We caught up with Anna Whitehouse (also known as Mother Pukka), the founder of FlexAppeal, about flexible working, sharing her life online and her #HappyHabits campaign with Hariborange.
1. What tips have you got for other parents looking to instil some good positive habits in their children, particularly as kids go back to school?
I think the key is fun. When I was growing up, you heard the word “routine” and you thought “regimented” and “strict”, but actually it can be a thing of joy and happiness. That’s why I got involved with Haliborange’s #HappyHabits campaign, because I love the fact that we have this structure around our family, it’s not regimented and it actually brings us together – making us happier.
Our day starts with taking our Haliborange kids and adults multivitamins – one for me, one for them, followed by kitchen disco doing big fish little fish and dancing around to Taylor Swift, all the way through to the end of the day where it’s bedtime stories and cuddling up. Structure and routine aren’t a heaviness, they’re a happiness.
2. Why do you feel it’s important to help children develop good habits from a young age?
I think the word is ‘safe’ – it gives children a sense of what’s happening when. For adults, it removes stress; you’re not waking up in the morning to this chaos of admin – who’s going where, and who’s doing what.
If you make banal everyday things fun and into a bit of a game, this will change their perception. That’s what shifted for us as a family: actually turning those moments of structure into moments of joy. They don’t just make us feel healthier and happier, they are the punctuation of our family life.
3. Do you have any particular habits you swear by in your household?
Yes, morning routine is key for us; you have to start the day, the right way. When I was younger, my mum used to get me and my sister to make our beds and that gave us a sense of ownership on our space. We take our Haliborange vitamins together as a family first thing with our breakfast and have a little dance together, before heading out the door.
I find that as long as they know when things are happening, they feel more in control of their own little lives and as a result they’re happier.
Our days start off by waking up happy – (hopefully), having our vitamins and making our beds, then book ending that day with story time, making time for snuggling up, cuddling up, snuffling in with your little ones because I think we’re rushing around so often that we forget to have those moments and it’s easy to forget that those moments actually come as part of a good routine.
4. Are there any habits you think are essential for children to develop before they start Reception?
For me, it’s independence. So, a healthy routine isn’t something that I’m dictating to them, it’s something that we do together, like taking your vitamins together. The adults take their ones, the kids take theirs.
They’re in control of their vitamins, so they know where the pot is, they know it’s accessible to them, and they know they can only have one! I think before you start reception, you need to instil that kind of independence, that confidence, in their own routine.
I’m not here as a dictator, we are here as a family trying to – I say “live our best lives” – but we truly are. I have been in situations where there hasn’t been routine, and I’ve felt out of kilter and more stressed.
The kids have felt that they’ve been fighting more – I know what it is to not have that structure and we’re not strict with it. It’s not some dictatorial routine. It’s about them having a little bit more control and understanding of what’s going to happen and when in their lives. I think that’s so important to instil before they get into what is quite a regimented structure of education.
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5. Do you think the pandemic has changed working life for pregnant mums and new parents for the better in terms of flexible working?
I think the pandemic demolished the nine to five as we know it. If companies didn’t Zoom in or log on, ultimately, they would have had to shut down.
What we’re seeing now is a really binary discussion over working from home versus working in the office. The nuance of this discussion is core hours and job shares. All of this specifically impacts mothers. Pre-pandemic 54,000 mothers every single year were pushed out of the workforce for simply having a baby.
Do I think those figures have changed? I don’t know. Do I think the current working world is helping support those women? I don’t think it’s that different, but I do think we’re moving towards a slightly more flexible world.
I hope we stop talking about flexible working and actually just talk about inclusive working, because why would you not want to include the best talent at your table? I think that’s where we’re shifting. Companies are seeing it as a talent discussion, instead of where someone is sitting/working.
6. What would be your advice to mums looking to incorporate flexible working with a difficult employer?
It’s really tough because maternity discrimination is still rife, and gender pay gap reporting was scrapped in the pandemic. So, I have to be really straight that the odds are still stacked against women. There is no way that I can bypass that.
You have to recognise that there are still archaic, dinosaur employers who think “if I can’t see you five days a week strapped to your desk – you’re not working.” What I would suggest would be to get the support of “Working Families” if you think it’s a legal issue, and if you have been discriminated against and you think it’s a specific maternity legal case, call “Pregnant then Screwed”.
If it is that in-between where you need a hint of flexibility and you’ve got a slightly curmudgeonly begrudging employer – set out your business case! Remove emotion, remove your human need, this is about you doing the best possible job that you can. Set out your business case and then suggest a trial period and how you’re going to measure it. Because we are still in that period of transition.
