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  • Before I had my son, I’d not heard of the term ‘pregnancy and maternity discrimination’. Then I watched a BBC report on the epidemic of women losing their jobs once they decide to try for a family. This chimed with what a close friend was going through. As I worked my way around Edinburgh’s Bookbug sessions and baby classes, I began to drop the topic into conversation. Within six months more than twenty women had confided in me that they too were being pushed out of their place of work. 

    They are not alone. A report from EHRC in 2016 found that 54,000 women each year lose their job because they are pregnant or because they have children. Mothers are often made redundant or their role changes (in terms of responsibility or pay grade) while they are on maternity leave, but increasingly the discrimination is more difficult to prove.

    Women who have enjoyed positive relationships with their employer are suddenly removed from projects, undermined in front of their colleagues, told they are not allowed to go to midwife appointments. They are worn down, made to feel useless at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, and told to put up or shut up.

    This is the best kept secret of motherhood. We are told repeatedly that we’ll lose our sleep, our spare time, our minds (don’t get me started on the detrimental impact of the term ‘baby brain’ on women in the workplace) but were you told - in explicit terms - that you could lose your job? Didn’t think so. Women often end up being paid thousands of pounds less in their next job after an experience of maternity discrimination. And we wonder why the gender pay gap still exists.

    In 2016 I tweeted asking for women who have experienced this type of bullying to email me and within ten minutes I had the accounts of six women sitting in my inbox, four from here in Edinburgh. I worked with the women to develop a case study interview where I invite women to talk through their experience, starting at six months before they became a mother.

    Eighteen months and over 100 interviews later I can report that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is rife in Edinburgh. If it’s not happening to you, it’s definitely happening to someone you know. The majority are women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth, but I have also spoken with women going through IVF and adoption. Women who have miscarried or have been through a stillbirth have been treated appallingly, too.

    Not only is this illegal, a grave injustice to the capable women in question and often irreparably damaging to both career and confidence, but we have to question what this is doing to the workplace overall. It’s little wonder that despite women making up 51% of the population, we are a long way off reaching gender equality in most sectors.

    There is a huge variety in the backgrounds and incomes of the women I speak with, but one thing is clear to me. In every single situation, there are key points in her pregnancy where a) a woman is at her most vulnerable to discrimination and b) most likely to walk away from her job without making a complaint. I’ve mapped these and I am committed to fighting for changes to be made - where necessary to the law - so that women have the protections that they deserve.

    There are instances where I have interviewed several women from the same organisation. As disturbing as it is to know that in some Edinburgh institutions workplace bullying towards mothers is systemic, it also means that I can visit the employer in question to try to work with them on making changes whilst protecting the identities of the women I have spoken with. The benefits of this service are yet to be appreciated by the bosses that I meet, but there is a definite change in the air.

    Of course, the shift that is coming is driven by the bullied, not the bullies. Women have secrets that they are no longer willing to keep. The #MeToo movement has gained momentum, and it seems that 2018 is the year for #timesup. Time’s up, indeed.

    Through my project, Mother’s Work, I am going to continue to represent women who have experienced pregnancy or maternity discrimination. I am planning a series of events in Edinburgh, pushing this issue with Scottish media and working with politicians to create change. Please get in touch via my website or Facebook to register for information. Every interview and conversation I have is in the strictest of confidence. 

    By Emma Walker @MothersWorkUK

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    Guilt No More 29 December 2017 | Comments (0)

    Blogging-sensation, Anna Whitehouse is a journalist, editor and super-mum in search of pukka things for parents. She previously worked as the Vice Editor at Time Out Amsterdam before writing about shoes and handbags for fashion labels SuperTrash and Tommy Hilfiger. She founded Mother Pukka, a portal for news, events, reviews and honest comment for people who happen to be parents; bridging the gap between parenting and reality.

    Mother Pukka is also working with The Food Doctor . Their latest campaign is all about encouraging women (in particular mums) to abolish the guilt, not just when it comes to healthy eating, but in life in general. As part of this, they’ve conducted a nationwide survey to look into the issue of women and mums and guilt.

