a few victories along the way.  I intend to be more generous with myself in the future.

Over the past three months I have applied for scores of jobs and my search goes on.  Each morning I remind myself that I’m not alone, that there are thousands of other mummy’s and daddy’s out there facing the same challenge.  But the physical reality tests this belief.  My wife leaves with the children in the morning while I stay home to continue my search.  At the weekends, I catch up with friends and family and I am reminded that my life is different in a very significant way.  I don’t want to overegg the importance of work, but for me it’s a key part of our identity.  What we do goes to who we are, and if we are not doing something, then it’s unlikely that we will truly experience a sense of self-worth and validation.  As I write this, I know that my own self-esteem is suffering, and I need to find a way back quickly.

So what next?  It’s difficult to say.  Most of my recent knowledge is in the charitable sector specific to health-related issues.  The sector has experienced a sustained period of controversy, scrutiny and hardship.  My hope is that lessons have been learned, and that valued and needed institutions will repair their reputations and continue their work.  I would love to return to the sector at some point, but until charities regain public trust, opportunities will be scarce, and committed and compassionate professionals will have to look elsewhere.

Location is a factor.  I’m based in Poole and have been since 2003.  It’s a beautiful town, and I feel privileged to live there, but it remains a ‘fishing village,’ and is unlikely to attract big businesses in the way that large cities do.  This concerns me as a jobseeker and as a father, because while I would love for my children to travel and experience the world, they need to have opportunities at home should they wish to stay.

All of this leads me to believe that the solution may rest in my ability to create something from scratch.  Those who do, tend to be masters of their own destiny, and well placed to provide a legacy for their children.  I have begun working on a few ideas between applications, and I would encourage anyone reading this to keep going and be creative.  Ultimately, your children will be the beneficiaries of your success wherever it lies.

Written by Paul Norton

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Would improving men’s rights help close the gender pay gap?

<em>Written by Fiona Halkyard @ Chatter Communications</em>

I don’t really think of myself as much of a feminist. I don’t get offended if a man holds a door open for me or calls me “love” (to be fair living in Yorkshire, it’s a pre-requisite and even men get called love, so score one for equality!). But I am a woman who’s pretty dedicated to her career. I’m a working mum. And, most importantly, I have three daughters who are (in my completely neutral opinion) amazing human beings who will go on to be brilliant adults. And for them, and their generation, I’d like to see true gender equality finally become a real thing.

And so there are certain “female” issues that really piss me off. And the current bee in my bonnet is the gender pay gap (which leaves British women earning an average of 17.4% less than men in similar full-time jobs and places us 15th out of 22 countries*). Or rather the gender bias that continues to dog our society and prevent women from achieving the same career success as their male counterparts.

<strong>My experiences</strong>

Through my twenties my career progressed quite successfully and initially, being female didn’t really factor. But once I moved into a management role I started to become aware of nuanced differences between the way I was treated compared to men of a similar age.

There was a “boys club” of up and coming ad execs who got invited to golf/beers/important client dinners with the MD and Chairman and suddenly progressed their careers far quicker than me and my female colleagues. The most memorable moment that made me stop and pay attention that perhaps I wasn’t being judged purely on my ability, was the conversation I had with the company Chairman when being considered for a promotion and he “joked” that he was only considering me because he “trusted” that I wasn’t just going to “run off and have babies anytime soon”. I was 27, engaged, and whilst not immediately planning a family, I knew it probably wasn’t too far off in my future. Yet I had to pretend that “no, no I’m a dedicated career woman, none of this baby nonsense for me” in order to pass his “test”.

I wonder if any man has ever felt that pressure? They certainly didn’t in that particular business where men could marry and become Dads without a single raised eyebrow from the powers that be. To be aware that even the potential of a marriage/baby that may not happen for a decade or more (or ever) could be a factor you have to answer to because you are “a woman of a certain age” is frustrating and archaic. And while most employers are far too savvy/legally compliant to ask the question that my old boss did, we all know that it is often consciously or unconsciously a factor when hiring or promoting a young woman.

And to some extent I get it. Women do often have babies in their late twenties, thirties, forties. And then want reduced/flexible hours. And that costs a business, especially a small one, a lot of money that perhaps doesn’t make up for the value of the employee in their child free years. But women do not choose to be born female. So why should they have to choose career or parenthood? Men don’t. Does that make men better at their jobs? Does it make them lesser parents? In my opinion the answer is no.

