“Oh my God aren’t we desperate! Women are so hard on themselves and way too hard and judgmental of other women too”
This week’s interview is with Helen Plass, owner of mumandbaby.ie a website for mothers-to-be and new mothers. She’s a yoga teacher, runs active birth workshops, hosts webinars, and is a mum of two little boys. And having spoken to her on the phone, I can attest to her being an all round very interesting person to chat to!
Thank so much Helen 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 could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I proudly run mumandbaby.ie, which is a website dedicated to mums-to-be and new mums. I offer all types of classes – Pregnancy Yoga, Active Birthing Workshops, Baby Massage, Mum&Baby Yoga, and lots of other forms of yoga too! I also come to people’s houses to teach private sessions. I’ve been teaching for about 5 years now and completely love it.
I’ve also started to host webinars, working with other top experts in the fields of Sleep, Nutrition, Feeding and Behavioural issues. I’m expanding all the time, which is very exciting and keeps me on my toes!
What kind of hours do you work?
As anyone knows who has kids and works for themselves, you are always ‘on’! I teach mainly mornings and evenings every week, which fits in well with my children. Then I’m always on the computer or the phone, writing, answering emails, queries, phone calls, website, admin etc!
So I guess you have the flexibility to work from home?
Yes thankfully, flexibility is the one fabulous benefits of my job. I can schedule classes, clients, workshops etc. around my family life, for which I have to say am most thankful
Do you have to travel much to teach the classes?
I base myself predominantly in north Dublin, and travel between Malahide, Swords, Raheny and sometimes into Dublin City Centre, so not too much travel. Then all the webinars are obviously run online, so home is the best option for this for me.
What kind of childcare do you use?
Now I generally try to only teach/work when my kids are in Montessori or when my husband is at home in the evenings. When my youngest wasn’t in Montessori I had him in a crèche for a while and subsequently my fabulous father looked after him for a couple of hours in the morning. If I need some extra cover, my wonderful parents are thankfully very close to home, and they whizz up to me. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for their support.
And is this childcare solution working well for you?
I have tried different childcare options over the years. I recently put my youngest little fella into a crèche for a few half days for a few months but he never settled into it at all and used to be upset every single time I brought him in, so I gave up that option. I used to work full-time as well as teaching at evenings and weekends when my eldest boy was a baby and I used a crèche facility full-time, 5 days a week. Then I also had a childminder who came to my house for 4 months to look after both. As a mother, for me that was the best solution…both mummy and babies seemed to be the happiest with this arrangement!
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
Well Matthäus is starting ‘big school’ in September – I’m actually a bit emotional about it! Ridiculous I know! Sebastian will be in Montessori also, so for me it will be a huge relief to be able to get a few concentrated hours to myself to work, write and teach…as well as do the cooking, shopping and washing 😉 The Montessori is fabulous and I know Sebastian will settle in easily as Matthäus did two years there so he is really familiar with his teachers Caroline & Barbara. It gives you an immeasurable amount of reassurance knowing that your kiddies are happy and safe as you drop them off in the mornings, whatever your childcare or schooling options are.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
In my situation it is the logistics of running around, dropping off and collecting in different locations at different times and always watching the clock ensuring you are getting everyone on time. But come September, this will be so much easier.
I’m lucky in that I can do a lot of my correspondence and admin/website work in the evenings when the two boys are in bed. However, trying to take phone-calls in the afternoon is a bit of a nightmare as all you hear in the background is either screaming or “mummy who is that…mummy, mummy answer me”! They always act up when I’m on the phone!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Oh my God aren’t we desperate! Women are so hard on themselves and way too hard and judgmental of other women too, in my opinion. Now, I really don’t get any guilt as they are a bit older and most of the time are happily waving me out the door for a few hours, as I am so lucky that I have best of both worlds – around them for a lot of the day, and go out to work too. But when they were younger and in a crèche…oh the guilt! Those little eyes filling up with tears as you leave them – holy moly I don’t care how tough any woman might seem, this breaks all our hearts! We really do need to be much easier on ourselves and I think it gives a great example to all members of the family that mum isn’t your slave kids – she also has a life and also works outside of the home to earn some dollars! And let’s face it, staying at home to raise your children is THE toughest job out there. Every mum needs some time to herself.