    The survey revealed some really interesting stats such as:

    • Only 1 in 5 (21%) working mums agree that they feel worthy of their career success and feel comfortable asking for a pay rise
    • 54% of UK mums believe they need to put less pressure on themselves
    • 3 in 10 (30%) of mums across the UK suffer from guilty thoughts at least once a day
    • 50% identify diet as the most common guilt trigger, closely followed by fitness (46%)

    With over half of mums (54%) agreeing they’d like to put less pressure on themselves, Mother Pukka, offers us helpful hacks to help relieve just a little bit of that pressure and guilt:

    Look up at the sky and take a deep breath

    It’s a simple one, but it works. I am often glued to my phone for work and when the pressure comes from all angles –my daughter, Mae insisting she must have the blue spoon, NOT the red spoon and, of course, the dreaded inbox of doom – taking a second to look up simply clears the guilt and reminds me I’m doing okay. We should all allow ourselves to take the time to relax without feeling guilty about it. Even just removing yourself from a situation and putting things into perspective for just a few minutes can really help.

    Call one person you love, every day

    It’s easy to feel disconnected in this digital world and simply making time, even if it’s just 3 minutes, to speak to someone you love can make a real difference. It could be your mum and dad, one of your mates, or Aunty Janet - not only will you drop the guilt about not being in touch as often as you’d like, but there’s nothing like a quick chat / rant / gossip with someone close to put a smile on your face.

    Listen to your body and be good to yourself

    While I struggle to fit in the elusive ‘me time’, I try to reclaim small moments in my day that are just for me, and I always end up feeling all the better for it. No matter how busy life gets, I try to take time to prepare wholesome foods and snacks like chopped up fruit pimped with cinnamon and peanut butter but, obviously, also enjoy the odd naughty sweet treat. If it ends up that my ‘me time’ is just me, a tub of peanut butter and a spoon… you can bet I will not feel guilty about it!

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    The secret to surviving (and actually enjoying) the festive season…

    If I see one more advert or piece of editorial about how to have the perfect Christmas, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.

    It’s not that I want to go all ‘Bah, Humbug!’ on you, but it’s taken me the best part of twenty years to realise that we’re being sold a lie with all this ‘perfect Christmas’ nonsense.

    Why? Because, put quite simply, the notion of the perfect Christmas is as much a misnomer as the perfect wedding, the perfect birth or the perfect child. There simply is no such thing. 

    What there *is* … is the wedding where the father of the groom trips over the front doorstep after collecting the cake and drops it on the floor the night before the big day – which still seemed perfect, despite those wonky hastily-stuck-back-on-with-icing-sugar flowers. 

    What there also *is* … is a dramatically fast and scary birth with no time for much-needed pain relief, never mind filling the birthing pool for the peaceful water birth you’d been elaborately planning for nine months. 

    Oh, and there are also the kids you got in the lottery of life, who are no more perfect than their far-from-perfect mother, but who you wouldn’t swap for all the tea in China.

    See? No such thing as perfect, no matter what Pinterest or Instagram try to tell us.

    And then there’s Christmas. With its financial implications, overloaded expectations and exceeded budgets. It’s no wonder Christmas is one of the most stressful periods of the year for many, and a time noted for being especially busy if you’re a divorce lawyer.

    Chuck in the pressures of family life – how to decide which set of in-laws to spend the big day with, whether the kids should be allowed to open all of their presents at 5am, and the whole question of how to make Christmas magical and memorable for your little people, even though you might be dealing with grief, relationship breakdown or money worries. It’s no wonder lots of us feel more Woe-Woe-Woe than Ho-Ho-Ho about Christmas.

    So, this year, I’m taking it upon myself to remind all and sundry that there is simply no such thing as the perfect Christmas, and that the secret to actually enjoying the festive season is to wholeheartedly embrace this fact.

    What that means in practice is accepting that families come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes, and that not resembling the Waltons is no grounds for having a miserable day. Christmas, like life, isn’t about trying to live up to unrealistic ideals, to which none of us will ever attain. 

    It’s about sharing Christmas with random relatives who’ve never once offered to host Christmas at their house; tolerating ancient aunts with funny habits; turning a blind eye to Grandpa falling asleep in the middle of the starter; and enduring parents bickering over the right way to brown a turkey. And, at the end of the day, it’s about realising that the kids, for whom every Christmas is perfect, don’t notice or indeed care about any of that stuff.

    After all, the first Christmas, so the story goes, was far from perfect. No room at the inn, no crib for the baby, and surely a choice word or two exchanged between the main players about what on earth was going on.

    I’m not alone in believing that the secret to the perfect Christmas is to wholeheartedly embrace the imperfect, either. I undertook comprehensive research on this topic (ok, I asked my mates on Facebook) and one friend admits she aspires to be more like a particular mum of four she knows. 

