“Working late is not an option when you’re a single mother”
This week I hear from Lisa Ryan, who works full-time, and is a lone parent to her two daughters.
I have two children – Leah and Chloe. Leah has just turned 9 and Chloe is 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 have been working for the same company for ten years in a secretarial capacity. I recently moved into their Quality and Standards Team as an Administrator/PA and I also look after the Psychology and Behavioural Support Team.
I enjoy working especially since I moved into my new role; it’s challenging but not stressful.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work full-time – Monday to Friday – from 9am to 5pm.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
Yes and no. My company does not have a ‘Working from Home Policy’ but I have a lovely boss who lets me work from home if one of my kids is sick.
I think he gets a good bargain with this arrangement. If you work from home and are called away from your work for a while (Mum can you put on a DVD, Mum can you make me something to eat, Mum can you wipe my bum) then later in the evening you sit down and do more work.
Do you have to travel for work?
Traveling because of work was non-existent until I moved to my new department. My most recent travel took me to Cavan the next trip is in two weeks when I will be visiting Limerick and will need to stay overnight. Travel is easy most of the time but staying overnight is difficult as I am also a single mother.
Chloe who is three currently has a chest infection and the GP told me not to bring her outside until this weekend but I had a conference to attend on Thursday and there was no way I could get out it so I had to send her to crèche….one of your questions mentions mothers-guilt…well I had it in bucket loads this week.
What kind of childcare do you use?
My girls attend a crèche in the estate. The girls there are lovely and Chloe enjoys her time there. Leah is 9 and has been in crèche since she was six months old… she is totally and utterly fed up with it. She sees herself being ready to come home on her own…I however do not! I don’t see it happening by 12 either but by then she will be unable to stay in her current crèche and I have no idea what arrangements will be in place when that time comes. I can’t stand the idea that she will be a ‘latch key kid’.
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
I did look into an au pair but I just couldn’t bring myself to go for it. Yes it would be cheaper and I could have a built-in babysitter for a couple of nights but I just didn’t want someone living in my home. Crèche was the best option for us.
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
My eldest, Leah, is in school, also within the estate and the crèche girls walk them to and from school. So that much is easy. Also the price of minding her dramatically reduced when she began school. Chloe begins in September 2015 and I can’t wait to see how much the fees drop by…roll on September!
When I get home at 6pm, there’s homework, dinner, extracurricular activities and everything else that comes with a house in the evenings! It is sometimes very hard and stressful. When I leave my office I say to my colleagues that I’m off to do my real job.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
Working late is not an option when you’re a single mother. I can work through lunch and take work home but staying in the office is not feasible. Luckily my company and boss understand these limitations and once they see that I am willing to do the work necessary to get the job done they are happy.
Although I despise an untidy house, it seems my house is in constant upheaval and I cannot seem to ever get on top of it. ‘Just leave it’ was one of the hardest things to learn to do. It does get on top of me but sometimes I just have to leave it.
Cooking nutritious meals is very difficult. I have to confess that many meals are kids’ staple foods; nuggets, sausages, chips, waffles, pasta and if I have no time at all those cheap horrible noodles. I hate it! I have a slow cooker that I sometimes use for stews but as I need to leave it running in the house during the day, this just isn’t safe so I rarely use it during the week.
Another confession…sometimes tiredness/laziness causes me to take the easy road and heat something rather than cook.
School holidays are difficult but I’ll address that in your ‘working-mother guilt’ question.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Working Mother Guilt! I suffer greatly with Working Mother Guilt…it started the first day I left my eldest in crèche and it’s still a constant battle.
Sick children should really be at home, sitting on their mum’s lap getting loads of love and cuddles. Yet when I do stay at home, they sit on the couch watching telly and I work on my laptop.
When they have a cold and are feeling miserable, they should be coming home to a home cooked meal that they know they will eat and TLC. Yet they must return to crèche to food they rarely eat, to activities they have no interest in and friends they are sick of seeing.
When my eldest is on mid-term or school holidays, she still needs to be in bed at a reasonable hour as she’s up early to go to crèche so I can get to work. All the while, her friends stay out until ten and are playing together as she comes home. I have to say, those are my own memories…getting up late and going out to play only returning when I was hungry or it got dark. I really wish my girls had the same freedom I had.
And just to compound my guilt, my eldest tells me that if my ex-husband and I were still together he could work and I could stay at home to mind them.
