“Be kind to yourself. It’s ok to feel upset about leaving your baby. It’s ok to be glad to have a whole day without a small person attached. You will find an equilibrium.”
This week I meet Anna Boch – project manager, Doula, and mum of three. She talks about her project management job, her four-day week, her recent Doula training, and the challenging switch from commuter to mother when she walks in the door each evening.
Thank you Anna for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I work as a Project Manager in the public sector, so it’s all about securing budgets, establishing what different services’ requirements are and then procuring and working with the design teams to bring a project from concept to construction to handover. I graduated as a Civil Engineer from UCD in 1999 and have been working as a project manager in facilities management, retail and now healthcare.
That’s the day job! I also help manage the admin paperwork of my husband’s farm (easthillfarm.ie) – it’s certified organic since 2013 which means there’s a LOT of paperwork, especially around the time of the annual inspection, even just for 4 acres of vegetables…
And only in the last 6 months I have trained as a Birth Doula! The word “Doula” (Greek in origin) was traditionally used to signify a woman servant or caregiver who attended women during birth and afterwards. Nowadays the emphasis as much on empowerment of women through the birthing process as it is in providing practical and physical and emotional support during labour and after the birth. I don’t perform clinical or medical tasks, diagnose medical conditions or give medical advice. But by providing continuous support through pregnancy, birth and beyond, I am able to positively impact the experience for women and their families and reaffirm women’s ability to give birth. Ever since Aoife’s birth I have been passionate about positive birth and after eight years decided I either needed to stop talking about it and follow my heart to offer this service.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work a 39-hour week, but realised after returning to work after maternity leave with Lorcan that the benefits of a four-day week on family life far outweighed the financial cost of taking parental leave for one day a week. So Monday to Thursday it’s 9-5. The other big benefit of parental leave is that it doesn’t affect annual leave entitlement – it makes the holidays stretch that bit further.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
Working from home isn’t really an option, but my job means I can be on site or at meetings in a variety of different locations in South Dublin and Wicklow. I’ve found that I’m much more motivated when in “work” mode – if I’m at home, there’s 101 things I get distracted with. For the work that needs to get done for the farm or for my doula practice, it does happen from home, but almost always after the kids have gone to bed, as it’s not possible or fair on them to try to do it when they are around.
Do you have to travel for work?
I think the most travel I do for work is getting to work, as my office is based in West Dublin, but I live in North Wicklow. It’s all about being smart when scheduling meetings though, to avoid rush hour traffic and break up the commute.
What kind of childcare do you use?
We’ve always used a crèche – when we lived in Dublin, Aoife started at six months and was full-time until she started school, except when I was on maternity leave – then we had part-time hours and I collected her at lunchtime. Lorcan was the same, although I took two months unpaid leave as well, until we moved to Wicklow.
Now that we live beside the farm, my husband Alun is able to collect Cormac at 2.30pm and then the older two from the school-bus just before 3pm.
On Fridays I get to do the pick ups which is great! Last summer we also had an au pair – it was brilliant to balance the summer holidays with my hours and the busier farm season. She looked after the children after Alun collected them until I got home and it worked really, really well. Life was a lot less frazzled with an extra pair of hands, and it also was enjoyable having another German speaker around*. I need to look into what is required to register an au pair as an employee for this summer!
(*Anna’s parents are German, and although she was born here, she was raised speaking German at home)
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
At the moment “me-time” seems to consist of the time I spend on my own in the car! I try to get away for an afternoon or overnight “Mums on the Run” with close friends every now and then, but they have become less frequent in recent years.
I think because I have recently trained as a Birth Doula, a lot of whatever “free time” I had is being spent on becoming established within the doula community. Self-care is so important and I really have to start practicing what I preach! This month has been particularly busy, with school 2016 celebrations, start of the Easter Holidays and organising events for World Doula Week. I’m looking forward to a few days downtime with the kids at my parents in Kerry over the Easter weekend.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
For me, the biggest challenge has always been that instant switch from commuter to mother – that walking in the door and being greeted by three emotional whirlwinds who all want a piece of you. Right Now. On the Door Step! I typically arrive home at 6:30pm and those 90 minutes until bedtime are intense. I am so, so lucky to have married a man who is a fantastic chef, and dinner is always made for me.