    Does said mum pull off the perfect Christmas? She does, in her own way. She lets each child choose their favourite foods from Iceland and puts on an all-day buffet where everyone gets to eat their favourite things and mum gets a well-earned rest. Well done, that woman.

    “Not getting dressed up, eating what you really fancy – usually bacon sarnies, Christmas pudding and a box of Thornton’s chocolates – all washed down with a mug of tea, is my idea of heaven at Christmas,” admits another friend.

    One pal recalls a pearl of wisdom she once heard on surviving the madness of the average family festive season. “Every family has a drunken uncle or an unhinged aunty round the table at Christmas,” she says. “If you can’t think who that person is, then it’s probably you.”

    I honestly believe that the secret to your happiest Christmas yet lies in embracing these difficult truths. So do yourself a favour this year. Lower your expectations. Buy frozen Yorkshire puddings. Laugh at the lunacy of the motley crew gathered round your dinner table. And, above all, try seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child whose sense of wonder blots out the imperfections. (Unless you forget to buy batteries, and then nothing can help you.)

    Children don’t see the financial pressures, the emotional strain or indeed the point in eating sprouts. They see fun, gifts, festive togetherness, and at least several days ahead of getting away with chocolate for breakfast. What’s not to love?

    Don’t be afraid to rip up the rule book and do Christmas according to your own rules this year. Several friends of mine swear by going away for some quiet family togetherness at Christmas. But if you can’t get out of navigating tricky family dynamics or suffering traditions you don’t entirely fancy honouring, try embracing the imperfect anyway.

    Invest time and emotional energy in the little things that can make Christmas Day truly special. One year I took a walk to the beach with my middle child, who often ends up sandwiched between the needs of his older brother and younger sister. He’d literally never seen the streets so empty, so I indulged him with an impromptu dance all the way home right down the middle of the road. 

    I *might* have had one Baileys more than was strictly necessary at that point but it’s a memory he seems to cherish, and not a year has passed since where he hasn’t begged for a rerun of our Christmas street dance routine.

    It’s the little things that matter to kids. What they remember is small acts of kindness. Moments of tenderness and togetherness that cut through the rushing that we do so much of throughout the rest of the year.

    Christmas, ultimately, isn’t about any of the things we get so het up about. It’s about slowing down to meet yourself. Taking time to let your loved ones know just how much they mean to you. Choosing thoughtful, inexpensive gifts that mean more than money could ever buy. 

    Watching Elf together for the hundredth time and still finding it funny. Eating cheese as if it’s an actual meal choice. Hanging the hand-made tree decorations that make you feel a tiny bit more teary every year, and making space for small rituals that bind you closer together as a family and remind you that who you are together and how your day unfolds is the closest thing to perfect that you will ever know. 

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    Written by Kirsty Nicholls

    We’ve all done it. A blog post has popped up on our Facebook timeline and we’ve had a quick squiz. Before we know it, it has absorbed us. It describes exactly how we’re feeling using words that we haven’t been able to find ourselves. So we hit “like” and share, share and share some more. And realise that we’re as normal as normal can be. Or at least, that there are other mums and dads out there who are just as weird as us.

    ohn Adams started Dad Blog UK a week before his second daughter was born in response to the “lazy sexism” he experienced as a stay at home dad. “It can’t just be me who finds it annoying,” he says. “When I’m out with the children, people often assume I’m babysitting. The nurse asked for my wife when I took my daughter for her inoculations. So my blog supports other dads who are made to feel out of place as the main carer.” John is now the UK’s top dad blogger and his writing has taken him on adventures galore. He recently found himself interviewing actor Steve Carrell and in his blog laments the fact that “I was still wearing the clothes I wore for the school run: an old pair of navy shorts missing a button.” We’ve all found ourselves in “parent clothes” at the wrong moment, right?

    John is now working with four other dad bloggers to reach a combined readership of 1.2 million. The parent blogosphere is a busy space. Directory of UK parent blogs Tots100 has more than 8,000 members. To stand out in such a saturated market requires careful planning. “Research is everything,” reveals successful blogger Beth Macdonald. Beth is Managing Editor of Career Girl Daily, which offers life improvement and career advice to young women. Although it was only established 3 years ago, it already reaches a global monthly audience of 1.5 million. The company is now sharing its know-how with other wannabe bloggers through new book, The Ultimate Blog Plan. “Make sure you look at what your audience is reading and what your competitors are publishing,” she advises. “You need to create a unique voice full of personality. We put together a spreadsheet every week, picking out statistics to analyse how each of our articles has performed and why.”