That’s always lovely to hear!
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 really don’t know the answer to this and I don’t think there is one right answer as each parent has their own ideas, ideals and their own way of being a parent.
For me, I really want to be at home with my girls but I would not be comfortable living on benefit as I want to show them that if you want something, you have to work for it. As the song goes “Don’t expect anyone else to support you, maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either one might run out”.
Ideally I want to be able to work from home two days a week (initially); this would make both me and my girls happy.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Oh gosh…a question I have never been able to answer ever since I received my CAO/CAS forms!
As an adult I looked into Child Psychology but couldn’t bring myself to hear the horrible things some children have gone through. I also looked into Child Care but it really doesn’t pay that well.
In all honesty all I have ever wanted to be is a Mum. That to me was my only dream job; to be a wife and a mother. My husband would provide for me and my children and I would enjoy a lavish lifestyle along with the three or four or five children we wanted. J It doesn’t sound very 21st century but that was my only dream as a kid. I suppose when you grow up and finally understand the way of the world, your clouded version of life becomes clear and those dreams become childish and unrealistic.
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?
No, I don’t think so but when you have children most women’s priorities change. For those whose priorities don’t change, they forfeit their time as a mother and maybe their relationship with their children.
The company I work for has many high-powered women working at the top jobs and most of them are exceptional at what they do but I would love to ask them candidly how their children cope with them working 12 + hours each day and most likely continue to work when they get home. Do they know their children? Do they know their friends? Do they know what they get up to when they leave them each day? Do their children mind not seeing their Mum? Would the children forfeit their current way of living to have more time with Mum? I wish I could ask them.
My girls love when I am at home…even if I am working. They still like me being here, sitting with them for lunch, having a home cooked meal and my cuddles if they are needed.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
1) Plan, Plan, Plan – Time management is a huge part of being a working mum. Plan dinners, plan time with the children, plan time for cleaning, plan time for friends, plan time for extended family, plan time for partner/spouse and don’t forget to plan time for yourself. If someone can do all of this and also find time for yourself…please do let me know.
2) Keep your Annual Leave – a two-week holiday in June seems like a lovely idea but all you need is one bout of chicken pox and all your annual leave is gone…speaking from experience.
3) Research your child minding options – Make sure you’re happy with whatever you have chosen; whether it’s a crèche, a child minder or a granny…make sure you’re comfortable with the arrangement because you will be leaving this precious little person with them for more hours than you are with them.
Any other comments?
Being a parent is the most stressful, time-consuming, financially draining, tiring, and wonderful thing anyone can ever do. These little people of mine have saved me when my marriage broke down. They give me hugs better than anyone else, ever. They are worth every grey hair I have and will have. I am looking forward to seeing how they develop into women and seeing what career they choose.
If I won the lottery tomorrow would I give up work? Probably not. I would still want my girls to understand the meaning of a day’s work. I would however work mornings only so when they came home I would be there for them just like my Mum was.
Thanks Lisa for being so candid in sharing your story. I admit it was an eye-opener for me. I moan sometimes about having to bake for a cake-sale after work or trying to organise a work-trip without everything falling apart at home, but of course this is all very straight-forward in reality when I have someone to share the workload. I can see from your interview that it’s incredibly difficult to manage all of this on your own. To work full-time and be a parent to two children is a huge challenge for any of us, but you are doing it all by yourself. I think that’s an incredible achievement.
I think what you wrote about cooking and food and guilt is something that we all worry about from time to time – and if you heat something up instead of cooking, that’s no laziness! That’s just taking the path of least resistance – everyone does it sometimes – it’s part of the survival plan!
I agree with you that our priorities change when we have children – I think that’s true for everyone, even women who work long days and continue to progress their careers. I think it means that evenings and weekends are spent putting everything possible into quality time with kids, whereas once upon a time, crashing out on the couch would have been just fine. I suspect that all of us worry – whether we are working twelve-hour days or just mornings – we all doubt ourselves from time to time. I also think that when we’re in the middle of it, we just get on with it as best we can – by making up for it at bedtime, at weekends and during holidays. And I think the kids will all be OK – at least I hope so!
I want to thank you again for telling your working mother story, and I hope when Leah finishes crèche you’ll find a good solution – maybe at that stage it will be possible to work more from home. I think your gorgeous daughters are lucky to have such a dedicated and hard-working mum – maybe when they’re older you can show them this. Thanks Lisa!