“We haven’t made it easy in this country for women or for young families. We say that we want everyone to be productive members of society, but then we haven’t put the supports in place for people with young children who want to go back to work. I think this should be top of the political agenda at the next general election.”
This week’s interview is with Claire Byrne – she’s a television and radio presenter, and mother of two small children.
Thank you Claire 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 present Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One television on Monday nights at 10.35pm and Saturday with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio One on Saturdays at 1pm.
I have been working at RTÉ since 2010 and in broadcasting since 1997.
What kind of hours do you work?
Monday is my mammoth day – I come into work at 10.30am and finish after midnight. I do some work from home and look after my children (!) on Tuesday and Wednesday and then I am back in RTÉ on Thursday and Friday for meetings and research. I present my radio show on Saturday and take Sunday off.
Do you have to travel for work?
Recently I had to travel for three consecutive weekends to cover the political party conferences. It’s unusual for me to have to travel normally, but because of the nature of my job, travel can be at short notice.
What kind of childcare do you use?
I use a combination of crèche and home care.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
It’s just constantly busy! I think back to the days when I moaned about being busy when I could come home and relax, now it’s a merry-go-round of washing, cooking, cleaning, feeding. But I have learned that nothing is impossible and you just get through every day and survive it.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
There are times when I feel guilty and I think that is normal. Especially if the children aren’t feeling well, it increases the guilt! But I deal with it by telling myself that it is my personal choice to go out to work and I am happy doing my job and a better mother because I am happy. I really admire stay-at-home mums – they are the real heroes because it is the toughest job in the world.
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?
There is no perfect solution and I would never try to dictate to anyone else what they should do. A three-day week might be perfect for one family but not for the next. People should do whatever works for them and don’t pay attention to anyone who tries to dictate the ‘right’ answers. There aren’t any right answers in my view!
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I am really lucky to be doing my dream job. I am also lucky that I have some flexibility in my hours, so I wouldn’t change a thing right now.
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?
We haven’t made it easy in this country for women or for young families. We say that we want everyone to be productive members of society, but then we haven’t put the supports in place for people with young children who want to go back to work. I think this should be top of the political agenda at the next general election.
Do you have any tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
I don’t have all the answers; in fact I don’t have any of the answers! I really believe that whatever works for you and your family is the best way. After all, we are all just trying to do our best!
Thank you Claire for taking the time to join the interview series! I heard you speak recently at a Women on Air event, and was struck by how open and honest you were about balancing work and home. What really stood out to me was that you had made it there at all that evening, having looked after two sick children all week, and being ill at the time yourself. It was a reminder that regardless of career, we all face similar challenges and we all muddle through.
I think you’re absolutely right that we haven’t made it easy for mothers of young children to go back to work. Ironically, some are going back far earlier than they’d like, because of a lack of paid leave, while others are staying at home, because they can’t afford childcare. We definitely need to do something to give people more choice.
And I can relate completely to what you said about the pre-children days of being busy but going home to relax. I think it’s like a rite of passage for new parents – that sudden realisation that there is no “busy” quite like going home to look after children each evening. And regardless of how often we hear it before having kids, we don’t understand or really listen. I do think that’s partly contributing towards the inaction in dealing with working parent issues (like childcare costs, lack of paid leave and lack of flexible work) – when we finally realise that it’s a problem, we’re too busy and overwhelmed to deal with it.
I’m looking forward to seeing lots more of your new show, and thanks again, very sincerely, for taking the time to do this interview!
Speaking of making things tough for mothers of small children – have you heard of the “daddy bonus” and the “mommy penalty”? A piece I wrote for HerFamily.ie: “I’m sorry,” – Female CEO apologises to working mums