Monday 12 October 2015

I need your help...

Last week was kind of rubbish. I have been feeling so frozen. So stuck in the headlights of the future. I have so much that needs doing but nothing driving me forward because I don't know which way to go, and thus I'm stuck in procrastination and pottering and I hate it. So I just thought: I'll write it here. You readers tell me what to do. Please.

The dilemma is my career. Or the lack of it, and the need for it. I'm sorry but this may end up being a long post! Stay with me if you can. I'll try to be concise (says one of the least concise people ever) but I need to set the scene (bonus material: you're kind of going to get my adult life story)...

Seventeen years ago I had my first born. I sat my A-levels while half-way through being pregnant with him. I turned down my place at Cambridge and decided to focus on being the best mother I could be, despite being young and single. I spent two years just mothering him and they were two of the best years of my life. I found myself and who I wanted to be. And I really loved being a mum.

Then, belatedly, I went to university to do the Geography degree, two years later than planned. The eldest and I lived with my parents, he went to the nursery where my mum worked and I commuted into town and what was, luckily, one of the best universities in the country. I loved my degree. I have always loved learning (I'm a bit of a swot). I worked really hard and got a First.

I had planned to stay on and do a Masters then a PhD and finally become a lecture. But some work I did in my final year got me a job offer and, with a child to support and no means of getting our own home otherwise, I had to do the right thing and accept it. I figured the Masters bridge was burned.

I worked for five years in town, in a variety of transport/sustainability/streetscene type jobs. I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed it enough (though not all the time), but it was never what I really wanted to do with my life. During this time I met and married my husband, a northerner, and we realised we'd need to move north at some point to be nearer his mother. The move would mean we could just about get by on his public sector income while I looked after our future children.

That's what we did: seven years ago we moved to the Peaks, I gave up working, and we had our second and third child. Being a stay-at-home mum was a very conscious decision, something I did for them as well as me. I have loved it. But the youngest has just gone to school, our finances are pretty dire, and I have to go back to work. I want to work. But I want to still have as much time with the children as possible.

I have worked a bit in the meantime. In the early days up here I did some part-time admin work for a year or so. For about six months between the second and third boys I was a childminder - I love working with children, but being pregnant and looking after three under-two's was tough. And this last year I've sewn curtains, cushions and blinds half time. You know me: you know I love to sew (and discovered sewing before our last boy was born).

So here are my choices (in current order of preference). Or yours, since you're choosing for me...

1. Perhaps that Masters-PhD-lecturer career path wasn't burnt down all those years ago? I would really love to do this, but there are the finances to consider, I'd need to do some admin work (ideally at the university) part-time, and there would be an impact on the children as I'd need to commute into (probably) Manchester to do it. How would I pay for it? How would I earn at the same time? My husband is usually home from work by 4pm (he starts at 7am) so they wouldn't need too much childcare but I'd have essays and reading to do most evenings. But I think this option is what my heart, soul and brain most yearn for.

2. Teaching. This has always been my back-up option. I know I would love to teach and would be really good at it. But I also know it feels a little like settling. And, most importantly of all, it's a highly time-intensive and stressful career. I want time with my children but the typical teacher does a 70 hour week for the first few years. I would hardly see them. Teaching gives you the school holidays but day-to-day it really isn't a parenting-friendly career any more.

3. Stick with the sewing. This was certainly the plan a year ago. I love it. I could work from home and fit my hours in around the children, so it's certainly the best option for them time-wise. But it's never going to bring in much money, certainly not enough for the eldest starting university, the mortgage, blah blah. It's increasingly looking unviable for these reasons. And my academic brain is pretty dormant.

4. Just find a regular admin type job that fits in with school hours, brings in extra money, and maybe the boys have to do a few days in after-school clubs. The first 3 options involve bringing work home with me but this would not, and that's a benefit to them. But I really, really want to be able to do a job I love for once. And this really wouldn't be it.

