Davina McCall On How Workplaces Are Letting Down Parents And Her Plan To Campaign For Crèches
Davina McCall believes there is one major issue standing between many mothers and their dream careers: a lack of workplace childcare.
“At some point in my life I will start campaigning for crèches in the workplace,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“I literally cannot work if I don’t think my kids are happy and I think mums would not feel so terrible about returning to work and would actually enjoy it a lot more, if they knew their little babies could be somewhere near them.
“A lot more brilliant women would get back to work if that were the case.”
“Why wouldn’t a responsible company have a crèche? It would benefit men as much as women,” McCall added.
“I know for a fact that up until their child is old enough to go to nursery, parents would feel a lot better if their baby was nearby and that would make them more productive.”
McCall is also a passionate supporter of flexible working practices, which she would like to see more employers embracing.
“There has been a lot of research done into the working day, which has found people could get as much done in a five or six hour day, as they do in 10,” she explained.
“So why aren’t more companies doing that? Why isn’t everybody leaving earlier?
“Imagine if you could get to work at nine, having dropped your kids off at school. Then pick them up at 3.30, after having done your whole day’s work.
“We have, over the years, all become overworked and overstressed, and I think more big companies should lead the way with everybody working shorter shifts.”
McCall, who has three children – Holly, 15, Tilly, 12, and Chester, nine, – admits her unusual career as a TV presenter has made it easier for her than most to get a good balance between time at work and with her kids.
“I am genuinely really blessed, because I can block out time to make sure I’m off work for a play or the first day of school,” she said. “I’m very lucky and I worked very hard to get to the point where it’s ok for me to do that.”
Time is something McCall has come to value greatly since she became a parent – especially in the mornings.
“My children have taught me to be more manageable with my time,” she said.
“I used to hate myself in the mornings, because I used to be shouty mum and somebody gave me an amazing piece of advice, which was set your clock 20 minutes earlier and you won’t be shouty mum any more.
“The difference it made was amazing. Any time you rush kids it just creates anxiety.
“‘GET YOUR BOOTS ON! GET YOUR STUFF IN THE CAR! WHERE ARE YOUR SOCKS? OH MY GOD!’ I was like that every morning and it just breeds anxiety.
“What’s lovely is that now I never ever shout any more.
“You also can’t rush bedtimes. If I start rushing bedtime because I want to go and do something it’s a false economy, because actually it ends up taking twice as long, as they get all a bit antsy.”
McCall has spent a lot of time reflecting on what her kids have taught her, while writing her new book ‘Lessons I’ve Learned’.
It also sees her reflecting on how her own “complicated” childhood – “Mum had a bad track record with drink and drugs,” – has shaped who she is as a parent today.
McCall recalls a memory of when she passed her O-levels and her mother said to her: “Do you think I’m proud? Do you think I care? You’re showing off. You’re not the only one who’s clever in this family.”
That’s an experience she will never reenact with her children.
“I’m never jealous,” she said. “Not one jot of me ever feels jealous about my children, I only feel immense pride.”
“When I had my first born I was really hard on myself,” she recalls. “Because I was very busy trying to be the perfect parent and to be all the things that my mother wasn’t.”
However, McCall soon discovered trying to be a “perfect parent” isn’t just impossible, it’s also destructive.
When she went to pick up her daughter Tilly after her first day at nursery, she didn’t realise the class was finishing an hour earlier that day, so she was inadvertently late.
A friend with a child in the same class called to say she’d taken Tilly home and McCall burst into tears.
McCall recalls often been forgotten as a child and she had been sent into a “complete tailspin” by the idea she might have let her daughter feel like that, “even for one moment”.
But Tilly was absolutely fine, laughing and playing with her friend, and McCall was hit with the realisation that: “My children are not me”. That they don’t suffer from the same insecurities and anxieties as she does.
“So actually the few times when there has been an accident and I have been late to pick them up from school, they’re very forgiving of me and in their being forgiving of me I’ve learnt to forgive myself and be a bit softer on myself,” she explains.
“So it’s been a real huge learning curve for me.
“Having a not such a stable childhood made me strive to be the perfect parent, but my children have taught me it’s ok to not be perfect, to just do the best I can and they will still love me.”
McCall’s eldest children are now teenagers, which has meant her parenting style has had to shift.
“I’m sure there’s still plenty of time for them to drive me absolutely mad,” she said. “But actually I’ve got to give them credit for this, they are brilliant teenagers. They’re really level-headed and responsible.
“What has changed recently is that our conversations are now negotiations as opposed to: ‘I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do’.
“We enter into a negotiation about everything. You can’t just say: ‘No, I’m not letting you do that, I want to do this.’ Because they are now young adults and they need to have autonomy. They need to be heard and they deserve a bit of respect.
“And the more respect, autonomy and space I give them, the more they’re brilliant with it.
“That’s not to say they won’t all go careering off the rails at some point, but right now they’re amazing.”
If Holly, Tilly or Chester were to “go off the rails”, McCall is well prepared with a plan for how she would tackle it.
The self-described “queen of cockups” opens up about her battle with alcohol and drugs in her latest book, and says if that has taught her one thing about parenting, it is: “to never react shocked, horrified, disapproving or angry when they tell you something that is going to be a big deal for them to tell you.”
She explains: “Because whatever it is, at the end of the day you’re their parent and you’re going to get through it together.
“Telling them they’re an idiot or asking: ‘How could you have done this? What were you thinking?’ Isn’t going to help.
“Just forget the part when you make them feel stupid, because they probably already feel immensely stupid, and skip forward to the part when you support them.
“The most important thing is kids will come back to you if you don’t react negatively. Otherwise they might never come back to you again and the idea that they might be in pain or struggling with something frightening on their own, hurts me.
“When you’re a teenager or a young adult, life is stressful enough. You just need support.”
Other than teenagers, there is one other person McCall feels it is vital that parents ensure gets enough support – be it at home, at work, or among friends – themselves.
“You are the most important person,” she explained. “Because if you have a breakdown then everybody suffers. So don’t forget it.”
‘Lessons I’ve Learned’ by Davina McCall, published by Orion in hardback (£20) and eBook (£10.99).