“lower your standards! Housework can wait. If everyone is fed and in clean clothes you’re doing well”
Good advice from Fiona Kennedy, who is the Office Mum interviewee this week; a mother of two young children, living in Galway and working full-time in a third level institution. She also blogs at Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers
When I asked Fiona if she experiences guilt, she replied:
“Yes, massively, all the time. I don’t think there’s a way around it. I feel completely disconnected from my son’s experience of school as I neither drop him off nor collect him, but that’s how it has to be for now”
To see how she tries to balance her busy life and curb the guilt, read on:
Thank you Fiona for taking part in this interview for Office Mum blog – so tell me a little about yourself – you have two children?
I have two kids, a boy aged five and a girl aged three.
And could you tell me about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I work in admin in a third level institution, and have been here for eight years.
What kind of hours do you work there?
At the moment I’m working full-time, although I job shared for 4 years after my son was born. Working full-time is purely out of financial need at the moment.
But I’ve recently decided to take the ‘shorter working year’ option. Basically, you can take up to sixteen weeks unpaid leave in a year and spread the deductions across twelve months. So I’m taking the five weeks of July, then two weeks annual leave in August, which will bring me close to the end of the month. I’m absolutely thrilled, because having my five-year-old in crèche for the summer was a massive problem for me. It’s really helped alleviate the guilt of working full-time, because I know I’ll have a great block of time in the summer. it also means I have enough leave (hopefully) to take most of the school breaks as well which will really help.
What kind of childcare do you use and are you happy with it?
Crèche – It’s working really well and I’m very happy with it. Initially both kids were with a minder, in the minder’s own home, as the crèche doesn’t take them until they’re walking. This was challenging in that we had two drops morning and evening, and we’re a one car family so it really added to the day – my daughter’s minder lived a ten minute drive in the opposite direction to work so that added complexity. Minders were fine when they were younger but we found they both really came on in leaps and bounds once they moved to the crèche, and seemed much more settled. I think the more structured environment suits them better.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
Time!! We never seem to have enough time. We collect the kids and it’s usually at least 5.30 or 6 before we’re actually home, and then there’s a rush on to get food into everyone. The kids need to be in bed by 7.30 as we’re up and out early so it really feels like we’ve no quality time during the week.
Housework? Standards have dropped drastically. I don’t want to start into cleaning straight after dinner during the week, it’s not fair on the kids and we end up wrecked. Same at the weekend. So basically the necessaries get done, but anyone coming to visit needs to be prepared to take us as we are!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Yes, massively, all the time. I don’t think there’s a way around it. I feel completely disconnected from my son’s experience of school as I neither drop him off nor collect him, but that’s how it has to be for now. I don’t like that they have such a long day in crèche. That said, we’re doing the best that we can.
If I wasn’t working, we wouldn’t be able to keep up mortgage payments, so as things are currently, we have no choice but to go with this arrangement. I’m hopeful that in a couple of years when my daughter starts school and we have less childcare costs that we’ll be able to take another look at my hours.
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?
Honestly, I think that can only be decided on an individual basis. Some women would rather be at home full-time, some half-time, some have a very fulfilling career and don’t want to give that up, and some work full-time by necessity. In an ideal world having a flexible employer would be great, but not everyone has that luxury.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I’ve no idea!! I’m still looking for my dream job. In terms of hours – half time, definitely, at least until the kids are older. I want to be able to pick them up from school and do homework with them, and just have more time in general. I really don’t like feeling so under pressure all the time.
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?
Hard to say. I’m not sure that it’s not just for women; I would imagine that anyone who wants flexibility around work, men included, will have to accept that as long as that arrangement stands, there are limits to how far a career can progress. Everything comes at a price. For me, right now at least, my job is just a job, it pays the bills (just!!!). It’s not the career of a lifetime, but it gives me security and stability, and you can’t put a price on that. It also allows me to switch off when I walk out of the office, so that when I’m home, I’m home.
There will always be choices to be made, and when it comes to family, they’ll never be easy. All people can do is what works for them, in their own situation.
Do you have any tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Top of the list – lower your standards!!! Housework can wait. If everyone is fed and in clean clothes you’re doing well.
Plan ahead in terms of food – know what you want to cook each evening so you don’t have to think about it.
Get as much as possible ready the night before – getting out of the house with smallies is hard enough without trying to get the whole day organised at the same time as well.
Try and drop the guilt. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s all any of us can do.
Last but not least – take the path of least resistance. Sometimes it’s ok to let the kids watch tv while you cook. Sometimes it’s ok to have sandwiches for dinner because you’re too tired to cook. Do whatever makes things easiest for you, because working while raising small kids is hugely challenging.
Thank you Fiona, for giving us an insight into your busy life – I can certainly empathise – the busiest and most stressful period for our family was when I was working fulltime and had two children in crèche. It’s always a juggling act, but particularly working fulltime.
I really like what you say about taking the path of least resistance – sandwiches are a great dinner! Exactly as you say, do what you have to do to make it work.