<strong>The here and now</strong>

The UK has made fabulous strides over the past 11 years, since I became a mum, to make it a little bit easier to juggle motherhood and working life. Maternity pay/leave have been extended and it’s become the norm to take a year or more off and still return to a well paid role. Flexible working policies have also become fairly common place, allowing women to balance the demands of work and parenting. Which is all brilliant. But still comes with restrictions. Breakfast meetings, after work networking, long days of travel, are all pretty hard to work around most childcare provisions. And whilst colleagues can be supportive, you can still feel that you’re more “difficult” to work with than a child-free colleague. And that affects confidence, your feelings of job security, it can put you off applying for a promotion or new role as you don’t want to upset the status quo.

And so women tread water while their kids are young and their male counterparts progress. And by the time you’re able to be “all in” at work, you’ve reached a glass ceiling and are reporting into men with 10 years less experience than you have. And so the gender pay gap persists.

<strong>So what’s the answer? What can we do? Even more benefits and support for women? Maybe. But to change the social stigma, how about we focus on men?</strong><em>

Again the UK has made some excellent progress in sharing the load of parental responsibility in the work place with paid paternity leave and shared parental leave and the opportunity for anyone to apply for flexible working. But it’s still not the norm. Paid paternity leave is still only funded by the government for 2 weeks. Our parenting leave is only the 11th most equal out of 21 countries* with shared parental leave a minefield to organise and flexible or part time working is still something that feels more aimed at women than men (men make up only 25.8% of the part-time workforce, leaving the UK 16th out of 21 countries measured *). Dads who take extended time off to be with their new baby tend to face social stigma, or at least a few raised eyebrows. And this means that on average, British men spend 24 minutes caring for children, for every hour done by women, according to the Fatherhood Institute’s Fairness In Families Index (FIFI).

People also presume that the woman will be the one to take a career break as the man is earning more (a comment even my own husband made, completely forgetting that when we started a family we were on equal salaries, as many couples are). And on the flip side, women whose partners take more time off than them are seen as “lesser” mums, putting their career before their kids. And because of all of this, men in their late twenties and early thirties are still not associated with the “pregnancy risk” that may entail a career break or reducing their hours at some point, even if married or with long term partners.

But if we could encourage more men to take up the opportunity to be at home with their kids, work flexibly and take on more of the parental juggle – without being judged for it. If we bring our kids up to see that both mum and dad can be their carer and have a career maybe things might finally be come more equal.

And if a parental career break (or indeed a mid-life career break for any purpose) becomes society’s standard for both men and women, then the glass ceiling might finally shatter. Maybe not for me and my peers (if we’re lucky we’ll be retired by then!). But if my daughters can dream, believe and achieve with no limits, then that would be a wonderful thing.

*stats taken from the Fatherhood Institute’s <a href=”http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2016/uk-mums-and-dads-are-worst-in-developed-world-at-sharing-childcare/”>Fairness In Families Index 2016</a>

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Fostering

If you would like a role that doesn’t judge you for your paper qualifications (or lack of!), a role that gives you the opportunity to use your personality, life-skills and determination to change the lives of vulnerable children then fostering could be for you!

Your time is precious, as is the security and support within your home. You could be the person who gives a child the opportunity to relax and enjoy their childhood, achieve their goals and lay the foundations for a successful adulthood. We’re not making it up; that really is what people, just like you, do!

There are lots of independent and council-run fostering services, so what should you look for when choosing which one to join?

Our advice is to look for a service that is registered with the independent charity ‘The Fostering Network’. Find services near to you, look at their websites, call them, visit them and make sure you feel comfortable with them whilst ensuring they will provide you with:

  • Comprehensive training and support, provided as locally to you as possible
  • An Ofsted rating of ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Good’
  • A regional office near to your home
  • A ‘buddy’ scheme whereby you’re linked with an existing, experienced foster carer during those first fostering months
  • An on-call service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • The opportunity to have a private and candid conversation with one or two of their existing foster carers
  • An annual respite allowance
  • Regular payment of a generous fee for you and payment for your foster child’s day to day care
  • Individual membership of FosterTalk

 

And if you’d like an insight into the world of fostering and other musings, read the Secret Foster Carer’s blog. It’s interesting, sometimes fun, sometimes sad but always thought-provoking!

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Daddy 4 Life – Blog #001

First steps

So…here goes!

I have been meaning to set up a blog for a while, but I inevitably put it off in fear of not being up to the standard of other bloggers. Enough is enough though. I think the time is right. I will tell you why in a mo!

