“I think that most working mothers do look for a balance with work and raising their children and it baffles me that the corporate world can often look at that as a negative.”
This week I meet Jenny Bishop, who is the Marketing Manager of The Marketing Institute and has two small children. Her husband is a Marine Engineer and works away from home for four weeks at a time so her work/ home juggle is particularly challenging at those times.
“with the age my kids are at and my husband being away I couldn’t pick a more ideal solution. I love my job and what I do and equally I love that I am able to drop and pick up my son each day from school and spend the afternoon with my two little boys!”
To see how she manages, especially being on her own for four weeks at a time, read on!
Thanks Jen for taking part in this interview for Office Mum – having been friends for twenty-seven years, it feels odd to ask you how many kids you have, but we’ll do it by the book! So, can you tell me how many children you have, and their ages?
I have two boys, aged 5 and 3
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 am the Marketing Manager in The Marketing Institute of Ireland, the professional body for marketers in Ireland. I have worked here for the past four years
What kind of hours do you work?
I work on a part-time basis. Up until last September I had worked a three-day-week but my eldest then started school and as his crèche couldn’t do drop-offs or pick-ups to his school I requested a change to my working hours. Luckily my boss agreed to me working five half days which means I can drop and collect my son each day.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
Working from home is generally not an option but I can log-on outside of my working hours if needs be.
Do you have to travel for work?
I don’t have to travel for work and as such I am very lucky that for the most part my work hours are fairly standard. We have a conference tomorrow which means I have to be at Google at 7am, but those days are pretty few and far between.
What kind of childcare do you use?
My eldest son doesn’t require any childcare during the school-term due to my half days. My younger son attends a crèche five mornings a week. I am very happy with the crèche and both of my kids started going there from a young age so I feel a real emotional bond with the minders and often use them to babysit for me at home.
We have always used the same crèche and have never deviated from this solution. They are extremely flexible which is very important to us. My husband works away four weeks and then is home for four weeks, so they were always very accommodating when we needed to increase/decrease hours due to his work schedule.
Do you think that starting school makes balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
I changed my work hours when my son started school in September and I think that was as big adjustment for him as for me! Because my husband is away so much we really wanted it to be one of us collecting him and bringing him home to our house, as opposed to sending him to an after-school. I really enjoyed working a three-day week, and it was a good balance of work and home time, so the five mornings took a little bit of getting used to and initially I felt as if I was just racing around dropping and collecting and then fitting my work in there somewhere in between. We were also completing an extension and weren’t living in our house so there was a lot of upheaval and stress. However we moved back to our house in October and since then I feel that I have really settled into the new routine and that I am very lucky that I can still work and be there to drop and collect my kids from school.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I think on a practical level it is the constant juggle of trying to get everything done and I think society or maybe it is us mums who put ourselves under such pressure – so the feeling that everything has to be perfect, from nutritious, wholesome home cooked meals, to the perfect house, to bringing them to sports and other activities, and at the same time trying to maintain our careers. I think it can be exhausting and yet I know most working mums don’t want to let any of those aspects slip or slide and ultimately we want to do the absolute best for our kids, but for the most part we still want to work and keep our foothold in the working world.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Yes, I most definitely do, particularly when my husband is away and it feels as though every single thing falls down to me and I can get stressed and take it out on the kids. I think in general I am very lucky with regards to my employer and how flexible they have been and how structured my hours are. I think through some recent soul-searching I have decided that the guilt and stress is worth it because I do love my job and I really enjoy coming to work, the adult interaction, the stimulation, the opportunities available to me to further my career or to train and acquire new skills and that surely if I am feeling like that and get so much out of it, it will help me to be a better mother. I think I could end up being a very bad mother if I stayed at home full-time (which can also bring on feelings of guilt!!), and I have such admiration for those that do that. And as my own mum said to me recently, those feelings of guilt never go away! So I suppose we have to accept that it is a part of parenting.
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 think there is one perfect fit-all solution, I think it depends on the individual themselves, their situation, what they want to achieve from their careers and so on. For me it has meant working part-time while my kids are smaller, and maybe that will change in the future. I think even for your own relationship it is important that you both feel equal and that one aspect of your family life doesn’t entirely fall on the other. When my husband is home he can take over a lot of that dropping and collecting of the kids, which gives me some breathing space and enables me to recharge my batteries until he goes away again. I have also found that finding ways to make life a little less stressful really helps, so having a cleaner and getting our shopping delivered really frees up some time which can be spent with the kids.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
To be honest, with the age my kids are at and my husband being away I couldn’t pick a more ideal solution. I love my job and what I do and equally I love that I am able to drop and pick up my son each day from school and spend the afternoon with my two little boys!
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 limit their opportunities?
Unfortunately I think there is – I worked for a financial services firm before I had my kids and I was made redundant while I was pregnant on my first child. Of course they insisted it had nothing to do with me being pregnant, but one of my colleagues was made redundant a number of months later, and she too was pregnant! I think that most working mothers do look for a balance with work and raising their children and it baffles me that the corporate world can often look at that as a negative. I think since I have had kids I have been more appreciative and engaged with my career as it has shown me how important it is to me.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Get help – a cleaner, someone to do your ironing, get your shopping delivered, your milk delivered, whatever! I think they are the things that can end up stressing us out and we can end up taking it out on the kids. Help is good! I find that particularly important as my husband is away so much and I literally find I don’t have the time to do everything on my own.
Be organised, I think you end up having to become super organised to manage and juggle everything and I know for me that helps the feelings of stress.
Look after yourself, good sleep, good exercise, good diet – I remember reading before that those three things are so important and while I don’t manage to be good about all three all of the time(!) it is something I try to keep at the back of my mind. I know it can be hard when they are very young with broken sleep, but by the time both of mine were two we stopped having sleeping issues.
Any other comments?
I think we have to keep the faith, support each other and try to help each other out as much as possible.
Thanks Jen! I completely agree with what you said about all aspects of parenting brining guilt – I think we make the best decisions we can and then try to live with the residual guilt.
I think that all parents face challenges, all mothers have some kind of a juggle, but I am particularly in awe of you and how you manage when your husband is away. To me, two days seems like a long time for a bout of solo-parenting, so four weeks is unimaginable. I think it works because you’re organised and determined, and as you’d say yourself – because you have no choice, it just has to work!