5. Go back to the transport world. I'd earn much more than option 4, though I'd be working full time and that would impact on the children. I'm experienced though out-of-touch, so I'd probably have to start on a much lower level than when I left seven years ago. And when I left I was so relieved! I really never wanted to go back to it. But maybe needs must?

What do you think? When I say decide for me, obviously I won't just do what you say, but your opinions and votes will, I hope, help me decide. 

I am a planner, and this is the first time in my life that I can remember being so stuck on a major life decision. I always need to know where I am and where I'm going and I just don't know what to do here. What's best for everyone, not just now but five years down the line when the kids are all older. And while I thought I could do the groundwork on several options at once, running them concurrently for much of this year and then deciding, it turns out that the lack of a plan instills a horrid, self-defeating inertia in me. So I think I really need to decide on one, and maybe keep another one or two as back-up options. You should know, also, that the list in 'order of preference' is a new thing: a week ago, I wouldn't have been able to rank them at all I was so stuck.

PS Option 1 and 2, and maybe 5, could seriously impact on my time to blog and read blogs. Does that matter? I love to write and I love this online world that's just for me. But perhaps the writing element of those three career paths would satisfy my writing needs anyway?

Right. Go! Answers on a postcard (or, for convenience, below in the comments section please!)...


  1. Hmm, that's quite a big question, you know! Could you continue with the sewing from home to earn, and then study with the OU so that you can work flexibly? Does that work at all, or will you need more income sooner than that? A part time job, along with OU? That could work, couldn't it? Obviously I'm happy with the OU, as I just see it as working so well around other commitments and the kids. Whatever you decide, best of luck with it x

    1. Thanks Jocelyn. Yep I think maybe a combination may be the way to go. I'd love to study with the OU but a masters is about £10k, ouch!

  2. You say you like teaching and you enjoyed your time as a child minder. Have you thought about being a teaching assistant in a nursery/infant/junior school. THat way you could be home in school hols but there shouldn't be as much stress as being a teacher.
    I hope you reach a decision and that it works for you financially and spiritually. I wish you luck with making it

    1. That's a good idea Gina, though I've heard those jobs gets hundreds of applications as it's a less stressful, more parent-friendly version of teaching. Worth a try maybe!

  3. I was going to suggest what 'The Reading Residence' did - it sounds like a good plan to me! I'm studying with the OU currently and I find it amazing that it is quite easy to fit everything around it! Good luck in making your decision xx

    1. Ooh another OU vote. If only it was 90% cheaper then it'd be a no brainer (if that's not a contradiction in terms!). What are you studying Bethan?

  4. This is such a HUGE subject, and I'm sure I could spend hours (and may cups of tea) talking to you about this. I completely understand your position at the moment. Here are my thoughts on your thoughts:

    1. Academia. It sounds like this is where your heart lies, and you speak most passionately about this option. Tough to get into, but if you break into this world then it could offer you the flexible job you are looking for, but probably not for many years. My sister is a lecturer and it took her about a decade (with about one year out between MA and PHD) to achieve her dream. It's a slow burn option which great prospects for the future. Some funding is out there for PHDs if you can be in the right place, right time. Harder perhaps when children are involved. Depends on the options you have locally. Could be difficult if there are financial or childcare difficulties. Maybe wait another few years?

    2. Teaching. I am a teacher's daughter so my perspective on this is scewed. My mum taught at my primary school and my Dad worked shifts, so we always had someone to pick us up, be with us in the holidays etc. However, she did have to spend her evenings and weekends working on her paperwork - this must all be so worse these days. My mum is always trying to persuade me to train to be one! Despite the down-sides of this route, I think it has a lot going for it. You can train quite quickly, and it still offers some flexibility.

    3. Sewing. I can see how this has been fantastic for you so far, but it must be hard to earn much from it in relation to the amount of effort you put in. Maybe scale it back and combine it with the studies and/or part time work.