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 feel an optimal solution is when mum and kids (and dad!) are happy, and that is a different scenario for every woman and for every family. That might be working one day a week, or full-time, or with dad at home, or not working outside of the home at all. Most women I know desperately would love to work part-time – 3 days a week, particularly with young children. So both mum and baby/child get time together and also social interaction with people of a similar age! I also think it is very important for little children to socialize with others their age, which enables them to become independent and shows them how to share and interact with others. One thing that I feel is so horrendous in Ireland is the lack of availability in companies to work part-time, even for a short period of time when your kiddies are very little.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Honestly, I feel pretty blessed with what I’m currently doing. Working mornings and evenings really suits are our currently family life stage. And I adore working with women and their babies. Personally I need to work outside of the home, for my sanity!! And I really love working for myself and having the flexibility in my day/week. I am currently in the growth stage of my business so I’ve loads of exciting things to come please God!
When I was working full-time plus teaching in the evenings and weekends, with babies, it was just insane and I was not happy. So taking the decision to leave and focus more on growing my own business and spending so much time with my little ones, was most definitely the best decision in the world, albeit rather scary. There is always a potential negative to every situation, but it’s about seeing the positives and that will always get you through 🙂
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?
Wow that really is a tough question! I really think it depends on the company you work for and your perception of the situation. So a quick answer is no I don’t think there is a glass ceiling as such; i.e. a view where women are inferior to men and therefore can’t get to the top of their profession. It’s just the simple fact that as we are churning out a few kiddies over a period of 3 – 8 years or so, we are out of the equation for a while and professional experience is stalled somewhat, temporarily of course.
Therefore, when we go back to work, we see other (perhaps younger) folks being promoted before us. Some companies are extremely family-friendly and several of my friends have awesome jobs and will get to the top of their profession in their early 40’s, just like their male counterparts. But there is always a sacrifice and they work their butts off too; it just depends how you view that ‘sacrifice’. For most women, the sacrifice is the lack of time spent with baby/children during the week. But if you have really good quality childcare in place and both mum & baby are happy, then it’s a winning situation. We will be working until we are at least 70, so there is plenty of time to reach the top of your chosen profession! In my experience most women in their 30’s want it all now! And we all know that that isn’t a reality, so again I believe it comes back to a positive attitude. Just analyse your current situation and think of all the positives in it. Everything is temporary and every situation can change, so if you don’t like your current scenario, try to find ways of changing it, or accept it and focus on the positives.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- Acknowledge that the anticipation of returning is always worse than the reality. Your baby will benefit from social interaction with other children and gain independence when you are at work.
- Highlight all the positives you can possibly find – perhaps the extra money you might have as a family can go towards a future holiday for example, or towards a cleaner or a weekly dry cleaning/ironing bill.
- Be organised! So when you return home from work you can spend quality time with your baby…and quality is much better than quantity. Cook in batches and get a big freezer so you can just reheat healthy dinners during the week.
Thank you Helen! I think throughout this interview series, the women who are running their own businesses shine through as being particularly happy with work/ family balance – I guess it’s logical that spending time working on a business you set up yourself is often more fulfilling than spending time working for someone else. And there’s the flexibility – as you say yourself, you can teach classes at times that suit your family, and you don’t mind doing the admin at night. It’s really a lovely balance, and your happiness rings through in your words here.
What you said about most women wanting part-time caught my attention – that’s my experience too. I’d say 95% of mothers I speak to would like part-time work – whether that’s a four-day-week or finishing on time to do the school-run or job-sharing. I too think a three-day week is ideal, although of course that changes for many people when all the kids are in school.
Best of luck with your own son starting school, and continued success with your business – thanks for taking part!