Work-life balance changes with kids

I lost my job the day my son, Joe, was born, so my work-life balance as a freelance journalist has been tied to my children growing up. I’ve given them breakfasts, packed them lunches and cooked them dinners. I’ve got them to school and gone on trips.

Woman and baby

TGLW (Kate) and our son, Joe, the day he was born

I’ve worked only the hours they were in paid-for nursery. I have worked around school hours, taking and collecting each day. And I’ve worked outside normal hours to free-up the days to spend with them.

Joe is now 20, having left home for Australia, and my daughter, Molly, is 17, completing A-levels and off to uni next year. But in that time the nature of work and the hours people work has worsened. Work now risks becoming all dominating.

Baby boomers

My wife went back to freelance day shifts when Joe was five months old. There was no maternity pay for freelances, only incapacity benefit, and software upgrades meant skills went out of date fast. We paid for Joe to attend a day nursery.

I would drive, cycle or push him in a pushchair to the nursery, return home and work until time to collect him at 5.30. I would sneak in a daytime nap to make up for the loss of sleep at night (I got up so my wife could sleep through).

At lunchtime I would quickly make and eat a sandwich and then go to bed, with a notebook, pen and the phone on the bedside table in case anyone rang. In those days, people rarely rang between 1pm and 2pm – it was considered your lunch hour.

I later put my office in the loft and would even push the ladder up and close the hatch at 5.15 before I set off to collect my kids. My work hours were generally fixed, though, like every journalist, I had occasional out-of-hours calls.

School of hard knocks

When school started I walked or cycled Joe to school and Molly to nursery (eldest on a crossbar seat, youngest on a rear seat). To start with Joe was half days, so I would collect him and then ferry him to the paid nursery.

child in bike seat

Joe falling asleep on my bicycle seat

At this time we had to occasionally hire a babysitter if I were out over lunch or, once Joe started all day at school, if I were busy at the end of the school day.

When Molly started at school for half days we made that a more permanent relationship, employing the young woman full-time. She looked after the kids if necessary and did loads of admin, typing, filing and our accounts for us.

Insurance policy

After doing shifts I was asked to edit Insurance Times. When I was asked for an interview, the boss, Jonathan Shephard, requested we do it at his house as he worked from home one morning a week so he could see his kids. I liked that.

But as soon as I started walking my children to school and coming in late on Wednesday mornings (we worked late every Tuesday), he complained. It became a tiresome battle.


Joe and his baby sister Molly

School timetable

Back at home I would schedule my work around school trips, volunteer days at school (building paths, refurbishing toilets etc) and INSET days (when school closes for staff training).

Most days I walked the 1.1 miles to school and back morning and afternoon, chatting with my children and with other parents doing the same walk.

There would then be lessons to get to – swimming, gymnastics, cricket, football – and sports matches or after-school clubs. In summer I would often also go straight to the park on the way home from school, just to play with the kids.

This all meant a bit of getting up early and working, plus some working early evening after we had all sat down to dinner together. I didn’t work any longer hours; they just weren’t “normal” hours.

This all came in handy for when the children no longer need walking to and from school and I was asked to work an early shift (from home).

Morning has broken (me)

I’d get up at 6am and write as many as nine news stories, posting them live to the Insurance Times (IT) website by 8am. I’d wake the house at 7am with cups of tea and hot chocolate.

I also worked for AOL money commissioning the select band of freelances to write stories for the site and writing several myself. Very few PR people answered calls at that time of the morning.

When we decided AOL needed a stock market announcement story after the 7 am opening – I was already reporting it for IT – we had to hire someone extra to do that.

This still meant I could volunteer at school, run the parents’ forum and attend meetings about the Building Schools for the Future project.

First Post (since 1840)

A little after IT took the early morning work in house (making a staff member travel to work early), I did a news-editing maternity cover for its rival Post Magazine, starting work in the office at 8am.

I cycled in, showered and breakfasted and was at my desk for 7am so I could commission AOL Money before starting the Post work. I finished at 4pm, except on press days.

Some press days involved the whole news staff having to wait until 9pm for the editor to approve the final page. Then I would cycle home.


Bonnie waiting on the stairs to be taken out

It’s a dog’s life

These days, my wife and I work from home most of the time, sat 1.5m apart. We can spend all day together, for several days. Some days, if we were busy, we’d never leave the house.

