“Listen, I was that person who was going to have her baby on Friday night and be propped up at the bar in the pub wearing full make-up and heels on Saturday night. Of course I was going back to work!!!”
The weekly interview series is back with Gwen Loughman; a stay at home mother to four boys, aged 8 and under. She went on maternity leave with her first son 8 years ago and they are her work now. She blogs at Wonderful Wagon and whinges also at The Serious Wagon
She says she is partial to chocolate, a few glasses of white wine and nail varnish. She also admires a good eyebrow mainly because hers are in short supply. She likes to mainline the Australian soap Home and Away with said wine on Saturday nights when her boys have gone to bed. Currently she is making a mindful effort not to sweat the small stuff, and trying to wean herself off shouting at her boys!
Thank you Gwen for taking part in this interview for Office Mum blog – can you tell me a little about your family – how many children you have and their ages?
Hi Office Mum. I am thrilled to have been asked to take part. I have four children. All boys aged 8, 6, almost 5 and 3 years of age. I live in a loud and busy house!
And now could you tell me a little about your career history – what did you do before you had your children and for how long you were working at this? Did you enjoy this work?
Before our family came along I was always working outside the home. I left school at 18 and was never unemployed. A different story to the world we live in today! My very first job was a most enjoyable stint spent in a convent. Working as a receptionist, not as a novitiate I hasten to point out! Then I moved to Dublin where I spent an incredible ten years. During that time I worked with a nursing agency in Ranelagh, then with a shipping company in town and lastly a HR company. I also worked with an estate agents for 18 months. Yes, I very much enjoyed working. I really enjoyed the shipping company. The work was varied and I was always busy there.
Did you consider going back to work at any stage or did you always know you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom?
Listen, I was that person who was going to have her baby on Friday night and be propped up at the bar in the pub wearing full make-up and heels on Saturday night. Of course I was going back to work!!! I just didn’t factor in what a newborn, your own newborn, can do to your innards. I am speaking in the mushy, falling deeply in love vernacular here. As soon as our first son was born, I knew in my heart and soul I was going to stay at home with him. Even if I denied it for a long time.
Would you have had parent-friendly flexibility in your previous job e.g. to work from home or work part-time?
No. Absolutely not. Not in any of them! In fact I know one of the companies feared a pregnancy followed by a lactating mother demanding breastfeeding breaks from work!
Is there anything you miss about working?
The money. For a start. I really miss being able to contribute to my family that way. I also miss the daily social interaction. I enjoyed going to work; I loved that sense of satisfaction having completed a day’s work. Even when I was stressed trying to meet deadlines in some of my jobs, there was always laughter and some fun.
What do you love about being at home with your boys?
I love that I am here to greet them when they come home from school. And I love it’s me who collects them at the school gate. For me that routine and stability is important. I always had that growing up and it was something I wanted for my children as each one came along. The routine that is school and crèche dictates a certain timetable but there is also a great freedom borne from being at home with your children. The only clock that rules is your own!
Do you ever wish you could work part-time?
Yes! All of the time. I think about it a lot as a definite maybe when all of my children are at school. To do it now wouldn’t be financially viable as I would need to pay for childcare. But it would have to be something creative, I think. I am done with office life. That part of me is gone, partly through total lack of interest and largely through lack of confidence. I feel I have been out of office life so long at this stage I wouldn’t know how to return to it!
What do you do for yourself – your own creative outlet or “me-time”?
I write! Boy do I love to write. It’s my outlet. I began writing my blog almost two and a half years ago now and through it I have seen some of my work appear in Irish parenting magazines. I also love to run. Usually away from my boys or on occasion at them in temper (joke! joke!) but mostly on the main road outside my house. I love the odd 5k race somewhere. I’m a bit competitive underneath my timidity!
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?
Recently I read about a family arrangement where the mother went out to work two full days a week and her husband stayed at home to mind the children during that time. She, the mother, said it was the best thing that had ever happened to them both as a family and as a couple. Her husband gets to see the frustrations, difficulties and also the joys of what it is like being with your children for two solid days. I love that idea. I think the perfect balance is a personal thing in that it’s what works for your family. You know, the three day week solution is only good if the rest of the week isn’t spent catching up on housework and laundry. That needs to be shared too, not just the work that takes place outside the home.
If you could do any job, what would it be? Or would you prefer to stay at home regardless of any dream job with dream hours?
For me, the ideal job would be to secure paid work as a freelancer writing for the aforementioned parenting magazines. That is my goal at the moment. It is something I can do from home, something I enjoy and it would be a dream come true. I know to make it worth my while financially it would have to be full-time with lots of irons in lots of fires but you need to begin somewhere.
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?
Yes I do think there is very definitely a glass ceiling for women and a pretty low one at that. I think generally women actually want to stay with their children during the pre-school years but feel they can’t due to missing out on promotions etc. Some are just as keen to get back into the office immediately and that is okay too. I know someone who took voluntary redundancy because it meant a lot of pressure was taken off her during a difficult time in her family with illness and childcare costs etc. but for her to re-enter her field when her children start school, means she has to re-apply for her position again. Another has agonised over studying hard for years to become legally qualified and wanting a family at the same time. Men just don’t seem to have those concerns.
Do you have any advice for expectant or new mothers thinking about leaving their jobs to stay-at-home, e.g. how to weigh up the decision, how to know it’s the right thing to do?
First of all, nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you just don’t know until you are in the situation. I was very taken aback at how definitely I knew I wanted to stay at home when my first baby came along. It can happen the other way too and you might find you can’t wait to get back to work. The decision might just make itself. In any event whatever you decide to do, be it go back to work full-time and use a crèche facility from 7am till 7pm, stay at home full-time or work part-time, once the decision is made, own it. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty.
Gwen, I’ve always wanted to have you take part in the interview series, so I’m delighted that you have now! The part that jumps out at me is what you said about lack of confidence, and about women who would take time off when their kids are young but are afraid of missing promotions. I think it’s all about the former – for most people (anyone in private sector employment), career breaks are not an option, so resigning is the only way to stay at home when kids are small. I completely agree with you – I think many (if not most of us) would love the option to stay at home for those early years. I know I would. Except I’d have to leave my job, then start again, applying to companies in three or five years – doing interviews, trying to get back in the door. Looking for a four-day option and being told no chance. And I think that idea fills many of us with ice-cold fear. Sadly, stepping out and back in is just not an option for most people.
On a more upbeat note, I also love what you said about sharing childcare responsibilities and how a three-day week isn’t much use if the “days off” are spent catching up. I completely agree – one parent working while the other is at home, then switching for the other half of the week would be a fantastic solution. Though I imagine there may be differing standards as to what the house should look like when the working parent arrives home….
Than you so much for taking part and I wish you continued success with freelance writing!