“I tip-toe out of the house every morning when our daughter is asleep and feel sad that I’m not there when she wakes up”
The first interview of the new year is with Bridget Farrell, who is married to Ray, and lives in Tullamore. They both work outside the home and have a two and a half-year old daughter and a new baby on the way very soon.
Thank you Bridget for kicking off the 2015 interview series! Could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
What kind of hours do you work?
Up to two months ago, I worked 5 days per week and then I reduced to 4 days per week, taking parental leave. I will work this schedule until I go on maternity leave. Being able to take fragmented parental leave has made a huge difference to our work life balance…even our daughter loves when it’s Friday and “Mammy has no work…hurray!!!”
In terms of my daily schedule, I have a one hour commute each way to and from work. I leave the house at 7am, start work at 8am and then leave the office at 5pm to make it home for 6pm. It’s a long day and our daughter is sound asleep when I leave every morning. I’m very conscious that Mon-Thurs she doesn’t see me all day until 6pm, which is difficult.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
It is an option that can be availed of but the nature of my role really requires me to be onsite. In saying that if I needed to be closer to home for whatever reason, it’s an alternative for me, and that’s important to know.
Do you have to travel for work?
Before our daughter was born I had a few international business trips per year but have managed to cut that down to the bare minimum. In the last twelve months, I’ve had two four-day European trips which was pretty manageable and they were well spaced apart which helped too. Anything longer than 3-4 days would be tough. Before our daughter was born, I wouldn’t think twice about my trips to the US tagging on a weekend before or after to tour or shop, but now I just want to get home for family time!
What kind of childcare do you use?
We are blessed with great childcare arrangements, which makes it all so much easier. Our daughter is wonderfully cared for by her two grandmothers during the week, each looking after her for two days. It works out brilliantly as she has special time with her grandparents during the week and they truly adore having the time with her as she grows up. Both my mother and mother-in-law come to our house in the morning before my husband leaves for work, since I’ve already left at 7am. We don’t have to get her up and out of the house early as we take off which is fantastic. She’s able to potter around at home in the morning, having her breakfast and getting dressed at her own pace. They have their own arrangements during the day, going to either of our parents’ houses or staying in ours, and day trips here and there. There is always a tale to tell Mammy & Daddy when we get home!
And does your childcare solution work well for you?
Incredibly well – we are very fortunate that our families live close by and wanted to be involved as well as being fit and healthy that they can look after a busy toddler for long days. In the New Year, we will send our daughter two mornings a week to play-group for some increased social activity with children her own age and we think the timing is right.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
For us right now, there are two essential challenges – the uneasiness that we don’t spend enough time with our daughter mid-week and the long hours that we are out of our home when working. The other is from a general household perspective and the challenge of managing the household chores, dinners etc. when you’re gone for long days mid-week. I’m sure we are no different to any family with children working outside the home. We try to balance this out with batch cooking at the weekend and freezing to avoid cooking in the evenings mid-week. Now that I’m at home on Fridays, it allows me to manage the housework better, leaving Saturday and Sunday for fun family time!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Absolutely – I really do. I tip-toe out of the house every morning when our daughter is asleep and feel sad that I’m not there when she wakes up. My husband or one of her grandmothers always send me a picture of her in the morning and it makes me feel better when I see her and know that she’s awake and in good form!
I think it’s something working mothers always carry with them and it’s impossible to avoid thinking about. Children are incredibly resilient and adaptable though, she knows the daily routine and enjoys the time with her grandmothers. Knowing that she’s incredibly happy with her grandmothers helps hugely. When I know she is content at home, I get on with work and the day flies by.
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?
For me, part-time such as a three-day week would be ideal. It’s a nice balance of being at home and working outside the home too. In saying that, I think about the future and particularly when our daughter will be in school. I’d like to be able to drop and collect her every day, have a warm house and dinner ready for her and sit and do her homework and spend time with our other children so for now, 3-4 days is good, I think as your children grow older and through new stages and routines, other balances would be required.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Being a stay at home Mom would be a dream to me especially when your children are young. I took a year off work when our daughter was born and enjoyed every day being at home with her. I found going back to work after maternity leave incredibly hard to adjust to. Alternative to that the ideal would be something close to home removing the commute, doing short days 10.00am – 2.00pm – wouldn’t that be fab!!
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- Gradual reintegration to work if your employer allows it. I worked part-time initially over a 5 week period when I returned from maternity leave and it made it much easier than starting back 5 days a week after being at home for a year. It was less of a shock to the system for all of us!
- Don’t beat yourself up, it will get easier. It’s ok to feel guilty. It’s ok to feel sad leaving your babies in the morning. My friends used to tell me that it will get easier and I didn’t believe them…but it did!
- Use your free time wisely – make the most of your time off and weekend time with your family. For us it makes it more meaningful. There’s been weekends when I had the choice to go for a visit to the park or do the housework and I’m always glad I chose the trip to the park. The housework can wait another day. Our children grow up so fast…let’s enjoy every moment.
Thanks Bridget! I think lots of readers will relate to what you said about being out of the house for long days during the week – I remember that too – obsessively counting up the hours that I was away from the kids. The guilt! And such misplaced guilt, but that doesn’t help to dispel it.
What you said about wanting to be there at the school-gate really resonated with me too. Before having children, I imagined going back to work and putting my children into crèche, but never got as far as thinking about school. It was only after they were born that I started to feel on edge about not being able to pick them up. School-gate-anxiety maybe.
I think eventually lots of people find the right mix – whether that’s being at home full-time or finding a job closer to home, and you’ll find yours too. And in the meantime, you have a lovely maternity leave to look forward to!
Best wishes for your new arrival, and thanks for taking part in the interview!