When I finally decided to start writing a blog it took me a week (maybe a little bit more if I am honest) to actually sit down and write a this first one. I thought I would start with something simple…kind of…

What does being a Daddy mean to me!!!

Well, I am a father to two wicked little monsters. One named Jackson (5 years old) and the other little terror is Lilly (4 years old). I say wicked little monsters, because that is what they are most of the time, IMG_0867and for most of the time I enjoy the madness that these two bring. Jackson was born in the October of 2011 – and he definitely gave us a scare. He had a stroke and spent a few months in hospital, and while that brought its own challenges we have plenty of fun and do just as much as any other able bodied child. He does not let it stand in his way to say the least. Lilly, is a completely different beast – she’s funny, independent and about 35 on the inside. She has an opinion on everything and to be completely honest – thinks she is in charge. If I think about it, she is probably right. I don’t mind most of the time.

20161024_134812To me, and probably to many others, ‘Being a Daddy’ is not a simple thing to define. We all have our own ways of tackling the job. I am the cook, the cleaner, the talker, the listener, the comforter, the Lego buddy, the Youtube handler and the crazy funny mad person that will do anything to get a laugh from the monsters. My friends like to make comparisons that I am like the traditional stay at home housewife, but I don’t really like that stereotype – I doubt Stay at Home Mums do either. I think some people find it hard to fit us SAHDs into a nice neat little box. That’s why I don’t really let it bother me. I am just happy to be lucky enough to do it.

3rd time lucky

I have been the ‘Stay at Home Dad’ before. For a few months I stayed at home when Jackson was not well, giving up a retail management job to work as a sales person on the weekends, and then again when Lilly came along when I took 9 months off when fathers were allowed to do so and get paid the 9 months maternity leave. This will be my third time lucky. I plan to make the best of it this time round.

We are not having another baby – unless the better half has forgot to tell me something. The reason why I will be a stay at home dad soon is due to not being able to fit a full time job in an ever changing medical journey with my son. He has severe epilepsy and has made me miss a lot of work. Also, the school I have worked at for the last 5 years is changing its opening hours and I can no longer work the hours and fit in my family. After many hours of deliberation and many cups of tea (glass of wine for the wife), I came to the conclusion that it was best for my family that I be the stay at home dad. As of 22nd July 2017 I will say goodbye to work and say hello to the crazy life of stay at home parenting again.

We had the conversation many years ago that one of us would  stay at home if the situation needed it. Whoever had the most earning potential would stay at work and the other would be one that stayed. I am not ashamed to admit it – my wife earns more than me and at the moment, has the greater earning potential. Some men would hate this – I don’t. I can’t explain it really, I have never really measured my success by the amount I earn, but more by how happy I am and how happy my family is. I know…this sounds a little bit like I am convincing myself but I promise you I am not. At some point this year my son will have an assessment for epilepsy brain surgery which only makes the decision that little bit easier. Family first is my mantra and always will be.

Two strikes not out..

Being a bloke, the first time I stayed at home I took everything for granted and did not entirely make the most it. I took it as something to get through rather than enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience but I did not really grasp how much fun I could make of it and when it was over I had some major regrets about not enjoying every moment. Yes, I did take enough photos and record thousands of silly videos of the kids doing ridiculously funny things, however, hindsight is great at reminding you that you did not take a breather and enjoy, reflect and smile at every moment. In addition to this, I did not really make an effort to socialise with the many stay at home dads that are out there – whether this be locally or online. I briefly attempted to enter the arena of the stay at home mum but this didn’t quite feel right, and to be quite honest, felt a little weird being the only male at the mothers and baby club. I felt a little out of sorts and it made a difference to my experience. Thus, we return to the reason I want to do things a little different this time round. I thought a blog would be one avenue and also connect with stay at home dads – not just in my local area and the Uk, but across continents. The internet is great with that apparently.

The Future

As you can probably tell, I am a bit of a waffler and rambler. Hopefully this is not a bad trait for a blogger – you will have to forgive me…or not, your choice. I will hopefully get a few like minded people like me on here; if not only to correct some of my dodgy grammar. The idea is to write something at least once a week – it will depend on how much free time I get. I am a bit of a clean freak and will probably spend most of the time procrastinating but cleaning the house into submission or getting distracted by the other Youtube video or a cracking series on Netflix. Who knows. Whatever happens and whatever I write, moving forward is best and this is my current direction.

If you do stumble across this and have read until this point, please do connect with me on social media. I am now set up on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I would love to hear from you. Us Dads need to stick together. Stay at home or not

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