That intensity is amplified on my days at home on Fridays until we reach an equilibrium by Saturday when it’s clear everyone can get a piece of me. That’s why I find the four-day week so important – two days is just too short to wind down and wind back up again. We’re lucky that Alun is so flexible with his hours on the farm – he often would work all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the busy summer months. But on the flip side he is able to look after the children at short notice, which gives me the flexibility to take on a small number of doula clients a year when I am on leave from the day job during school holidays. It means that I know I can attend a client regardless of whether labour starts at 3am or 6pm – he’s my biggest support.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Yes, but it seems to have become a lot more tolerable. I think that as the kids are older, they enjoy meeting their friends in school. There was nothing worse than leaving a crying toddler who was clinging to your legs to go to work, only to collect them in the evening and they didn’t want to leave. You couldn’t win! I still have moments of wishing I could be there for more school plays and more school pick-ups. As I mentioned already, I often find the first day home with the kids after being at work for four days more challenging than spending a day at work. But it’s a mindset – I would often try to do those 101 other things, when in reality all I should try to do is be with the kids. That guilt of having not lived up to that “perfect mother” image when I am at home is maybe just another aspect of working-mother guilt?
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
It’s a constantly moving solution – it really depends on where the parents are at in their career and life, but also very much on the needs of the children at different ages. The recession meant many dads got to experience being at home full-time at some stage, and there is a much greater appreciation as to what is involved in being a stay at home parent. Personally I still think a four-day week for both parents is a good option. And even for single parent families, it would take the pressure off. Not sure that it’s ever going to become the norm though!
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I’m still trying to figure that out! I definitely think project management, although maybe less technical and more organising generally… With the children in school, a four-day week 8am – 3pm would be amazing. And summer holidays managed with the help of an au pair!
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
Honestly – no, not full-time. But I think financial constraints can also have a big impact on how you are when you are at home with your children. There’s a difference between holiday mode mum i.e. no or few financial constraints in the greater scheme of things versus regular day mum, with limitations on what to do with the kids especially during school holidays.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?
Yes, I’ve experienced it first hand when colleagues who I trained were promoted above me in the past – even before children and maternity / parental leave were on the horizon. In the public sector however it seems much less of an issue. Over the last few years I have sometimes wondered is it possible to have it all, the high-powered career, and a balanced family life with the “standard” two or three children. I think it depends hugely on the support structure available, be it the partner or husband, available childcare and other friends and family to lean on.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Be kind to yourself. It’s ok to feel upset about leaving your baby. It’s ok to be glad to have a whole day without a small person attached. You will find an equilibrium.
Don’t compare yourself to others – just because Mary or Jane looks like she is managing amazingly, it doesn’t mean they are. Social media has so much to answer to for projecting the image of Supermum. We’ve all seen the posts of perfect families, rarely do we see the “I’m having a crap day and yelled at my kids” image.
It’s ok to change your mind. If you go back to work and decide it wasn’t the right choice for your family, there is no shame in figuring out a solution that is right. If you decide to stay at home but after a week of Peppa Pig and Playground Politics know working outside the home is a better scenario then make it happen.
Any other comments?
It’s been said before but it’s so important to “find your tribe”. Seek out the support of other mums and parents you know and admire. I found that friends I made at pregnancy classes and public health clinics eight years ago have grown with me into this working mother juggling act. We’re there for each other to catch the ball that we might have otherwise dropped if we were juggling on our own.
Thanks Anna! I’m in awe of how you’ve managed to work four days a week and also train to be a doula – I suspect it shows that if you discover something about which you’re passionate, you find a way to make it work.
I love what you said about the guilt becoming more tolerable as kids get older. I think that’s true – they become more independent and you realise that there’s life outside the family – for kids and for parents.
And yes, that bit when you walk in the door and it’s so intense – I imagine every parent who works outside the home can relate! It’s challenging trying to be everything to everyone in short window of time, but I always think quality trumps quantity in that evening time period.
I really like what you said about it being OK to change your mind. I think sometimes we assume there should be one perfect scenario that suits everyone, but of course there isn’t. There are parents who love being at home full-time and those who just can’t do it. And it’s particularly hard if for financial reasons, choice isn’t an option. But I believe in equilibrium – eventually we all find and settle on what works for us.
Best of luck with all you are doing, and thanks for sharing your story!
Anna’s children with some other inhabitants of Easthill Farm