Jenny Sherlock is a working mum of two children, and she’s due her third baby next week. She is a civil servant and a freelance writer who enjoys art, reading, music and good food. She says she gives an honest account of the rollercoaster that is parenting, warts and all!
Thank you for being the first interviewee of 2017 Jenny – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me about your family?
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 have been a civil servant since November 2015 but prior to that, after both of my maternity leaves, I worked in administration jobs part-time. I only went back full-time when the kids were a little bit older.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work full-time 37 hour weeks in a very busy environment.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
Unfortunately, my job doesn’t allow for working outside of the office which is something I would love to look into as I think it allows you to have a much better work/life balance.
What kind of childcare do you use?
I have always had family look after my children. I do feel that knowing the kids are safe with someone I trust makes working full-time easier.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
I do try to make time for myself when I can, but my husband is away with his job a lot so it can be difficult to get time away from home. I try to arrange dinners and activities with friends whenever I can and also date nights with my husband when we can.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
For me the most difficult thing to manage is definitely the housework. I find it difficult to keep on top of the laundry, cleaning and cooking and of course the logistics of making sure everyone is up, ready for school and work, fed, and where they need to be on time. It can be difficult at times to make arrangements when I work late but I am lucky to have a supportive husband and an amazing mum.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
The working mum guilt is certainly a big issue for me as it is for most mums. I think it is very hard to strike a balance that suits your life and personality. There seems to be an unnecessary division between working mums and stay at home mums but the reality is that both have an element of guilt – the working mother feels guilty for not being at home with the kids and the stay at home mum may feel like she is not doing enough, so from a psychological point of view it is important for all mums to support each and try to understand that regardless of our current situation, we should all be able to empathise with each other.
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?
For me the optimal solution would be working part-time because you are getting more time with your family but also getting the social interaction that comes with going out to work. Working from home seems like a dream option but the reality may well be very different and it can be hard to get work done with your kids there and I can imagine it may be quite isolating at times.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
This is one I am still figuring out I think. I have always wanted to be a writer and still do but unfortunately it can be hard to pay bills by writing alone. I really enjoy my current position but I would definitely like to explore the option of part-time hours.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
That’s a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, my automatic response would be yes but I do very much like going out to work, having my own friends, learning new things and I absolutely love coming home after work to big hugs from the kids, it makes working very worthwhile.
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 agree that there is a glass ceiling to an extent and this is obvious given the small percentage of women in senior positions. However, this is largely the case because women can be reluctant to commit too much time to work and favour the work sharing/part time options so I believe it is a bit of a combination of both.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Yes, my advice is this:
- Think about what you want returning to work. If you want to explore short working weeks or part-time hours or another more flexible options, get in touch with your employer a couple of months before you are due to return to work and discuss what options are available to you.
- If you will be placing your child in a crèche or with a childminder, try it out for a few days before you return to work. This way your child will be settled and you will feel much more at ease returning to work.
- Prepare yourself for feeling overwhelmed for the first week or two. It is perfectly normal to feel like this and don’t put pressure on yourself to be fine immediately. It will take a little while to adjust to working with a child at home and also to work without having had a full night’s sleep.
Thanks Jenny for taking part in the series. I think you’re right that most of us find something to feel guilty about, whether we’re working full-time, at home full-time, or doing something in between. Perhaps there’s some guilt-hardwiring in there but I think it’s probably because it’s still about half-half in terms of mothers who work and mothers who are at home. So whichever one we do, we can’t help looking at the other half and wondering if that’s the “right” choice.
I think you’re right that there are pros and cons to working from home too – and I’m not convinced it’s something that can be done while minding children. School or childcare is usually still necessary, with TV for emergencies!
Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you the very best for your impending arrival next week!