With elections in the UK this week we thought it was a great time to interview Jess Phillips, 34, MP for Birmingham and Yardley and mum to Danny, 11 and Harry, seven. She tells Digital Mums about her role as the co-chair of The Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group and her version of doing the juggle...
Tell us about life at home – how do you manage parenthood and your career?
Well firstly I'm at home Thursday to Monday so I have to be careful I don’t undo any discipline my husband of 10 years, Tom, has put in place. I know I sometimes rush in with being the fun weekend mom (we say 'mom' not mum in Birmingham). I usually get home at around midnight on Wednesday night and I always sneak in and kiss them while they are sleeping. Tom and I are partners in the truest sense of the word. We share the workload at home and support each other completely.
How do you make it work in terms of childcare?
I take the boys to school Monday and Friday and Tom does the other days. We live streets from our families, and our parents are retired, so luckily they do pick up. Holidays are harder and the reality is we take time off separately to cover it. We have one week per year for a family holiday together and a few days at Christmas.
You’re such a role model; young kids, incredible career and an awesome attitude – is this where you thought you’d be in your mid thirties?
That’s kind. I can’t say I had ever thought so. I knew I always wanted to have kids and whilst it didn’t seem like it at the time, I am relieved I had mine quite young. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to have a tiny baby right now. I have nothing but admiration for the MPs who do it. My kids have grown up with my career growing around them. I make sure they are always part of it. I am sad when I hear young women say that they are choosing between a career and a family. I am not saying it is easy but it is possible.
We love that you really say how you feel on Twitter – do you see social media as a force for good?
I do. I think that the more you can be yourself the better. I am afraid at the moment though that it is become a bit of a dark and aggressive place. I consider leaving at times, but then I think of all the brilliant people I get to speak to and the hilarious tweets I would miss. Then I think screw the internet trolls, they don’t get to win.
You launched the Women & Work APPG in January - tell us what progress has been made so far..
It is still early days, but the main progress is allowing a forum for discussions to start. I feel immediately encouraged every time we have a meeting because I can see that on the horizon the chance for brilliant women to unlock their potential is there. We are focusing a lot on women returners at the moment and the flexibilities needed and opportunities that are out there. If we manage to get that right for all women the world will definitely be a better place.
What do you think needs to be done to get more mums back into the workplace?
Flexibility. We need a modernised idea of childcare that is much, much more flexible than current stringent hours and long term sign ups. We need to tell women about the opportunities for support and encourage them to be brave when thinking of start-ups and taking the plunge.
You have been in for some public criticism in recent months; how do you cope with that kind of backlash?
It is all part of the job. I won’t pretend it is not hard. If I mess up there is a lot at risk. Not just my family and livelihood but also the things I believe in. I never want to discredit the cause by association so that is a lot of pressure. All you can do is try to be honest, apologise when you should and recognise that the hype, both good and bad, is not the main event.
How do your kids feel about what you do?
They have mixed feelings. They think it is cool and like some of the things they get to do because of it. We go to a lot of fetes! They are proud of me and like that I am a bit famous, although they roll their eyes at people who come up to me in the supermarket or when we are out. They do get sad when I leave them on a Monday, and I try to have a strict rule of always spending Sunday with them and doing no work until they are in bed. They let me know very forcefully when I break this rule. I also keep them out of the public eye and don't publish photographs (Tom won't be photographed either!). Another big plus is I have a brilliant set of female friends who are like family and support us all.
What advice would you give to women who are struggling to get back into work after becoming parents?
There is no right way. Stay at home moms, part-time employed moms and moms in full-time employment are all doing what is best for their family. No one should judge their decisions. Most of all we shouldn’t judge ourselves. We are our own worst critics. Make sure your work is paid the exact same respect as your partner's. You are not the default child carer, you are a family! In my family no one comes top, we all have to fit in with each other. I fit in with my kids and they fit in with me.
What keeps you awake at night?
Everything. I am a terrible sleeper. Worrying about money, letting people down, causing a scene. Literally everything.
Anything coming up that you want to share with our Digital Mums community?
We are working on maternity and pregnancy discrimination on the APPG so people should feed in their stories. Also with one of my other APPGs on Domestic Violence we have just launched a report on how victims are treated in the family courts so I want to make sure people struggling know we are trying to change things.
Find out more about Jess on her website