This is the first in a series of interviews with mothers; chatting about home and work and family, and that elusive balance that we all seek.
Topics range from childcare to career changes, working from home to stay-at-home mothers, setting up businesses, fitting in homework, the ever-present guilt, and mostly, not doing a lot of ironing.
The series kicks off this week with Caitríona Redmond, who is a stay-at-home mother, a well-known food blogger on her website WholesomeIreland.com and a soon-to-be-published author.
When I asked Caitríona for tips for working mothers, her advice was:
“Don’t beat yourself up too much. There is such a thing as a “good enough parent”. Embrace this concept and you will manage the dark days, particularly when you get back to work in the early days.”
For more wisdom from this talented food-writer, read on!
Thank you Caitríona for taking part in this interview for Office Mum blog – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have a 5 year old and a (nearly) 2 year old. I’m also stepmum to a 14 year old.
And now could you tell me a little about the job you had before you had children – what did you do and for how long have were you working at this?
I was a personal assistant for a firm of commercial estate consultants. I’d been working in admin pretty much most of my working life. I was also the IT trainer for the same company.
And how did you end up becoming a stay-at-home mother?
I never intended to become a stay at home mother but the day I returned from maternity leave after having my first boy I was made redundant. I know it sounds very callous but honestly I was lucky to hold onto my job for so long considering I was working in the property industry.
And can you tell me how you started to become involved in writing?
I started blogging about 4 years ago. Was dreadful at it, dreadful with keeping a routine, taking photographs etc. Then I relaunched the blog in February 2012 and thought I’d try to stick at it a bit more. Since then it’s been the base for many amazing writing opportunities, not least my first book which will be out in Spring 2014.
What kind of hours did you work in the past and what hours do you do now at home, writing for your blog, for ezines and working on your forthcoming book?
In paid employment I would have worked from about 8am until 5pm on a regular working day but long nights were not uncommon. I also studied a lot so put in an awful lot of hours. Nowadays I manage my writing around the toddler’s naptime, in the evening time and sometimes I’ll sneak up and write at 5am before the family gets up in the morning. I don’t really see it as “work”, it’s hard to when I enjoy writing and food so much!
Did you have the flexibility to work from home in your previous job? Is it a job that would have been compatible with family life?
I actually did work from home every now and again in my previous job but I didn’t have small children so it was a doddle to turn off the phones and get stuck into work. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do that now!
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home now? Is it difficult to get writing done during the day when you are looking after the children?
The hardest part for me is making sure the kids don’t get at the computer or camera before I take photos. Otherwise I manage day to day life like any other normal mother I guess. Bribery is used on occasion to make sure I can take an important phone call without a screeching fest in the living room but it’s just normal family life. Nothing special about our house, just I write.
And psychologically, do you ever find it challenging to be at home with the children – is it what you would have chosen to do if you hadn’t had that choice taken away from you?
I find this very hard. I crave adult interaction. There are days when himself gets home that I have to go out for a breath of fresh air to clear my head. Writing is my escape though, so I can immerse myself in an opinion piece, or some latest food news. It’s so radically different from nappies and teething toddlers it’s a welcome relief.
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?
No, I honestly don’t. The nature of parenting is that there is a sacrifice to be made on some level. No matter what you do you’re still going to beat yourself up over your choices, if it’s alright for the kids, can you do better. Call it parenting guilt if you like. The key is to accept that there is no perfect situation and then move on from there!
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I think that I have got my ideal job. Even when the kids are older I’d love to be doing this and paying the bills with it.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women?
Yes I definitely do.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Don’t beat yourself up too much. There is such a thing as a “good enough parent”. Embrace this concept and you will manage the dark days, particularly when you get back to work in the early days.
Take time out for yourself. You need to take care of yourself first or otherwise you’ll end up not being able to be there for your family/work/whatever at some point.
Try and find a hobby that will nurture you too. Work and kids will be enough in the early days but you need a support network. Look to your local community for classes, meetups etc.
Any other comments?
I suppose this is the point where I should say something insightful/give great advice? I’m the worst at this kind of thing. Maybe it might be some consolation to your readers that I struggle with the housework, never iron & I’ve been known to use babywipes far too much!
Caitríona, I love your advice about being the “good enough parent” – there is so much pressure to do the right thing for our children all the time. I think as long as we are present for them when we’re with them – listening to them, paying real attention, respecting them, we’re doing OK. I am also relieved and delighted to know that you too overuse babywipes!
Thank you for being the first interviewee in this series, and I look forward to seeing your book when it comes out!