    Slummy Single Mummy writer Jo Middleton could also host a masterclass in blogging. Winner of numerous awards and named Top Mummy Blogger 2017, she has been writing Slummy Single Mummy for 8 years after leaving a job in fundraising and marketing. “I took a leap of faith into the world of freelance journalism,” she says. “My blog started out as a marketing tool to showcase my writing. Now I’m approached to write advertorials and sponsored posts. It was a gradual process, but the balance tipped towards it being my main source of income.” Many a blogger’s dream is to write full time, but producing content is only part of the job. “My friend is a teacher, and so many of his students want to be bloggers,” says Dad Blog UK’s John Adams. “That isn’t as simple as it might sound, though. You need skills in videography, photography, social media management and feel confident about search engine analytics too.” And freelancing isn’t a walk in the park either. “You need to ask whether it would matter to you if you didn’t earn a penny one month,” says Laura Crichton, creator of Edinburgh with Kids. “If you’re in a position where a regular income isn’t a necessity, then blogging would be an amazing career.”

    By day, Laura Crichton is a secondary school teacher. She was inspired to start her blog after reading and then writing for a site that she admired. The positive feedback she received sealed the deal and Edinburgh with Kids was born. “I want people to get a happy vibe from my blog,” she says. “It’s positive and thought-provoking. I’m hopefully offering a different kind of support, writing about this amazing city and all of the things there are to do here.” Hearing from people who have visited a place or tried an activity off the back of a photograph she has shared is the icing on the cake. Fellow Edinburgh blogger Caroline Blair also loves meeting people who enjoy reading her work. “I met a friend of a friend in the park who knew me from my blog. She said my posts really resonate with her and that felt great.” Blogging is a labour of love for Caroline, creator of Finding Mum. “I post about activities that I probably wouldn’t normally go to, and have brilliant new experiences with my son. I make free vodcasts about local businesses because I love filming and editing. It’s something for me.”

    Caroline views Finding Mum as a hobby rather than a commercial venture. For many parents, simply the opportunity to write and share their thoughts is valuable enough. Jennifer Anderson recently launched Positive Mind Positive Mummy, an honest blog about living with postnatal depression. She hopes that by talking publicly about her experiences, she’ll help others who are in the same boat. “I was talking to one of the mums at the school gate and mentioned my postnatal depression. Because I had been honest, she admitted that she had some of the same feelings. So I decided to talk openly about my postnatal depression, so other mums know it is okay to not be okay.” As well as helping her readers, she has found that her blog has helped loved ones to better understand her. “I am very close to my mum and although she knew how I was feeling I don’t think she truly understood,” says Jennifer. “So mum is enjoying reading things that I didn’t feel like I could speak to her about. My partner is the most supportive person I could ask for however he too is able to learn things about me that he didn’t know.”

    According to Wordpress, over 409 million people are reading blogs every month. It’s inevitable that your friends, acquaintances, family and colleagues will be among them, so deciding what to put into the public sphere can be tricky. “I’m not much of an over-sharer, because I teach secondary boys,” says Laura Crichton of Edinburgh with Kids. “Once the students found my Twitter feed and thought they might discover something juicy. They soon lost interest when they saw my latest tweet was about a museum visit.” Each and every one of us has a digital footprint and most don’t want their babies’ every vomit and nappy explosion to become googleable. But how about our own misdemeanours? “Some bloggers purposely overshare and play on it to create a public persona,” says Laura.”But did they really feed their children fish fingers straight from the freezer? Probably not.” Slummy Single Mummy blogger Jo Middleton says she’ll use her blog to confess to hiding dirty dishes in the cupboard, but never push for a laugh at the expense of her children. “My children were 7 and 14 when I started the blog, so I’ve always written in the knowledge that they might read it.” Caroline Blair had a frank and honest chat with her friends and family when she launched Finding Mum. “I felt I should reassure them that I’d never communicate my thoughts or feelings to them personally through my blog,” she recalls. “I’d never want them to read a post and think it’s a thinly veiled message to them. I have found that it gives them a heads up if I’ve had a bad week though, or helps them to better understand some of my experiences. Blogging has been a hugely positive experience.”

    Photo copyright Freepick.com

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