I wish I could just say go in there, all guns blazing, “this is how I would like it to be” but for a lot of employers, that’s still not going to be accepted. But I think you can meet in the middle with a robust business case with that trial period, measure it and then knock it out of the park. Then they have no way of refusing it. So hopefully, when your kids have grown up, it won’t be like this. But for now, I think this is going to bridge the gap.
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7. We love your openness and honesty on social media. What made you decide to open up about motherhood online?
I felt so alone. I was working as a journalist and every magazine I pitched pieces on flexible working, and why mothers are being discriminated against was ignored.
It almost went from all anyone being interested in were wedding dresses until you’re having a baby and then post-baby it was either right well, “what bugaboo are you going get?” or “what nipple teach you need now”. What about the bit in the middle where so many of my friends are – their careers are on the floor? They’re stepping back from careers that they fought tooth and nail for and there was a real head in the sand approach in the UK.
I think everyone just assumed that when a woman had a baby they would be edged out right. I wanted to bridge that gap by speaking openly and honestly not really because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t raise my two girls to work hard in their ABCs, to work hard in their GCSEs, to work hard in their A Levels to maybe go and get the career of their dreams, to have somebody close that door in their face like I had happened to me. I couldn’t raise them for that fall. So it came from a very primal maternal place to want to change the working world.
I also wanted to change the way we see mothers and recognise it is a huge biological shift that happens. It’s a hormonal shift that comes with it things like separation anxiety, pregnancy anxiety and postnatal depression. These are all biological things that happen to women and don’t happen to men, you move on then to the menopause. That doesn’t happen to men.
And I think the working world needs to wake up and understand that if you are going to retain that talent, if you are going to have it – this isn’t just a favour to women. This isn’t just about equality. Companies that have 30% or more women at the top make more money. So ultimately, why I piped up was for businesses to make more cold, hard cash, and to ensure that my daughters don’t face the same wall of discrimination that I did.
8. Pregnant mums and new parents are bombarded with information on social media. From your personal experience which aspects of social media do you like and which are more negative?
I love the community. And I think it’s really easy to demonise social media as a really terrible thing. In the 16th century, women’s circles were the heart of female communication. I think they were created by the Wiccans and the Celts in like the 16th century.
When you think of that isolation as a mum; when you’re shushing your mewling, colicky baby, breastfeeding, boobs aching, you’re leaking everywhere, you’re crying, you’re on a hormonal comedown and you are on your own in the dead of the night, social media allows you to reach out and find somebody else in your position. That is the good bit.
I think the bombardment of information is also overwhelming. It’s sort of extreme connectivity on one side and community, with a sort of magnifying glass on perhaps judgments and comparison culture, you know, you can’t help but when you’re in those, like darker moments to go, but my life doesn’t look like that.
So it’s a tale of two sides. And I don’t think it’s as simple as social media is bad, or social media is good. There’s a lot of grey in between, which I try and express hopefully.
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9. What do you hope things will look like in the future for working parents and what are your upcoming focusses/future plans?
I really, truly hope that there’s a world where we don’t talk about flexible working. My flexible, working utopia is a world where people, not just parents, ebb and flow between work and home, because I think people want a bit of both. I think you want that connection in the office. But you also want autonomy over your life, like, at what point did we decide that an employee gets to own you, you know, that’s really the dynamic that I’m challenging here is that it’s in our owner and pet mentality when actually, we’re not cogs in some hulking, great working machine.
That was a structure that was born in the Industrial Revolution, when men went out and got the bacon and women cooked here at home, we’ve moved on. And I think we need a demolition of the working world as it stands. So I hope truly one day that we get to that point where humans are trusted to do their job. And you recruit the right talent for that job. And then you trust them to do that job in a way that works for them, and makes those companies cold, hard cash.
In terms of what I’m doing, very excited to say that we’re going to be launching a Flex Appeal app, which is basically like flexible working Tinder – it’s called WorkYourWay. It will ultimately override legislative change. It is essentially going to be matching up employers with employees who want to work in a different way.
And ultimately, you have to be transparent about the flexibility that those companies offer. We’ve already got some major companies involved.
And I think there will be a very huge pivotal moment in this app where if you’re not on it, and you’re not highlighting transparently how you are retaining talent, how you are moving forward with flexible working, then people just simply won’t go to you. This is a talent led app. My aim with Flex Appeal is to actually ensure that it’s called “inclusive working”. Are you a company that wants to include the best talent at the table? And if you are, then hopefully this app will support you.
Anna Whitehouse (@mother_pukka) is working with Haliborange on its #HappyHabits campaign that is celebrating all the family habits we do that make us happy. Visit the @haliborangeuk Instagram account to find out more and share your own happy habits.