“My mum always worked and she was very insistent that my sisters and I be independent and have our own financial independence. She was and is a fantastic role model.”
Emma Meagher is originally from Cashel in Tipperary. She is the eldest of three girls. Emma is married to Gareth, they have two young sons and a puggle named Otis. They live outside Wicklow town. Emma is a solicitor in a busy city practice.
Emma, thank you for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me about your family?
I have two fantastic little boys. JD has just turned 5 and Hugh will be 3 in the summer. They are a bundle of energy and love being outside and making up little adventures about superhero’s and baddies! The eldest attends Wicklow Montessori School just outside Wicklow Town and Hugh will be joining him in September. Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. The boys will attend Montessori until they leave for Secondary school.
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 started working with James McSweeney Solicitors in 2008. I am a Solicitor and Partner in the firm. We specialise in Women’s Medical Negligence. I have a huge interest in helping women who have suffered as a result of negligence during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. In 2015, we established a dedicated, mother-focused, legal advice unit.
I also volunteer with the Free Legal Aid Board and offer free legal advice to the London Irish Centre in Camden
What kind of hours do you work?
I work full-time from 8am until 4.30pm. I try to stay later on a Wednesday evening as I find I get more done when the phones stop ringing and the office is quieter. I also use that one evening to meet up with friends or hit Dundrum shopping centre on the way home.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
If I’m not in Court I have a lot of flexibility with my job. The office where I work is very family friendly and there is a lot of understanding for what it’s like to work and have young children.
Do you have to travel for work?
I travel for work a few times a year, usually for conferences. I’m very lucky that I can attend conferences in the UK and meet colleagues who have the same interests as me. On occasion, I may also have to attend the High Court if it is “on circuit” in cities or large towns around the country.
What kind of childcare do you use?
We are very lucky to have a childminder who looks after the two boys from 8am until 5.30pm. They were in a crèche up until two years ago and it really didn’t work well for us. The carers were fantastic but the boys picked up so many illnesses, we were always waiting for the phone to ring asking us to collect one of them. It’s impossible to be happy in your job when you are always waiting for that call.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
Not really, I adore being around the two boys and my husband. I try to spend as much time with the three of them as I can. They are great fun and I know that we only have this precious time for a short while. So I plan on enjoying every minute I have with them. They are growing up too quickly as it is. I also have the best of friends. My friends are invaluable to me. I try to meet with them at least once or twice a month for dinner or “book club”
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I have a habit of saying “yes” to too many things. I feel guilty about saying no to nights out with friends and family. I suffer awfully from the fear of missing out or letting people down
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I think it’s important for children to see their mum and dad go to work every day. Yes, there are some days that are stressful but those days are few and far between. And it’s usually because of factors beyond my control…M50 traffic etc. My mum always worked and she was very insistent that my sisters and I be independent and have our own financial independence. She was and is a fantastic role model. I take annual leave to accommodate play dates etc. But there are things I will never miss – a school play or sports day for example. That would be a deal breaker for me.
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 don’t believe there is a perfect balance. I think that if I didn’t work I would feel guilty about not being a role model for my kids or that financially we would suffer because I wasn’t contributing. I also consider myself lucky that I can get up every day and go out to work. I have friends who can’t work because of sickness and/or family circumstances. I know this hurts them. They feel that they can’t complain because they aren’t working outside the home.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I really love the job I have. Yes, it can be stressful but how many jobs are out there where you are really helping someone? Most of my clients are women who have suffered injuries in childbirth. I often find myself being the first person to whom these women have spoken to at length about the full impact of their injuries. I believe that the support for these women is wholly inadequate and I am humbled that they can open up to me.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
I probably wouldn’t stay at home but I would set up a charity to assist mothers. I’d like to see community hubs set up in towns around the country where expecting mums and new mums could attend a specialist GP, meet with doulas, learn about gentle birthing and baby wearing, there would be a lactation consultant on demand, support counsellors for assisting women going back to work, access to pre- and post-natal physiotherapists, perinatal counsellors and, access to free legal aid in relation to the rights of mothers in the workplace. That is the dream! If any billionaire reading this wishes to support me in my endeavours please feel free to contact me.
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 often wonder about this. I haven’t encountered the glass ceiling. I think men are braver in speaking up for themselves and putting themselves forward for new opportunities whereas women may not have that confidence or may be afraid to “rock the boat”. As a solicitor it is difficult to fully take maternity leave because you feel that you are letting your clients down. You put pressure to “prove” yourself to your clients and colleagues that you can do it all. Men will never have that worry.
I also believe that women and employers forget that kids grow up, the first two to three years are horrendous but that stops. I believe employers need to invest in working mums and support them during this time, keep them in the workplace and they will come back stronger and more efficient than before. Women by their nature are loyal. If we don’t lose them during the tough years they will go on to strive in the workplace.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- I batch cook all meals for the week on a Sunday morning. This means that we get to spend quality time with the kids when we get home from work rather than slaving over the cooker. This also cuts out processed foods and waste. The boys help (hinder?) with cooking and they learn about good and bad foods. It’s a really nice activity that we can do together without feeling rushed
- I wear dresses to work so that I don’t have to worry about looking for a top and trousers. If I find a dress that’s a good fit I will buy two of them. I find Marks and Spencer great for work wear as you can clean most of their dresses in the washing machine. I also get uniforms ready on a Sunday and put them away for the week. I get clothes for the boys out the night before and then they dress themselves in the morning.
- Set up a Whatsapp group with the other mums in your kids’ class. This way you will know what’s happening and won’t feel left out. Try and collect your kids from school once a month or so. The drop off is hectic but you meet other mums and dads collecting as you are all waiting at the same time. My son’s teacher is the best, Hayley will text me or call me if something comes up in school. I don’t imagine all primary school teachers give out their mobile number but knowing I can text her if there is a need is a huge relief. Homework and I have a love/ hate relationship. I have no patience. I also didn’t know about phonics or teaching methods. If you have a friend with older children ask for her help, she has been through it. Don’t completely confuse your kid like what I did!
- If possible, hire a cleaner. Another mistake I made is having the kids in the house when the cleaner called, this didn’t work and now she only calls if I promise the boys won’t be home.
Sorry Andrea, you got 4 – I had to cut it down from 7! I’m all about organisation.
Thanks Emma, they are great tips – I love, and absolutely agree with the dress tip. It’s so much easier to get ready when it’s just a dress. Now, I never thought of buying two at a time – that’s a very appealing idea!
I nodded along to this very well made point too:
“I also believe that women and employers forget that kids grow up, the first two to three years are horrendous but that stops. I believe employers need to invest in working mums and support them during this time, keep them in the workplace and they will come back stronger and more efficient than before.”
I know many women who reluctantly gave up work when their babies were small – often with one in school, one in preschool and a baby, because it was just too difficult to manage with full-time work, and they weren’t allowed to move to part-time. Employers are so short-sighted – losing talent for the sake of a few short years makes no sense, yet it continues.
Your job sounds so interesting – it’s not surprising you enjoy it so much. When I worked in financial services, I often wished I was doing something more worthwhile – something that would make a concrete difference to other people’s lives. (No offence financial services – and as one former manager pointed out to me, the wheels of economics and finance have to turn too.) It must be a fantastic feeling to know you are doing that in your job.
Your dream charity sounds wonderful – I hope there’s a billionaire reading, but if not, I suspect you might find a way to do it anyway.