“I did start off a level above my husband when we were both working in the same company doing similar jobs. While I started off ahead, he moved much, much faster through the career ladder”
In this week’s interview, I meet Laura Kenny, a working mother of two living in the sunny south-east. She writes the blog dairyfreekids.ie.
I have two lovely boys 5 1/2 and 2 1/2.
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 work as a special needs assistant in a primary school. I have been there for (gasp!) 7 years. I used to work in hardware and software support but changed career 8 years ago for a few reasons. Reason number 1 was that we were moving from Dublin to rural Wexford and there was a scarcity of IT jobs without commuting to Dublin every day. Reason number 2 was that I thought I would like to work with children and I could train to be an SNA through distance learning while still doing my software support job. Reason number 3 (the reason that ended up possibly being the most important one) – I could work shorter hours and have school holidays. Fifteen weeks holidays a year to be exact. I thought this would be ideal for raising a family and it has proven to be a godsend. I finish work at 2.30 and have a bit of time with both boys every afternoon. I have the same holidays as my school-going boy and it is wonderful to have the time off with them.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work school term, 8.50 – 2.30pm with a few late days every so often.
Do you have to travel for work?
No, aside from accompanying children in a bus to swimming or on a school tour there is no travel involved. As I used to do onsite software training involving a good deal of travel to locations within Ireland, I am relieved to not have to do this now that I have young children. Staying away for nights or arriving home late and leaving super early are not my idea of fun when balancing life with young children.
What kind of childcare do you use?
My 2 year old is in a local community crèche.
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
Yes, we are very happy with the childcare. I have tried a childminder before with my older boy but I found when he got to about 2 and being an only child at the time, he really needed the socialisation and the company of other children. The crèche worked out a good solution for this. There is always guilt involved in leaving them anywhere; sometimes I wish I could be home full time.
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
My older boy is in school and it’s busy! I hadn’t realised it would be so busy. I definitely found it an adjustment with balancing work and home life. There is a lot more strict time keeping. Previously the boys could be dropped at crèche at any time, there was no clock watching; playdates were in my friends’ houses so time wasn’t a huge deal either. Now my son can’t be dropped to school before a certain time in the morning, which means I’m rushing to make it to work on time after I’ve dropped him. I’ve to meet the bus at a specific time in the afternoon, I could be 20 minutes waiting but I need to be there punctually in case the bus is early. So far he is doing two after school activities, remembering gear and bringing and collecting etc., it’s exhausting.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I am lucky with the hours I keep, I get good notice when I have to work late and there are rarely any surprises. It is difficult with just how manic it is; I try to squeeze so much into the hours between finishing work at 2.30 and the boys’ bedtime.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I do feel guilty sometimes of course I do. I wish I was spending time with my 2 year old watching him learn new things all the time. I wish I was there at the door of the classroom at 1.30 like some other parents. I wish I was able to be involved more in my boy’s school; they are always looking for volunteers to help out. I especially wish I could bring him home at 1.30 so he could start his homework before he gets tired and cranky. It is usually 3.15 at the very earliest that we’re home and even then he’s had a long day and it’s difficult to get the homework done. I do find it stressful balancing everything, there is never enough time in the day.
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 think a three-day week would be wonderful. I feel I could do enough of the being there at the school gate and spending quality time with the two-year-old as well as a weekly visit to the park or the library. I would love to bring the two-year-old to playdates or to swimming; things I did one on one with my first son that I never had time for with number two. A three-day week would facilitate time for all these things.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I would love to run my own business so I could work from home more and to have maybe a three-day week so I could spend more time with the boys especially with my two-year-old. My current job, if it had a three-day week would be ideal either. A better balance of family and work life I guess. I have already come to terms with changing career to suit family life and that suits me fine so it’s more about balancing the two than what I’m actually doing as a job. This might change as the boys are older and are more independent though.
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 don’t know; I did start off a level above my husband when we were both working in the same company doing similar jobs. While I started off ahead, he moved much, much faster through the career ladder. I have been putting it down to personality and him being able to sell himself better at the right times. It’s possible it has something to do with the glass ceiling for women though. As I am now in a public sector job where it is all mapped out for me and there is no career ladder as such, I find I don’t even have to think about such things.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
The first day is always so hard, you feel sad leaving your babies, and you feel guilty and mixed up. But if you have to go back or if you have chosen to go back for your own sanity, make it work for you. Forget the housework, sit and play with your kids when you do get home, try to make the time with them as good as possible. Sit and read with them. Get down on the floor and play with them. That’s what they want. If you are going back to work because you need to for your own headspace, that’s ok too, a happier mum means happier children, you need to remember that. For whatever reason you’re going back, your children will be fine; you’re doing what you have to do and just make family time count when you do have it.
Thank you Laura for taking part – I thought your comparison of your own career and your husband’s was really interesting. I think it’s not unusual. I don’t know if it’s a glass ceiling per se, or the fact that many women change their priorities when they have children. As you said yourself earlier on in the interview “it’s more about balancing the two [work and family] than what I’m actually doing as a job” And that’s it – I think as women, many of us find that we want to work, we want to work in a job we enjoy, but career advancement at the cost of family becomes less attractive. It sounds like you made some great decisions with your career change and it’s working really well! Thanks again for taking part.