We got a dog about two years ago and she, Bonnie, has revolutionised our life. We walk or run with her every morning before work – at least four miles, sometimes longer. And we are forced to break the afternoon for a second walk.

That has forced us to have some life back from a work-dominated day.

run statistics and map

Our morning run/walk with Bonnie. Today we ran.

Change, we have

When I first freelanced, I set up an email address but nobody I worked for had email. I had to post or hand-deliver a disc. I was on a journalists’ forum on Compuserve – a sort of prototype Facebook group – that lingers on in email form.

It was unusual to find anyone at work before 9am or after 5.30pm. Some Friday afternoons I would go and play golf because most people had either left work early, were still “at lunch” or were back at their desk, slightly tipsy, not taking calls.

Recently I emailed a group of PR people at 6pm on a Friday. Two got back to me that night and one even phoned. The working week has extended, not shortened.

Now, by the time I have made and drunk my morning cup of tea I have checked emails, Twitter and Facebook and read my RSS news feeds, all on my iPhone. And I’ll check them all again at night.

If technology fails to give us more leisure time, it is not progress.

Links (new windows)

FCA PR queries

screen grab

FCA press office contacts

I don’t believe the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) press office answered my questions at all. Do you? My email correspondence is in this blog.

The FCA is the super-regulator for the financial services industry. It took a public pounding from MPs and a published report last year over briefing a journalist too much information too early. Perhaps it is being over-cautious now.

There’s a less email-heavy version of this on my business website Wheal Associates (new window), which includes more on the FCA’s problems last year.  This post contains the detail of my correspondence. Continue reading

Treasury audio

George Osbrone giving budget speechYesterday I recorded Treasury press officer, Andrea Geoghegan, refusing to give me information she had to hand revealing exactly how much worse off the Treasury thinks the Budget will make families. I published it on Audioboo and wrote about it on Daily Finance. It has caused a stink.

Does the press officer deserve it? Should I have named her? Did I give her a fair chance? I’ll tell you how I behaved writing my “Treasury tries to kill Budget cost story” then you decide. Continue reading

PRs need help

PR people need help. They appear to have less understanding of how journalists work than ever before. They don’t appreciate deadlines, the speed journalists work at and the hours journalists now work on 24-hour internet media.

I have had a couple of weeks of dire experience with PRs. These include:

Slow, non-answers | Embargos | Contacts | Press registration Continue reading

Embargo farrago

Axa websitePublic relations (PR) officers from insurer AXA gave the trade press and the national press different embargoes for the same story on Friday.

Embargoed is a small town in Wales, my old ex-national newspaper editor used to say, emphasising the “ed” sound at the end of the word. It looks like AXA’s PR people give the embargo about as much respect.

Continue reading


The BBC carried a story on a tax hoax phishing email this morning, timed at 01.49. I phoned the out of hours HMRC PR at 9am and he did not have the press release, said he would get it to me about 11am and, so far, still hasn’t.

Why are PRs so completely useless?

Update: After second chase up call, when release was still not ready, it arrived by email at 12.34, saying exactly the same as the BBC was given 11 hours earlier.

Related stories

Links (new windows)

Sunday PR roast

Accountants Ernst & Young issued a press release today (Sunday) but the named PR, Vicky Conybeer, did not have access to a photo of those quoted in the release because she was not in the office.

Why bother releasing it on Sunday or being the named PR if you can’t help working hacks? Continue reading

Council tax post

I finally got the figures I needed – though I had to find some via a link on Local Government Chronicle’s website to the Communities department’s site (new window) that the PR had not found.

Interesting that the chief PR seems to think the response “but will be Monday before I can come back to you” would be OK for a website that runs seven days a week.

When he gets back in on Monday he’ll find several more emails from me and that I have found the missing figure on his own website.

Related post

Poor Govt. Pr

Links (new windows)

Taking the rise out of council tax (Daily Finance)

Poor Govt. PR

Big Ben and a streetlight in the dark

Throw some light on it

An email to my MP asking whether I should complain about the Communities PR team to the minister or head of the Civil Service elicited a response, at last.

I called Matthew Gorman there on 15 December. I asked for the amount of council tax collected and the cost of collecting it, plus the amount of council tax benefit paid and the cost of paying it. I was given this information ten years earlier by the predecessor department for an article in the Guardian.

Continue reading