    4. A 10am-2pm admin job is the Holy Grail as far as I'm concerned. If you can find something, then it could slot in with school hours so well for the next few years. Something with few responsibilities could be a great way to ease yourself back into the job market. If you change your mind you can just quit - harder to do with an MA.

    5. Maybe you'd feel differently about your old career now you have new experiences behind you? Could you find something part-time within this area?

    Here are some other options you could consider:

    Earn some money doing free-lance writing. I'd like to make this happen over the next year as I think it would work well.

    If finances allow, try not to rush into anything. Allow yourself time to think. Try volunteering in a school to see if you like it?

    All of these are just my thoughts, so do take them with a pinch of salt!

    I'm still building myself up to writing a post like this over the next week, so I may have more thoughts for you then. I understand the feeling of inertia only too well.


    1. Oh Lizzie, big hug to you for the fantastically detailed response! Really useful info in it too. (I wait with baited breath to read your dilemma post too.) When I posted this and then linked to it on my personal facebook page, I immediately regretted it as I felt so exposed and like I'd let too much of myself be revealed. But then, since then, I've had so many varied and useful responses that I've been so glad I did it. Even though not everyone agrees, many people have more relevant experience than I do in certain areas, or have provided some insight I hadn't yet found on my own, and so it's been a fantastic way to help with the decision (which I've still not made!) (but I do feel less inertia now) xxx

    2. I'm glad you've managed to shift the inertia a bit! Do you mind if I'm hoping to finish my post next week - would it be ok if I quoted you in it? x

  5. Oh this sounds such a dilemma.
    Nothing is the perfect option right now it seems to me as I read these through. Could you try to increase the sewing and do a part time admin job at the same time? Could you set up on Folksy or Etsy to sell some items?
    Having read through again I'm not sure if full time is right for you as you still have small children and it is hard managing full time and small children. The best option would be an admin job in a school, something rare I know, but if you volunteer in a school in which an admin job comes available..... who knows.
    I would re-visit the academic stuff when your children are a bit older, when you can give it your all. My husband did an MBA two nights a week when our daughter was small. How we didn't end up divorced is a mystery, but we didn't and we are still going strong!
    I hope that you manage to come to a conclusion as this kind of dilemma is challenging but sometimes once a decision is made and stuck to then life moves on.
    Good luck x

    1. Thanks Ali! Really useful insight into the academic idea, school work, etc. Gosh it's quite exciting reading your words 'then life moves on'! I think I'm only happy when I feel life's moving forward. I don't do well without a plan! Thanks for commenting xx.

  6. I could have written this post, even got the same Geography degree (though was a management consultant afterwards). I'm also further down the road in terms of older children, as the youngest is 11 now. One thought on the 'heart lies in academia' angle... I think the allure is not always the academia itself, but the feeling of being totally immersed and in love with what you do and also being surrounded by people who feel the same way. It's what I miss most about my old life before children.
    I have no advice - I am as stuck now in terms of decisions as I was 5 years ago. So perhaps that forms my advice - don't agonise about exactly what the right thing is to do, but just say yes to an opportunity that arises and throw yourself into it.

  7. Hello Katie - my goodness, what a post! And what decisions... I was in a similar position some years ago, wanting to get out there and also to bring some money into the house. I have two boys and I left nursing to be at home with them: I finished my OU degree, did voluntary work at the school and helped to run a Beaver group. To get some cash, I started sewing curtains and blinds, which fitted in really well with school times, and I would crawl around on the playroom floor, pattern matching, with radio 2 for company...
    Then I started to invigilate at the grammar school - it brought in a bit of money and I could dress smartly and mix with other people! When my youngest turned ten, I went back to nursing, did a return to practice course and found work that still worked with the school hours.
    I would say work around the children whilst they are young: find some studying that will stretch your brain, look into invigilating or some school work, keep on sewing. If something comes up then go for it - say yes and see how it works out. You can always change your mind if you want to. Not an easy decision though and best of luck for whatever you go with!

    1. Hello Lou, thank you for the view from the other side! Very helpful. xx


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