Diary of a mum returning to work – Work for free

It’s accepted today that many graduates wanting to launch their career will work for little or nothing as interns, just to get some experience and contacts under their young belts. But what about mums returning to work after having children?

Are we considered so rusty and out of touch that we should be grateful for the chance to practise our skills on free work? Are our previous talents and experience that undervalued? These are the questions that mum of three Lucy Mason pondered this week as she continued her efforts to relaunch her career.

To work (for free) or not to work?

Well my search for work has been getting mixed results. I have been commissioned to write some features for a sport and lifestyle magazine, which is fantastic. An ex-colleague passed my details to the magazine editor as a favour, which goes to show how important contacts can be, however long it may be since you’ve seen them.

The editor asked me to write 800 words on the difference between polo and water polo. It seemed like a strange subject for a feature. The only thing I knew about the two sports was that they are nothing alike – one involves horses and the other swimming pools. But I researched and wrote the article and now know so much that I’d be confident to answer a question about them in a pub quiz, which to my mind is one of the best perks of being a writer!

I was also invited to meet a friend of my neighbour, who is setting up a new e-commerce business. She knew I was trying to re-start my writing career and was keen for me to write some web and blog content for her. We exchanged a few emails and spoke at length on the phone, before arranging to meet in person to discuss the project further. I was a bit apprehensive as I’d been commissioned to write more features from the sport and lifestyle magazine (the polo/water polo article obviously went down well), and didn’t want to commit to more work than I could manage during the school holidays.

Still, after much arranging of childcare and finding something suitable to wear – I’ve lived in jeans for the last four years – I caught the train to Brighton to meet her in a pub. I should have sensed disaster looming when a bee got caught in my hair at the station, depositing a strange sticky mess (honey?) that gave me a ‘Something about Mary’ hair paranoia throughout the meeting.

Despite this I thought the meeting was going well and we chatted for a couple of hours, only to find that she wanted me to work pretty much for free. As I understood it, getting the chance to practice honing my skills again writing her website and blogs should have been payment enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud and I know I’ve got to re-start somewhere, but for free – honestly?! Even my mother-in-law wanted to give the woman a piece of her mind when she heard that.

So like I said, mixed results. I love my sports/lifestyle features and am looking forward to writing more of them. On the other hand I’ve learned a lesson about valuing myself and what I do. It can be tough trying to re-start your career, but you should still choose projects carefully. If you know what you want to do, stick with it – like honey to a bee – and hopefully you’ll get there in the end.