Over the the past couple of months I have been publishing interviews with fathers who have achieved better work / life balance by starting their own businesses. I purposefully decided not to feature individuals from the blogging world (a bit too close to home) but today I am breaking my own rule. I’m delighted to be speaking with Tom Briggs who writes the Diaryofthedad blog.
Tom was one of the first daddy bloggers I ever met. I have known Tom long enough to remember him taking the leap from being a working dad who blogged as a hobby, to self-employed dad whose blog was his means of making a living.
As it happens, Tom and I have a very similar backgrounds. We both started out as journalists and went on to write parenting blogs and run them as businesses, something a huge number of mums do but not many dads. I think his story and experiences in the digital world make for fascinating reading. Without further ado, here is Tom’s story.
You were a journalist and a salary man, and while you do still do some journalism, you’re now freelance and also work as a blogger. Why the switch and for how long were you an employee?
Yes, I started out as a magazine journalist and have the proud distinction of working for two different titles which ended up as guest publications on Have I Got News For You? My career has really evolved since then though. I moved into digital communications in the charity sector and ended up working for a quango before becoming my own boss.
I made the move because I was miserable in my last employed role. I was having to work way too hard without breaks or overtime, the commute was horrible and the job itself was soul destroying. I was under huge stress and decided to walk before it made me ill.
The plan was to go freelance and supplement that with blogging. It was a big gamble leaving a well-paid job to become self-employed after 11 years of working for other people. My blog was well established though – I had been writing it for five years by this point – and it soon took over.
I’ve been a full-time blogger for almost three years now. It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants existence, but I love it.
Better introduce us to your family!
Well there’s me – obviously – my wife Kate and our three children Dylan, Xander and Amelie. Dylan and Xander are both at primary school and Amelie is starting at nursery later in the year.
What does freelance work allow you to do that being a salaried member of staff didn’t?
It’s basically the polar-opposite of my time as an employee! My last job really wasn’t sympathetic to those with families, so I missed things like class assemblies and parents’ evenings. I often had requests to take annual leave at half term refused too.
Now though, I can do whatever I want. I do the school run most days, never miss any events at school and, of course, don’t have the commute to I see my family a whole lot more.
It also meant that I didn’t have the problem of paternity leave to deal with when Amelie was born.
Any examples you can give where you felt your former employer showed a complete lack of understanding towards dads?
My last job wasn’t understanding towards parents in general. If you had to work overtime and get home late, it was tough.
Thinking specifically about dads though I know that, had I stayed on, I would not have been popular for taking paternity leave. They wouldn’t have been able to stop me, of course, but I would have been made to feel guilty for missing two weeks’ work.
How does working for yourself give you the flexibility you need to balance work and family life?
As I mentioned above, it means that I’m around a lot more and that I never have to miss anything that’s important to me as a parent.
The fact that I don’t have to commute anymore is useful too as it has added a couple of hours to my day. This extra time gives me more flexibility and is indispensable with three kids!
While it may be easier, surely working for yourself comes with other stresses?
Oh yes. There are a whole load of other stresses, such as making enough to pay the bills every month, chasing people for payment when they’re late and ALL the admin that comes with it.
But they’re a lot more manageable than the problems my old job created. I got a tightness in my chest the moment I walked through the door every day and often had to stop myself from getting up and walking out.
My new stresses are nothing compared to these!
Do you know other fathers who are in your position, IE who left the workforce or retrained and took on different jobs because they couldn’t balance work and family life?
I’ve heard from others who have taken the same path, but not many. It is such a big risk to take and I can quite understand why more people haven’t chanced it.
To give one example, though, Dan from Don’t Believe The Hype – took the gamble at pretty much the same time as I did and he hasn’t looked back either (watch this space, Dan will be appearing on the blog very soon!).
Blogging isn’t always taken seriously as an occupation. What do you say to those who put it down?
I always make the point that everyone laughed when the first social media jobs were advertised and that nobody’s laughing now.
There’s also the fact that I’m living proof that it should be taken seriously. My blog provides for a family of five. It’s our only source of income and has been for almost three years. It’s hard work too – there’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff that has to be done.
New things take time to be accepted, particularly in Britain which has such a conservative mentality.
Would you have remained an employee if you thought you could have better balanced work and family life?
I probably would have done, yes. I was my family’s only earner so I took a huge risk by quitting my job and becoming my own boss.
I wasn’t in a brilliant state of mind though and just had to get out of there. While I will never thank my old employer for making me so unhappy that I just didn’t care about the gamble I was taking, I wouldn’t have ended up with a good work-life balance without that having happened.
If you could go back to an office job tomorrow, would you?
Just writing about how miserable it made me is making me feel anxious! The negative impression it left on me is clearly a lasting one and I wouldn’t want to risk going through the same again.
In your opinion, is it going to be more common for dads and mums to work freeelance or in the gig economy so they can achieve a better work / life balance?
I hope so. Children grow up so quickly and no parent wants to miss out on spending time with them. Life is far too short for people to be in miserable jobs that take them away from their families.
Do you think employers truly understand and appreciate that technology means most office work can be remotely (or at least a large chunk of it)?
I think the understanding is there, but employers’ willingness to embrace change isn’t. Flexible working simply has to be the way forward though.
Life is so much busier than it used to be – not to mention more expensive – and it’s getting harder for families to keep all the proverbial plates spinning. I believe that a happier workforce is a more productive one though, so I hope that employers reassess their approaches soon.
Do you think employers take men seriously when they request flexible working or request changes to working hours etc to better balance their family situation?
In general, no, they don’t take dads seriously. This is in part down to the outdated perception that dads are second-class parents and also down to workplace legislation.
Paternity leave, for example, is too short and too much of a slap in the pocket for many. Shared parental leave, meanwhile, is only open to a relatively small number.
More needs to be done to ensure dads’ rights. If there isn’t anything written into the law stating that we need to be treated the same as mums, employers are sadly within their rights to act like we’re still in the 1950s.
I’d like to thank Tom for speaking to me. He is the fifth individual to have taken part in this series, the others coming from a diverse range of backgrounds including PR and children’s entertainment. I’ll be publishing more examples in the coming weeks but if you’d like to read previous articles from this series, please click on the links below.