Office Mum stories – Aoife Lee

 

I do often find it hard when they are going to bed and I can’t be there to read them their story or tuck them in. I work with a lot of parents who feel this guilt and stress of a long working day.”

After an extended summer break, the interview series returns with Aoife Lee. Having worked for twelve years for the HSE, the mum of two decided to go out on her own as a parent coach, and founded parentsupport.ie. Aoife is also Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare.

Thank you Aoife for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – can you tell me about your family?

Aoife Lee - Office Mum I have two children, Katie, almost 4, and Charlie who is 6.

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 am a Parent Coach and my business is called ‘Parent Support’. Before I went out on my own I was with the HSE working in early intervention & social work supporting families.

After taking the big leap three years ago into self-employment I now provide parenting advice on a one to one level, parenting groups in crèche settings, talks in the parents’ workplace through Aviva Health as part of their wellness & wellbeing programme, talks in schools and with support groups like An Cuidiu, as well as writing and doing some freelance work with mummypages.ie

That sounds busy! What kind of hours do you work?

My work is part-time at the moment, my jobs can be at night in a crèche setting or in the parents’ home when my children are in bed, any work during the day is when the kids are in school or sometimes I need extra help. When I’m not working I’m with my kids being ‘a mammy’! 

What kind of childcare do you use?

I’m lucky to have my mam who comes over to my house one day a week, often it’s when I have a job booked in and need her to take the kids for the afternoon. 

Are both your children in preschool and school now, and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?

My little girl is in Naionra from 8.30-12 with an option for 1 extra hour if needed and my son is in our local Gaelscoil from 8.30-1.10pm. While we are in the middle of the school term these hours are really working for me however once the holidays come I will be working around them.

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

Our family and my husband support me; it’s not always plain sailing though! I do have to work at night when the kids go to bed whether that’s writing articles or prepping for a session. The cleaning, shopping and school runs still need to happen, more often than not it’s at the weekend when the kids are happy to be in their pj’s for the morning after a busy week.

Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!

You’re on the button! I do really enjoy working for myself however when a call comes in or I need to respond to an email there and then and the kids are with me it can be hard, I generally judge how they are and try to spend as much time as I can with them when I’m not in work mode. I see a difference in them when I’m distracted so I need to be attentive to that and be fair to them.

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

I do often find it hard when they are going to bed and I can’t be there to read them their story or tuck them in. I work with a lot of parents who feel this guilt and stress of a long working day. I focus on the quality time you may have at bedtimes or at the weekends.

Most of what our children want from us is us… they want our time and attention and when we can give this – even if it’s at the weekend – it can make a big difference to both ourselves as parents and our children and the relationship we have together.

The more special time we make with our children the more it builds on their self-esteem too. I often advise parents with children who are well able to chat about themselves and how they may be feeling to talk to them about what kind of things/activities they could do that mean spending more time together. Often if there’s a plan the kids have something to look forward to and know is going to happen.

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?

I believe there are pressures in any job regardless of whether you are juggling as a self-employed mother at home, if you do long hours in a high pressured environment or you’re a stay at home dad. I don’t think there is a perfect balance but I believe we as parents are in a position to make the most of the time we have with our children and without sounding cheesy… to embrace it. We give ourselves enough of a hard time working and managing our home lives. Every family unit is different and we all have different coping mechanisms. It’s often about taking it day by day but being one step ahead as best we can.

If you could do any job, what would it be?

I love what I do now! I’m passionate about supporting parents and love to see them feel empowered and confident.

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?

I see parents in their work place regularly and during that time they switch from employee to being a mum talking about their kids in the meeting room next door… providing these opportunities to support working mothers empowers them, creates productivity and shows them that their employers care. I have friends that are doing brilliantly in their careers and are embracing it while running a busy home life too… juggling & multi-tasking is what we are known for!   

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?

  1. The more obvious ones are making sure the children’s outfits/uniforms/lunches/bags are ready the night before!
  2. If you are struggling with getting information out of your child on how they spent their day, more often than not we get a simple yes/no or don’t know response, which can be hard. I always say to parents like I do myself, as you are winding down at bedtime while tucking them in, ask your child, ‘what was your favourite part of the day?’ this often takes the pressure off them and allows them focus on one thing. Likewise you share with them; it’s a nice way to reflect on the day with your child.
  3. Finally, if you are struggling with spreading yourself out to spend time with all of your children or you see a change in behaviour in the form of attention seeking because they want you to spend more time together – acknowledge this with them if they are old enough and while doing so decide together on an evening in the week or a time at the weekend when you can do a chosen activity or trip out together that you will both enjoy. This reinforces the idea of spending quality time together; the fact that your child knows it’s happening can make all the difference!

Thanks Aoife! I love the idea of asking a child what their favourite part of the day was – such a lovely way to get a glimpse into their lives and how they see the world. And likewise planning an activity together – there’s huge excitement in our house whenever a “date” is in the planning stages.

I also think it’s a great point that the quality time can be at the weekend – my eyes were opened to this reading Laura Vanderkam’s book recently, when she pointed out that we shouldn’t look at time as a 24 hour day, but rather a 168 hour week. So instead of focusing on how few of the 24 hours we spend with our kids, we should look at how many of the 168 we spend with them, which of course includes the weekend. As she says, the middle of the week is lunch-time on Thursday – I like that. 

I’ve no doubt it’s not easy balancing working around the kids, especially during summer holidays, but I think when you do something you love, working late at night isn’t such a chore, and having met you, I know you love what you do.

I have huge admiration for you in taking the leap – leaving a permanent job to go out on your own is such a big decision, and it’s great to see how well it has gone for you. I hope some readers who are considering it will take inspiration!

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