“I feel guilty sometimes for feeling guilty and the space this takes up in my head when I could be more focused on the girls instead.”
Avril Tierney is a Dub living in Laois with her husband and two little girls, and she has not one but two jobs – she works for a charity, and she is also a psychotherapist – here she explains how this slightly unusual career came about.
Thank you 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 have two jobs. For three years I’ve worked in a charity, in the capacity as admin support for a project based in the midlands. And for four years I’ve worked in private practice as a counsellor and psychotherapist.
I worked for 10 years in clerical and admin roles but always had in an interest in mental health. After being made redundant in 2010, I went back to train as a counsellor and psychotherapist and qualified in 2013. A lot of the work I do is with women with post-natal mental health issues. From my own experience and that of my clients, I think as women we are amazing and when we support one another we can achieve so much!
What kind of hours do you work?
For the admin role I work 17.5 hours per week usually over three days. I call this my “day job”. I’m really lucky in that there is a certain amount of flexibility with the days I work. My private practice varies depending on my client list and the needs of those clients. I made a conscious decision after maternity leave to keep my client list small for the moment due to time constraints.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
It has never come up within my “day job” and I’ve never had a need for it (so far) but I do think if I needed to on occasion it would be OK. My private practice is a couple of minutes’ drive away but my plan for the future is to be able to work from home.
What kind of childcare do you use?
Since returning to work after maternity leave and because my husband works shift, I am in the really great position of being able to work the days my husband is off. My parents help out every second week when one of the days overlaps. I work evenings in private practice so I schedule sessions for when my husband returns from work or is off.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
It’s not always easy but I try to walk a few times a week and when I can, I go to a yoga class. One thing I really try to do daily is to just stop for a couple of minutes and take a few deep breaths. I find this centres me and brings me back into myself.
I love after a busy, noisy and chaotic day (most days) sitting on the sofa in silence for a few minutes. It’s such a simple thing to do but listening to the sound of silence is just lovely. If you don’t do it I would recommend trying it.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I find trying to balance housework and working difficult even more so now that there’s a second child. There are literally days when I wonder where I’m going to fit cooking in never mind anything else. Also as great as it is that my husband is at home with the girls when I work, it does mean we have very little time together. He works every second weekend so there are lots of occasions when I’m home and he’s in work and vice versa.
As I’m answering these questions I realise how lucky I am to not have to get a baby organised for crèche nor organise afterschool my older daughter.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
For me I really enjoy going out to work and I feel like I’m a better mam when I feel fulfilled by something other than the being mam. I get to use my brain and skills in a whole other capacity. I think working outside of the home brings a sense of balance to my life that I don’t feel when I’m at home all day every day. Getting to have a cuppa without having to get up and down 50 times could have something to do with it too!
I was at home for two years after my first child and there were times that I found it really challenging. I really missed the day-to-day interaction with adults that didn’t involve talking about babies. I felt very guilty about this!
There are times when I feel guilty for enjoying going out to work and question myself as to what this is about. I feel guilty sometimes for feeling guilty and the space this takes up in my head when I could be more focused on the girls instead. I regularly wonder do I do enough for the girls, do I spend enough quality time with them and so on. However, the thing I’ve realised is that I feel guilty whether I work outside the home or am at home everyday but I am happier going out to work therefore they are (I hope, yes the guilt just kicked in!)
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a parent to have a fulfilling career while being there for the kids?
I don’t think there’s one solution that suits all. Our current set up is the optimal solution for our family and meets our needs at the moment. However I feel that as a country there needs to be an acceptance that work/life balance is so important to the mental health of employees and that by actively putting in place family friendly hours/flexibility in hours/career breaks or whatever their employee require, they will benefit as well as the individual employee.
There are so many women I know who can barely mention having children in their workplace because their employees just don’t want to hear it. I know one friend who asked her employer if could she come in one hour earlier and go home one hour earlier each day to suit her childcare requirements. She was told that her childcare wasn’t their problem and that her hours wouldn’t be changing to suit her children and that’s that. She left this job as a result. I find this attitude does hinder women in the workplace and employers end up losing qualified and experienced staff as a result or they have stressed employees should they stay.
I know from my current experience as an employee that I can talk about my children and be honest about taking time off for them if required from time to time. This makes my life much easier and therefore I strive to work harder and be more productive when I am there.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I get to work at my dream job as a counsellor and psychotherapist. The majority of the work is with women who have post natal depression and it’s such a privilege to be a part of their journey. I love the work I do and although it can be difficult at times it’s very fulfilling. I would love to be able to focus on this as my main job but for the moment I’ll tick away at it as I am.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
No, I would still maintain some work even on a volunteer basis outside of the home.
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 don’t think there’s a glass ceiling per se but I do think some workplaces can make it very difficult for some women based on out-dated attitudes to working and having children. I think some employers see asking for less hours or flexibility as the woman not being as serious or dedicated to her job. For lots of women this is not the case.
I know many women who are at the top of their game and they have just dealt with work and home life as it comes. They haven’t allowed having children to stop them from going to the top or where they want to be.
There are also so many mothers who make a conscious decision to take a step back from their careers and that’s OK too.
I think the more we as women show employers that we can still be productive in our roles even with flexible hours etc., the more things will start to shift in the work place. I also hope that as women we never stop striving to find balance for ourselves and for our families.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
There is of course the usual one, organise stuff for the next day the night before. It does actually make life easier. I’ll remind myself of this next time I don’t do it and am stressed!
Give yourself a break and don’t be too hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can do right now!
Breathe! It sounds obvious because we have to! What I mean is to consciously take time each day to just breathe. Close your eyes and take three deep, long breaths (or more if needed). I find this to be a simple but amazing tool.
Any other comments?
If there’s nothing else you enjoy about work, focus on the uninterrupted tea and pee as the highlight.
Avril, thanks for taking part! The quote at the top is one of my favourite of all time – I am guilty (so to speak) of this too. Feeling guilty about how we spend time – or not – with our kids, then feeling guilty for feeling guilty, especially when we read articles that say we shouldn’t feel guilty. I end up feeling like I’m letting the side down. I do think too that there’s a kind of wistfulness that falls under the umbrella term “guilt” – it’s not that we feel we shouldn’t be working or that women should be at home with children, but we do feel wistful or a little sad from time to time that we might be missing out. I think it’s normal and natural and perfectly healthy to feel that – it doesn’t mean we’re thinking of quitting.
The story of your friend who wasn’t allowed to change her hours is so frustrating – I know a number of women who resigned from their jobs because they weren’t allowed four- or three-day weeks. They don’t necessarily want to be at home full-time, but when it came to it, they felt they were forced to make a choice. I completely agree with you – the more employers can see that flexibility is a good thing, and that employees who are happy are a benefit to the workplace (whether they are men or women, parents or not) the more it will help all of us, especially when you think about how so many people want something other than full-time hours.
I hope in time you will be able to work full-time as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist – it really does sound like you’ve found your calling.