“It may however be the case that even the most ambitious of women change their priorities when they have children and therefore they are happy to reside under the glass ceiling as it gives them the freedom to be home at 5.30pm.”
This week I speak to Eimear Hutchinson, a mum of two girls, Aoife and Cara. Eimear, a Civil Engineer, works full-time in Agricultural Research and has recently launched a blog, The Two Darlings, which covers everything from parenting, DIY projects, fashion and beauty all wrapped up in a bit of humor. She is married two years to Ian, originally from England, so lots of time is spent enjoying travelling between Cork, Somerset, and Sligo, where Eimear is originally from.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my story with your readers! I have two little girls – Aoife is three and Cara is one.
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’ve been working as a Research Officer for the past 2.5 years. I qualified as a Civil Engineer in 2007 but this was the start of the economic crash so I went back and did a PhD in Civil/Agricultural Engineering in an effort to ride out the recession and find a new direction.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work full-time, 8.30-5 five days a week.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
No, I work with a lot of data and with a lot of people so I need to be in the office where the internet and access to data files is not interrupted by sticky hands! I’m currently on contract so I don’t even have the option of looking for a 4-day week.
Do you have to travel for work?
Yes I work on a European Project which, to date, has involved about two trips abroad per year. One of these trips would usually be a 4-5 day trip and the other maybe a night or two. I couldn’t do it without my husband, he is absolutely brilliant with the girls, so in that sense it’s a relief to be able to relax when I travel. Obviously on the other hand after about a day of being away I begin to wonder where the two extensions of me are!
What kind of childcare do you use?
The girls go to a wonderful childminder who is based between our home and my workplace so it’s handy in the mornings. There are a couple of other girls at the childminder the same age as Aoife so she’s really thriving there as she seems to prefer the smaller, more intimate environment. We originally had Aoife in a crèche, which was lovely too but very busy and she is a shy child. Neither of our parents live close to us so we have no family to rely on therefore, initially we thought the crèche would be more suitable as they would never be an issue with them taking ‘sick leave’ but our childminder has never done this either so it’s been a learning experience to get to an arrangement that we are extremely happy with.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself?
I wouldn’t say it occurs on a regular occasion but I try to get up to visit my friends that live in Dublin for a night out twice a year. I think it’s really important to have that time to remind myself of who I am as a person outside my home and my workplace. I set up a blog recently, which has been a really nice outlet for bringing out my own interests so I guess that’s my down time!
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I think it’s the constant rushing, rushing in the mornings to get dressed, eat, brush teeth and out the door on time, rushing out of the car into the childminder, me rushing to work then, rushing to get things done during the day so I can leave at 5pm, rushing to collect them so I don’t miss a single second of the time I do have with them. And then we slow down. Between 5.30 and 7pm my husband and I try to not do any housework or distract ourselves from the girls and just talk to them, play all games with them, paint, dance, whatever they want. Then it’s baths, books, bottles and songs and the girls are usually both fast asleep by 7.45. Then it’s down to start dinner, do housework, I’m usually working on something on my sewing machine or my husband on the banjo. We’re not the biggest fans of TV but it is nice to be able to switch off in front of it!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Sometimes I wonder is it the guilt that gets me more, or the missing them. I was glad to return to work after my first baby, I was happy for the adult interaction as conversation with a baby is fairly one-sided. Plus I had started into a new job so it was a new challenge and I loved it. Not that my job isn’t still enjoyable and challenging, it is. Going into my last maternity leave I was so nervous – what would the new baby be like, how would my toddler deal with it all, what would we do all day long – these were just some of the apprehensions I had. Oh what a waste of time that worrying was. I think it would be putting it mildly to say that it was the most enjoyable six months of my life to date. So I guess having experienced such an enjoyable time at home it has really made settling back into work this time round very difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I look like I’m enjoying things but inside my head I miss their faces, their laughter, their mischief and their energy more than I have ever missed anything before. It is a constant battle.
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 think it would be lovely to be able to take a little time out when they are so young and then, once they start school, to return to work without the worry of feeling like the working world has passed you by in the intervening years. For me, I think that would be challenging as I would fear that the skills and knowledge I have could become dated in those few short years.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I actually do enjoy what I do currently, there is a lovely mix of working with people and with data and I’ve developed a broad range of skills. That said I’d love to do something creative and have the freedom to work outside the four walls of an office. It would be lovely to be able to create an income from that sort of work especially if it could be done at night when the two ladies go to bed.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
Yes without a shadow of doubt. During my last maternity leave I can honestly say that, although it can be challenging when you’re tired, every single day I woke up looking forward to the possibilities and every single night I went to bed happy with every second of how my day was spent. And I want to be there for them, I want to be there when Cara starts crawling, walking and talking. I want to be there when they come home from pre-school and school, to hear about their days and to help them with their homework. I want to be able to teach them how to bake, to paint, to enjoy the outdoors, to build Lego castles, to dance around the kitchen and to help them be good, respectful and happy children. And I’m worried that they will look back and remember me as a mother that went through the motions or routines with them without much of the fun.
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 it’s a case of a glass ceiling, I think every woman has the ability to succeed at whatever they do. It may however be the case that even the most ambitious of women change their priorities when they have children and therefore they are happy to reside under the glass ceiling as it gives them the freedom to be home at 5.30pm.
Do you have any tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
DON’T OVERTHINK IT! I couldn’t stop thinking about returning to work the last time round I think I almost ruined my last few weeks off worrying about it. The reality of returning to work is actually far easier than the thought so don’t waste your precious time worrying about it!
Eimear, thanks for taking part in the series – I love your tip about not over-thinking. It’s so hard to avoid! I think most of us spent at least some of the final few weeks fretting unnecessarily – it would be lovely to wave a magic wand and take that away for the mums who are currently on the countdown.
It’s so great that you slow down in the evenings and play with your daughters – I think lots of us would love to do that, but it’s hard to put the housework and the cooking off till later. It’s lovely for your two little girls that they have that time with you!
And I know what you mean about guilt and missing them – I think when many of us talk about guilt, that’s what we really mean – feeling sad that we’re missing out on time with the kids.
I agree with you that it would be great if it was possible for parents to take time out when kids are small and go back to work when they’re in school (though school brings its own challenges!) but as you say, it’s very hard to step out and step back in. Even when it’s financially possible, it’s a risk in terms of career. I hope you find a way to turn your creative side into an income, and in the meantime, I wish you continued success with The Two Darlings!